As chairman and senior partner of PwC, I have closely followed the debate about Sheryl Sandberg’s new book Lean In. Sandberg has brought renewed attention to the critical challenge of diversifying corporate leadership. While Sandberg focuses on inspiring women to embrace ambition, I believe business leaders have a responsibility to lean in as well. At PwC we’re “leaning in” because we recognize that women and minorities cannot solve the leadership gap by themselves.
There are many concrete steps CEOs, in particular, can take. The first is to create accountability for diversity. At PwC, our Chief Diversity Officer is a line partner who reports directly to me and is a member of my leadership team. The role is a rotation, rather than a destination, and we use it to develop high-potential partners. Our Chief Diversity Officers contribute to a strategic business issue outside of their traditional practice and gain visibility. Although this structure might not work for all organizations, at PwC it serves to elevate the function and drive change.
The second step is to create an inclusive culture. Here, programs matter. While the ultimate goal of any diversity initiative is cultural change, formal programs send a powerful signal. For example, Full Circle is a PwC program that allows parents to “off-ramp” from their careers, stay connected while they are gone, maintain their technical credentials, and then return to the firm. Formalizing this option gives people permission to pursue non-linear career paths. Mentor Moms is a PwC effort to match women returning from maternity leave with experienced mothers who are successfully juggling family and careers. Our Women’s Networking Circles provide a forum to discuss career advancement, and our members are using Lean In’s educational videos to enrich that conversation.
Diversity initiatives also set expectations. We’ve asked all 2,700 PwC partners to sponsor three diverse professionals. Partners are expected to identify these individuals in their development plans and discuss the actions taken on their behalf during the end-of-year evaluation. We believe sponsorship is critical to advancement, and these relationships often develop informally. Breaking the cycle of people sponsoring those who are similar to themselves requires intentional effort.
The third step is to create awareness that people sometimes make unconscious assumptions. Sandberg’s book catalogs unconscious biases people still may hold about women leaders. We have a responsibility as an organization to address those stereotypes. PwC hosts interactive sessions for our leaders about how to identify potential “blind spots” and better understand how they influence decision making. As leaders, we must challenge our blind spots.
Finally, we need to create environments where people have the flexibility to lean forward or back at different points. Career paths have to be less rigid, in order to accommodate the diversity of today’s workforce.
While we still have progress to make, these efforts have yielded results. Over the last decade the number of women partners in our US firm has increased considerably, and five members of our 15-person leadership team are women.
I hope more of our women are inspired by the dialogue Sandberg has generated to lean in and aim even higher in their careers. My work is to make sure PwC leans in to meet those ambitions with opportunities, flexibility, and sponsorship. Then together we can close the leadership gap.