19 September 2016

The ten valuable lessons we’ve learned on our diversity journey

Each year, we take a significant step forward in our diversity journey as PwC firms and people all over the world celebrate Global Diversity Week. This inspiring event features a wide-ranging series of initiatives and forums focused on diversity and inclusion, aiming to reach and engage every single PwC professional across the globe. I’m delighted to say that this week we’re celebrating our third annual Global Diversity Week, based on the theme Valuing difference: Driving inclusion.

I’m also excited to share with our Gender Agenda blog readers that as part of our Global Diversity Week activities this year, we’re breaking new ground by sharing the story of our diversity journey externally, with the release of our new publication The PwC diversity journey: Creating impact, achieving results. During our diversity journey we’ve learned a lot, and we’ve applied these lessons to constantly reshape our approach. As a result, we feel today that we’ve reached a comprehensive and efficient approach to diversity that lays the foundations for the sustainable progress we aim to achieve in the future.

This approach includes a number of milestone initiatives, such as aligning D&I more closely with our network business strategy and ensuring enhanced leadership accountability by introducing our Global Inclusion Index. You can find out much more about these activities and many others by downloading the report. But in the meantime, I’d like to use today’s blog to share with you our ten most valuable diversity lessons learned.  

Lesson 1: Tailor the business case, then make it resonate
Diversity is – of course – the right thing to do. But more than that, when optimised it presents the opportunity for many benefits in terms of business performance. So, while achieving diversity is a challenge, it also presents an opportunity that no organisation can afford to ignore. To make this message ‘real’, it’s essential to create a robust, organisation-focused business case that’s derived from – and geared to support – the success of the organisation’s business strategy. It is only through this approach that diversity will resonate with the leaders and people across a business. And in pursuing diversity, it’s also vital to recognise that one size does not fit all. What will motivate one leader to sponsor and act – business results, for example – may be very different from what will compel another, such as diversity being the right thing to do.

Lesson 2: Recognise there is no ‘quick fix’
With ever-increasing numbers of diverse talent entering the workforce, we have seen diversity catapult its way onto the CEO agenda in recent years. But despite this rise in awareness, visible progress is still not being achieved in many organisations. In trying to overcome this inertia, it is critical to understand that there’s no ‘quick fix’ solution to the challenge of diversity.

Demonstrable and sustainable progress can only be achieved through a comprehensive change management approach that tackles behavioural, process and cultural transformation. This is why we at PwC approach D&I through our holistic PwC D&I ecosystem.

Lesson 3: No leadership commitment, no accountability, no progress
Without the right levels of leadership commitment, and – even more importantly – the appropriate accountability infrastructure, it will be very challenging to move the needle on diversity in a sustainable way. Put simply, having leadership commitment to, and accountability for, D&I is critical. At PwC we achieve this through our established D&I governance structure and the PwC Global Inclusion Index.

Lesson 4: Use data analytics in planning the programme…
An approach driven by externally recognised leading practices might win diversity awards, but may not deliver meaningful progress. Transitioning from a leading practice-driven approach to a data-driven approach is fundamental in creating a D&I programme that tackles the actual rather than assumed barriers to diversity. And only when you understand and confront the actual barriers do you lay the groundwork for subsequent success.

Lesson 5: …and use data analytics in executing the programme
To make real progress, it is not enough to adopt what feel like creative and innovative policies or programmes, or to feel comfortable that you are getting things right because your practices are lauded externally as leading-edge. Instead, it’s fundamental that you identify and track robust, relevant KPIs to measure the success of any D&I intervention you initiate. To make visible, credible headway, organisations must stay focused on and be confident that they are driving critical interventions that really work.


Lesson 6: One size does not fit all cultures
When driving a global D&I strategy, trying to enforce a ‘one-size-fits-all’ approach across all markets and areas of the business will not work. In fact, pushing an approach or programme that is not sensitive to local cultures may do more harm than good. Instead, the D&I strategy must take account of the nuances and variances that exist in business cultures across the globe. And diversity programmes will need to be driven with allowances for local context, in recognition of the fact that the challenges and appropriate change approach will be influenced by geography, and indeed by the cultural norms in different parts of the business. Given these requirements, the key is to focus on global consistency underpinned by local delivery. At PwC we try to get this right by encouraging localisation of our global D&I activities, making the transition to our ‘2+1’ approach to dimensions of diversity, and establishing a culture of local action planning and priorities in response to the realities of diversity in each PwC member firm.

