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Voice of Experience: Claire Warnes, Partner, KPMG

ClaireWarnesBy Melissa J. Anderson (New York City)

According to Claire Warnes, Partner in KPMG’s Risk Consulting practice, one of the best parts of working in consultancy is that there are lots of moments which make you feel proud. “There’s not one occasion, but many. That’s why I like working for a consultancy with so many clients. My proudest moments are when we work as a team with a client, bringing diversity of thought to bear and really making a difference in how our clients implement change,” she explained.

Warnes spent nine years in three roles in the UK public sector before being headhunted into KPMG’s Public Sector practice. “At KPMG, I’ve done eight years work as a management consultant, implementing and designing change in the public sector, for universities, defense, and increasingly in healthcare,” she said.

In addition to those eight years, Warnes cited a valuable assignment in Frankfurt that propelled her career forward. “In 2009, I was asked to take on a strategic secondment to be the Executive Assistant to the Joint Chairman of KPMG Europe. It was a fantastic experience and one of the highlights of my career.”

Then, last year, after ten years with the firm, she was promoted to partner. “Now I’m back to consulting, working with lots of clients and helping them think about the future and plan for the significant changes they are facing, and what that could mean for their business.”

Currently Warnes’ work is mainly around the regulation of healthcare. “I’m passionate about that, and the role of regulation in enhancing the quality, efficiency, and patient safety of healthcare. I think it makes a difference.”

She added that she is also interested in how the economy will impact consultancies moving forward. “In austere times which many mature economies are facing now, the role of consultancy is extremely important. Even when money is tight there is an important role for consultants to play and add value to organizations.”

Finally, Warnes added, she is involved in a number of projects at the firm, including serving as a sponsor for its women’s development program and participating in a forward-thinking project involving a group of young partners. “It’s thinking about the future and it’s very exciting,” she said.

Diversity in Consulting

“There are still not enough senior women in the professional services, although there are many senior women in the public sector in the UK. They are probably ahead of the private sector in that regard,” Warnes explained.

“But my organization is firmly committed to a diverse workforce and how we bring different perspectives and viewpoints to our clients. In fact, that’s one of the reasons I’ve stayed at KPMG for 11 years,” she said. “It’s a dynamic environment where I can be myself and I’m encouraged to be myself.”

Warnes, who is openly gay, said, “At KPMG I’ve been comfortable and open about being gay. I’ve had no challenges in that regard. But I think stereotypes still persist for all members of a diverse workforce. Our job is to try to overcome those stereotypes and at KPMG we have senior sponsorship to do so.”

“There are challenges for some people to be out in the workplace, and certainly I wasn’t out before KPMG. But it’s a much better way to be.”

Advice for Women

Warnes says she wishes she had been more confident earlier in her career. “To have had greater self belief and inner confidence is what I wish I had known earlier. There were particular skills that I took for granted that actually had real value, like people skills, organizational skills, or communication skills. If I had recognized the value of those, I may have had more confidence to progress more quickly.”

“My advice for women beginning their careers is to be yourself, go for it, and make connections. You have a responsibility to build a network and use it.”

She advised senior women to get comfortable being a role model. “Recognize that senior women are role models and will always be considered so. If we don’t think about ourselves as role models, how can we expect those coming through to be authentic and open about themselves?”

“Being yourself enables you to be the best you can be,” she added.

Warnes said she has enjoyed participating in KPMG’s Reach women’s development program. “And when I became a partner I gladly agreed to be a sponsor,” she said, adding that she found the program inspirational particularly because it unlocks women’s ambition.

“I think there are a number of women who need that course, to learn to be open about what they want in their careers.”

In Her Personal Time

“I’m sports mad,” Warnes said with a laugh. A former international 400-meter runner, she continued, “I’m incredibly excited about the London Olympics. I have my tickets and I see it as fulfilling a lifelong ambition to go to the Olympics – even if it is as a spectator rather than an athlete.”

In fact, she feels competing as an athlete has given her an edge in her career as well. “A lot of the discipline of being a sports woman has been important in my business career – like dealing with pressure, having focus, and performing at your best when you really need to.”