PwC CEO Tim Ryan: In Uncertain Times, It's a CEO's Job to Put People First

"Employees, customers, and clients are not just looking to us to lead on these issues, they are expecting us to," writes Ryan.

PwC is No. 4 on the DiversityInc Top 50 Companies list

(Originally published on LinkedIn)

Tim Ryan

Over the past few months, I've been thinking a lot about uncertainty and the turbulent times that we live in. From the rise of populism across the globe to growing political divisions, and the rapid pace of technological change, I've especially thought a lot about the role that CEOs and business leaders have in creating certainty in uncertain times.

At the same time, business's role in society has been evolving and business leaders have a responsibility to embrace it.  Not too long ago, business was completely divorced from societal matters. Employees were expected to go to work without bringing up issues that affected them outside of the office. Similarly, CEOs and businesses were not expected to build purpose-driven initiatives, let alone comment on social and environmental issues— such as climate change, race relations, and inequality— that don't directly impact the bottom-line.

But those days are over. Employees, customers, and clients are not just looking to us to lead on these issues, they are expecting us to. As I've discussed with the launch of the CEO Action for Diversity and Inclusion earlier this year, it is no longer acceptable for businesses and CEOs to stay silent. If anything, we need to do the opposite. In these uncertain times, we must take a stand on societal issues.

We must create open and trusting spaces for our people to have conversations about discrimination, racial divisions, and other societal problems even if these conversations can sometimes be uncomfortable. It is our responsibility as business leaders to build trust in our organizations and with our people in order to create certainty in a world that may at times seem turbulent. And hopefully, by building trusted organizations that are diverse, inclusive, and responsive to what's happening externally, we are able to influence and change our communities and society for the better.

For me, diversity and inclusion are the central issues that I've have been taking a stand on. It's something that I'm passionate about and I make sure to bring up in every conversation I have—whether it's with a fellow CEO, an intern, or tenured colleague. And it is through these conversations that I've come to realize that inclusion doesn't just apply to what makes us different – it also must address how the world around us is changing.

The business world and society-at-large are being disrupted by technology. Even very traditional companies are adopting emerging technologies – like artificial intelligence, virtual reality, blockchain, machine-based systems, and advanced data analytics – to meet customer demand and become more efficient. As a business leader of a firm that is embracing this change and leveraging new technologies, I'm excited about where it will take us.

But I also understand – and hear from my colleagues and staff – that anxiety about job security is mounting in the face of all this change. Anyone who has read the news lately knows this as well. The promise of driverless cars and artificial intelligence are incredible, but there is a real fear out there that these innovations may eliminate jobs and hurt middle class and lower-income families across our country.

So as we strive to be truly inclusive leaders, we must invest in our existing workforce to ensure they are not left behind, especially as our companies adopt new technology. It is our responsibility to our people and to society. At PwC, we are making major investments in digitally upskilling our people. And we're doing this not just because it is good for our business, but because it is our responsibility to our people to create stable and certain futures for them.

I often get asked how I manage all 50,000 employees who work for me at PwC, and my response is: "I manage by working for them, all 50,000 of them." As business leaders, our employees come to work every day for us, and it is our responsibility to show up for them every day, especially when they need it most.

What I'm getting at is simple – As business leaders, it is our responsibility in uncertain times to help our people and communities feel more secure about the future. Creating organizations, communities, and a society where everyone can feel like they belong is one important part. The other is making sure everyone has the opportunity to be part of tomorrow's tech-enabled workforce. Does achieving this require thoughtfulness, time, and major investment? Yes. Is it worth it to bring certainty to the all the people willing to join us as we grow? Absolutely. People across our country are looking for leadership around these issues and it is our responsibility to provide it.