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Fred Gonzalez, Managing Editor
Feb 2021

In 2016, you helped launch the CEO Action for Diversity & Inclusion program. Considering that awareness of diversity and inclusion rose to new heights in 2020, you seem to be ahead of the curve. Was there a tipping point that led to the program?

CEO Action was founded in response to a similar period of racially motivated killings in 2016, during which I realized that our people were hurting but felt uncomfortable bringing their whole selves to work because, at that time, race was considered a taboo topic for professional discourse. What began as a series of difficult conversations on race at PwC turned into the cofounding of the CEO Action, when I was approached by an associate of color and challenged to take our commitment outside of our own four walls.

 The events of 2020 have made clear to the business community the critical role we all have to play in helping drive diversity, equity and inclusion in our businesses and in society. My hope is that the passion and engagement I am seeing right now from my fellow CEOs is more than a moment, it’s a critical movement. The CEO Action saw a 40 percent jump in signatories after the death of George Floyd, and CEO Action has been instrumental in helping signatories of all sizes and industries provide resources, tools and networks to drive deeper engagement in D&I programs. I think it is safe to say that every organization, even PwC, has a long way to go, but I am encouraged by the rigor with which the business community has taken up this issue and the resources we have mobilized.

 

What are some common mistakes companies make when trying to achieve diversity and inclusion?

First, it’s being scared by the numbers. I have heard from business leaders who feel afraid of transparency because they know that they aren’t where they want to be. But transparency is a critical step in committing to D&I, and I find that even when the numbers aren’t perfect—and no one’s numbers are—business leaders are credited with making the brave move to greater accountability. The key is to become transparent about the data and the plan to make that data better, and commit to change with the same rigor as with solving other business problems.

Second, communication is key. Business leaders can’t enact a D&I strategy without the buy-in of their total organization, because cultural change is absolutely key to that mission. Business leaders should be able to identify their motivations. Why are these programs so important? What do we have to gain from embarking on this mission and devoting people and resources to it? When CEOs fail to lay out the value proposition of their diversity strategies to their staff and people, that’s when those strategies can become vulnerable.

 

Why was it important to share PwC’s diversity data and strategy?

PwC is a purpose-led, values-driven organization, and our purpose is to build trust in society and solve important problems. In my view, issues surrounding diversity, equity and inclusion are among our society’s biggest challenges, not only because they hinder the potential of many individuals, but because they also create huge missed opportunities for business. So the link between our purpose and our diversity strategy and work is very meaningful.

 The decision to go public with our data and our diversity strategy was something that had been in the works for a while, but the racially motivated violence last spring drove our leadership team to accelerate that process. It was important to our whole network of stakeholders—our people, clients, policymakers, members of the CEO Action for Diversity & Inclusion and others in our profession—that we lead on this issue and make good on our commitment to transparency. And while we did this to hold ourselves accountable and do better, an outcome of that effort was being able to share our experience with others and create a road map for how other businesses could cull and present their data, and use it to deliver smart insights on how to make their employee experience better for everyone by upping retention and helping drive qualified, diverse candidates into leadership positions.

 

Tim Ryan - Photo courtesy PwC

What are some of the strategies you’ve implemented at PwC that have been most effective?

We were really looking at all aspects of our firm and how we can make it more diverse, inclusive and equitable, and we’ve really tried to get into what I call the “plumbing” of how our organization works. While there are many areas of our diversity strategy that are evolving, our recruiting strategy is one area that I am especially proud of. Over the past three years, we have evolved our diversity recruiting strategy by reimagining our talent pipeline, and have worked to expand our recruiting with HBCUs (historically Black colleges and universities), HSIs (Hispanic serving institutions), as well as community colleges, and we are already seeing greater diversity in our new joiners and interns.

We also know that the first 24 months at our firm for women, Black and Latinx colleagues is a leading indicator of their success, which is contingent on having an equitable experience and a sense of belonging. Our goal isn’t just to fill our pipeline with diverse individuals, but to stay with them as they enter and grow in the firm. To that end, we have designed benefits and programs—such as our student loan paydown, caregiver support and mentorship/sponsorship initiatives—that meet the specific needs of those in our community who come from traditionally underrepresented groups to help them meet their needs inside and outside of the firm.

 

What other examples do you have when it comes to the development of diverse talent during those first 24 months?

Our data shows that the first two years are a leading indicator of success, especially for our racially and ethnically diverse colleagues. The experiences that our people have during that time are critical to whether or not they remain with the firm, so we continue to focus on providing foundational experiences that are positive, inclusive and underscore how much they are valued. To set our people up for success from day one, we implement a number of actions specifically focused on networking, performance development, mentorship, sponsorship and training. We are also continuing to focus on the way we handle deployment around client engagements so that our people—with a particular emphasis on our women, Black and Latinx employees—are experiencing a variety of challenging assignments, which our data tells us lead to greater opportunities. We are focused on providing the feedback and coaching needed to help them continue to develop and succeed.

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