Vulnerability is a necessity if we want to lead effectively.
Believing that transparency can contribute to progress, in 2020 PwC shared detailed data on the diversity of its US employees
Although some of the numbers gave us pause, they ultimately made us even more determined to go faster. Transparency grounds everything, and shining light on where we can improve makes tough challenges impossible to ignore. That was certainly the case for us. In the months following the release of our data, we found:
Stakeholders care. Our people appreciated our candor. So did our clients, and many other companies; my partners and I have received hundreds of requests for advice from other organizations looking to share their numbers. This was gratifying, but that wasn’t the important thing. What mattered most was that the enthusiasm of our stakeholders, particularly our people, gave us energy to accelerate our efforts. We wanted to, not out of fear of how it would look in the future if we did not progress as quickly as we wanted to, but because it so obviously mattered to so many people who matter to us—and because we were confident we could do better.
We’re working harder and smarter. We were working hard prior to the release of our diversity data. But we’re working harder now—and smarter, in part because of how we tackled the data collection and reporting effort. We didn’t just say, “Here’s where we are, and here’s where we want to be.” We also collected data about the employee experience, and used that to help generate ideas about credible, new interventions to enhance experiences, improve retention and create more direct paths to leadership.
For example, we are focusing intently 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 tell us, are correlated with advancement and retention. We’re also strengthening our relationships with Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCUs), Hispanic Serving Institutions (HSIs) and community colleges. And we’re reviewing requirements for four-year degrees as prerequisites to join certain parts of our businesses, to help us to more readily source talent and, in some cases, decrease obstacles that a four-year degree may present to those from underserved communities. Importantly, too, we are focusing on fostering a culture of belonging rooted in thoughtful introspection, with an emphasis on allyship and critical dialogue so that everyone at the firm can reach their full potential.
We’re more outcome-oriented. As we move with fresh energy, we’re innately aware of the difference between activity and outcomes. Both are important, so when people ask me how we’re doing, I say we’re encouraged, but our results show us that we are not where we want to be yet. What will the results of our next promotion cycle, six months from now, show? How about the following one, which is 18 months away? The fact that we’ve started down the road of transparency makes these checkpoints very real—and for me, very exciting.
In a sense, we’re simply providing the same kind of scorecard for our diversity efforts that we’ve long provided for our day-to-day operations. Said differently, DEI should be treated like any other business issue, and we are treating it as such. Most organizations that stay in business for meaningful periods of time do so because they are living, learning, evolving entities. We want that same spirit of adaptation to pervade our diversity efforts, at all levels, because everyone can see exactly how we are doing.
People, myself included, often describe diversity as a journey. I suppose that’s true, in the sense that it’s not the work of a moment; at PwC, we’ve been at it for more than two decades. But it’s also a business issue that demands focused attention, testing, learning, scaling what works and stopping what doesn’t. A journey can sound like a grand adventure with no known destination. That’s not diversity, and business leaders aren’t just along for the ride. They’re navigators, who set direction, check progress continuously and turn around when they hit dead ends. They also need their people up and down the line to do the same, because course-correcting involves a multitude of actors. There’s no substitute for clear, widely shared information in that endeavor. Uncomfortable though transparency may be at first, I’m convinced that vulnerability is a necessity if we want to lead effectively on diversity—and as the business community has the greatest share of trust we’ve had in recent memory, now is the time.