Power 100: KPMG's Michelle Quest - "Be your best self and let others be themselves"

Isabelle Werffeli
Quest spent two years as head of people on KPMG's board (Source: KPMG)

Michelle Quest is the UK head of tax, pensions and legal services at KPMG. In the latest in our series of interviews with Power 100 winners, she gives her take on impostor syndrome, unconscious bias and feminism.

Power 100: These are London's 100 most powerful women

Are you doing what you always imagined you'd be doing?

No - I have not been the world’s greatest career planner. I always thought after I received my professional qualification I would know what I wanted to do with my career. By the end of that three-year process I discovered tax and I enjoyed the more legal legislative side of it. I was never planning on being head of tax.

Have you had a mentor?

I’ve had sponsors within the company I was working for rather than mentors. They were the ones who pushed me through and challenged me to go for jobs. It never crossed my mind to go for partner until the head of M&A tax said it would be great for me to move to that part of the business as a partner.

What did you learn from your time serving on KPMG's board as head of people?

The reason gender diversity rises to the surface the most is because it represents over half the population. Women are not a minority. But if that is the case then why do we not have women throughout the business?

We got involved with some business psychologists to discuss why our efforts weren’t as effective as we had hoped. That’s where unconscious bias comes in.

[People need to] learn about it. Once you know about it you can see yourself doing it. Keep the outlook on it positive and constructive rather than blaming because that’s just not helpful.

So how do we drive gender equality?

Be your best self and let others be themselves. It’s very tiring to try and pretend to be someone else. You’re more likely to be successful if you’re being yourself and not forcing yourself to be a certain way you think will make you successful.

Both men and women feel the effects of impostor syndrome. How do we avoid that?

I spent the beginning of my time at KPMG acting like a public school male but then I just had to stop and be myself. This goes back to being the best version of your true self. It’s good to bring something different to a team. You want to be memorable and be different.

Do you feel successful?

No, not on a day-to-day basis. It’s more someone else’s reaction that instils that feeling in me. There are a lot more challenges and opportunities that I want to tackle.

Would you call yourself a feminist?

Yes I would. The word means different things to different people. For what it means to me, I am proud to be a feminist and to be a woman. I’m proud of what I’m doing but you don’t bring women up by putting men down.

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