“We are breaking the ceiling with talent and energy”, Jerusalem Hernández, partner of sustainability and corporate governance at KPMG Spain

16/03/2021 | Jerusalem Hernández Velasco

My name is Jerusalem Hernández Velasco and I am a partner of Sustainability and Corporate Governance at KPMG Spain. I have always been proud to be a woman and to be making my way into this world as one. And although I have found myself in situations where I have needed more courage to ask for what I wanted, I recognise that this has made me stronger, smarter and braver

In 2019 I had the honour of being chosen to participate in the call for the 2019 edition of the Santander Scholarships Women | W50 Leadership - London School of Economics. Thanks to this opportunity, I received much more than a week of training in one of the best universities in the world. I was able to participate in an amazing experience of professional and personal growth, and be the protagonist and witness of an extraordinary network of women who are an inspiration and a model for others today.

My story does not have to be the story of the new generations of women. For them it doesn’t have to be difficult and they shouldn’t feel they’re being questioned for wanting to grow, progress or lead. In my generation, we’ve talked a lot about the glass ceiling; maybe now we can talk more about the glass rung. We are breaking the ceiling with talent and energy, but we have to make sure that the “life line” doesn’t break, just like when you climb a mountain. According to the National Stock Market Commission (CNMV), in 2019 the percentage of women that were included in the boards of directors of companies reached 23.7% and it continues to grow and inspire us.

 

“Us women are just warming up and now it's time to go out onto the pitch and play.”

Jerusalem Hernández, Partner of Sustainability and Good Governance of KPMG Spain

After the success of the call I participated in, a new opportunity is being presented thanks to the new call of Santander Scholarships Women | W50 Leadership - London School of Economics organised by Banco Santander. It is aimed at women with positions of responsibility and with a professional experience of more than 10 years and who aspire to take a leadership position. 

One of the references we had the pleasure of hearing from was Betsy McLaughlin, former CEO of Hot Topic, who has served on various boards of directors in the US. I remember her telling us: “There are two kinds of women in this world, those who support other women and those who don't.” I want to be among the first, so I don't want to keep my experience and what I learned to myself.

 

Necessary training

The first thing I thought when I saw the call for the training was that it was perfect for me, because the boards of directors not only lack more women, but also lack more people who are experts in intangibles, those resources that make the difference between some companies and others and that are key to the achievement of corporate success in the future, such as sustainability or reputation.

Today, and even more so after a year that has made us all reinvent ourselves, we often speak of “missions”, “non-financial risks”, “climate change” or “sustainable opportunities”, but many boards of directors still lack the skills and knowledge required to incorporate this view into strategic definitions, business models, risk management or supervision.

I have been working with intangibles for many years and have spent a lot of time suggesting methods for evaluating them, identifying risks and opportunities associated with them, and helping companies manage and safeguard them. That’s why I know their value and transformative capacity. However, and if I may use a football simile (because you can be a woman and enjoy football), in all this time we're just warming up and now it's time to go out onto the pitch and play.

The 2020s was to be the decade of sustainable transformation, but the pandemic and its socio-economic consequences have accelerated trends and this will finally be the decade of sustainable recovery.

We still have times of uncertainty ahead of us, but borrowing the words that Frans Timmermans, First Vice-President of the European Commission, spoke in Bruegel about the Recovery plan for Europe and the Next Generation EU fund, “There is no going back to business as we know it. Why spend money to leave things as they were when we know that we will need money again to change them in the near future? It would be wasteful, and even irresponsible, as new money may no longer be available in a world burdened by post-COVID-19 debt. The money that we use now for our recovery is money borrowed from future generations. Spending it on their future rather than our past is a moral imperative. We don't have a choice.”

Group picture with Jerusalem Hernandez-

Leadership styles

Let’s return to the Santander Scholarships Women. From the start I was looking for the answer to a question: How can we ensure that diverse leadership is valued as a leadership style in organisations?

Intuition and evidence tell us that people tend to value more positively those who are more like us, who do things like us, who think similarly to us. And if we talk about successful people, this is even more evident: if I have done well with this style, all those who also have it will do well and it then becomes very easy for those on the bandwagon to get promotions, recognitions, rewards. There isn’t always a clear intention to discriminate, but a bias toward a dominant leadership style can develop, slowing down progress toward diversity.

In 2019, in the call for Santander Scholarships Women | W50 Leadership - London School of Economics we were able to talk about some key issues: identifying the value that you really contribute as an individual and as a professional, taking care of the relationships you have and building new ones, making yourself heard and being yourself, with enough intelligence to be relevant even if you are in the minority.

I once heard that a leader is one who has the ability to see that they have a challenge in front of them, that someone has to do something, that they can do it, and they do it. Today, we often speak of shared leadership, but I do not think that the courage required to make difficult decisions and face the consequences first-hand has disappeared.

When we were at the University of California Los Angeles (UCLA), some of us visited their sports hall of fame together and the space dedicated to John Wooden and his pyramid of success. He said that skill can take you to the top, but it takes character to stay there. Character and courage cannot be lacking in our leadership style, which will be as diverse as we are.

 

Group picture with Jerusalem Hernandez

Networking or goal accelerators

However, if there is one thing I can highlight from the experience, due to its deep and lasting mark, it’s the group of women that I met there and who today are an inspiration and a true model for me. A short time ago I heard Rafa Nadal say that staying at the top depends on two things: passion for what we do and the people we surround ourselves with.

My “W50 friends” are without a doubt the best companions to keep moving forward and growing. Professional and personal companions, my accelerators of goals and dreams. Every step of theirs is as if it were mine and I know that the opposite is also true.

And so, we continue to advance and grow, helping each other to look at reality with different eyes, to overcome difficulties, to celebrate successes and to turn walls into doors, as Melinda Gates writes in her book The Moment of Lift: How Empowering Women Changes the World. We walked together enjoying the path, with the flowers and thistles, with the sweat and the dust.

And in this time we have looked for moments of encounter, in my case in different countries, as if I were a W50 ambassador (I am lucky to have a profession that takes me to so many different places, something that I do miss, I admit). We are aware that we are here, together, to transform and make a real impact in our organisations, in our sectors, in our environments. And that is why we work and help each other to do it faster and better.

 

This is the Santander Scholarships Women | W50 Leadership - London School of Economics program for me, and I'm sure it can be an equally inspiring experience for many other women. Therefore, I encourage everyone once again not to miss the opportunity to knock on the door of their growth at the hands of teachers such as Connson Locke, Tara Reich or Karin King. It will undoubtedly be a life-long learning experience.

If you feel that it is the moment to give a boost to your professional career and you have more than 10 years of experience in positions of responsibility and management that aspire to take a leadership position, sign up for the Santander Scholarships Women | W50 Leadership - London School of Economics. Seize the opportunity!

(At the moment the Santander Scholarships Women | W50 Leadership - London School of Economics has ended, but we encourage you to consult the Santander Scholarships to find the training that best suits you and give a boost to your professional career. Seize the chance to develop your knowledge and skills!)

 

Jerusalem Hernandez

Jerusalem Hernández, partner of sustainability and corporate governance at KPMG Spain