Women executives lean into trust to lead the way

Ongoing resiliency and a collaborative, employee-centric culture are critical for long-term stability.

The balance sheet for a successful, enduring company has fundamentally changed.

Sure, profit and loss still matter. But they are increasingly contingent on more qualitative inputs like business trust, employee health and diversity, and a company’s overall ability to be a force of stability after years of unprecedented societal turbulence.

In so many ways, the very concept of a “successful” business has been upended, as we learned after speaking with more than 1,100 high-performing women executives in conjunction with our 2022 KPMG Women’s Leadership Summit.

The summit and our related survey came against a backdrop of two-plus years of upheaval: pandemic, employee burnout, climate change, eroding public trust in government—the Great Resignation is just one part of what has been the Greatest Disruption. That’s why it’s more important than ever for executives at leading organizations to take a multifaceted approach to addressing these challenges, according to the female leaders we spoke with.

In this landscape, women executives are well-positioned to take action. They’re working to drive success amid turmoil by building trust and advancing a strong workplace culture, with strategies like leading with empathy and developing beneficial relationships. And these are just a few of the findings in our comprehensive new review, “Advancing the Future of Women in Business: The 2022 KPMG Women’s Leadership Summit Report.”

We would have seen much higher rates of retention risk had we not approached this crisis with a people-first approach. We are leading with empathy and starting there every day.
Respondent from the KPMG Advancing the Future of Women in Business Study.

Here’s a closer look at some of the important themes and ideas that emerged from the report:

The trust imperative

Above all, the female executives we spoke with emphasized the importance of leading by example to earn trust with stakeholders and employees. Workers’ expectations have evolved—today, they want to know they’re valued and have the support of their leaders. 

That means it’s up to employers to foster an environment that furthers their teams’ best interests and provides a sense of stability. Our report spotlights five overarching areas of focus for women executives who are working to provide that stability:

Leading with trust

Trust engenders stability, but in an era of increasing distrust, strong and resolute leadership is essential.

Navigating uncertainty by leading the way

Uncertainty no longer feels like a short-term challenge, but an ongoing reality to plan for—and perhaps even leverage to expedite new opportunities, such as digital transformation.

Teaming for success

The large majority (86 percent) of the female leaders in our survey emphasized the importance of collaborative decision-making with teams to further build trust while also expanding the range of valuable insights.

Enhancing the future of work

An employee-first culture means providing essentials like workplace flexibility, opportunities for growth, mental health support, and more.

Moving forward with confidence and clarity

Times of crisis are also opportunities for leaders to step up, instill confidence, and establish a larger spirit of resiliency for the entire organization.


Leading with trust: Trust engenders stability, but in an era of increasing distrust, strong and resolute leadership is essential.


Teaming for success: The large majority (86 percent) of the female leaders in our survey emphasized the importance of collaborative decision-making with teams to further build trust while also expanding the range of valuable insights.


Enhancing the future of work: An employee-first culture means providing essentials like workplace flexibility, opportunities for growth, mental health support, and more.


Moving forward with confidence and clarity: Times of crisis are also opportunities for leaders to step up, instill confidence, and establish a larger spirit of resiliency for the entire organization.

An island of stability

Beyond specific intent around things like trust, empathy, and collaboration, our survey found women leaders prioritizing the big picture overall. That means staying calm under pressure, but still being comfortable in taking calculated risks for the good of their company and employees.

This is especially important due to the lasting impact of the COVID-19 pandemic. In fact, 82 percent of the women we surveyed said the pandemic was the greatest challenge they faced over the last two years.

The executives agreed that at least a few of the pandemic-driven new ways of working have had a negative effect on employee and business success. However, these leaders are still optimistic that rebalancing priorities toward employee well-being will have a positive impact on operations.

Some other key insights from the survey:

82%

The majority of executive women surveyed believe business leaders must be well-trusted and provide stability more than ever in today’s work environment.

87%

Most executives say mental health and burnout are now their top considerations when balancing business goals and their teams’ best interests.

74%

About three-quarters say building and maintaining a strong culture focused on diversity, equity, and inclusion is now a critical part of their talent acquisition and retention strategy.

How to drive resilience in the long term

In this time of rapid change, it’s essential for executives to step up and keep connections strong throughout their organizations. But what’s the key to moving forward successfully? Embedding trust into workplace culture and operations was the consistent response to that question in our conversations with female leaders.

The executives we spoke with all underscored the importance of building human capital by nurturing workers and teams so that they feel supported and have opportunities to develop their skills and expertise. Now, in an employee-centric workplace, executives must adapt their approach to accommodate these needs, which in turn will promote retention, mutual trust, and long-term stability.

Contact us

Lisa Massman

Lisa Massman

Principal, Human Capital Advisory Leader, KPMG US

+1 213-955-1524