Lesson 7: Embed D&I within organisational DNA
Sustainable progress will not be achieved if D&I is driven in a silo. D&I must be embedded within the DNA of an organisation, identified as fundamental to its success and naturally woven into the fabric of its business, customer and workforce strategies. This is not easy, and certainly won’t happen overnight. The paramount aim should be to achieve an active journey that engages and influences stakeholders across the organisation towards the goal of a business environment where D&I is an intuitive and implicit aspect of every discussion, activity, people and business process, and customer interaction.

Lesson 8: A focus on inclusion from day one
It can be very tempting to focus all diversity energy and resource on those areas where the most significant diversity gaps exist – which is typically at the top of an organisation. However, this type of highly targeted approach may have limited long-term impact.

Broad and sustainable progress across the organisation will only be achieved by combining a laser focus on leadership diversity with substantive action that drives an inclusive talent culture and talent systems from day one and from the ground up.

This means establishing critical interventions that work throughout the whole talent lifecycle. Without tackling the systemic challenges that arise earlier in the talent process, organisations will continue to face the same diversity gaps in the succession pipeline at the top.

Lesson 9: Recognise performance over presence
It is important that approaches to flexible working respond to the changing demographic make-up, expectations and needs of the modern workforce. Outdated views and approaches that associate flexibility with traditional stereotypes and don’t capitalise on technology must end. An organisational culture that recognises impact and performance over presence, and identifies flexibility as a talent-wide proposition, is an organisation where all talented people can thrive.

Lesson 10: Engage the masses
Commitment to diversity is becoming increasingly important for organisations to attract talent – and today’s talent want to see both a clear commitment to diversity and visible progress being made. Leadership commitment and the dedicated engagement of key stakeholders will take the organisation a long way on its diversity journey, but will not be enough to achieve true success. A D&I strategy needs to be inclusive of everyone. So organisations should engage every one of their people in their diversity journey, empower all of them to be agents for change, and share progress with them at every step along the way. Global Diversity Week is just one of the ways that we try to achieve this at PwC.

Embracing diversity and inclusion makes business sense, and even more importantly, we believe it’s the right thing to do. No one organisation has the sole right answer, but we hope that by sharing our thoughts, ideas, and programmes, we can contribute to a broader discussion – one from which we can all learn and benefit together, as we work collectively to make a positive impact on diversity around the world.

Happy PwC Global Diversity Week!


Aoife Based in Dublin, Ireland, Aoife Flood is Senior Manager of the Global Diversity & Inclusion Programme Office for PwC International Limited with responsibility for the development and implementation of our network-wide global Diversity & Inclusion strategy.

She is a proud PwC female millennial and lead researcher and author of our ‘Moving women with purpose: Creating gender inclusive global mobility’, ‘The female millennial: A new era of talent’, and 'Next Generation Diversity: Developing tomorrow's female leaders' thought leadership publications.

Aoife is also co-author of our Global Gender Agenda blog. You can learn more about Aoife here or find her on twitter: @AoifeRFlood.

23 August 2016

‘Back to Business’ – the benefits of return to work programmes

By Angela Cooke

At PwC UK our ambition is to have a diverse workforce, with senior leaders reflecting the diversity seen throughout the rest of the UK firm and the world in which we operate.  While we are making progress, we know we need to do more.  

All of our business units have set gender and ethnicity targets to 2021 and we run sponsorship programmes for high potential females. But we know that recruitment is another way we can have a positive impact on those targets. 

So we launched ‘Back to Business’, an experienced hire return to work programme for senior professional women who have been out of the workplace for more than two years.   

Return to work programmes aim to help highly qualified and experienced individuals transition back into the workplace after a long career break, typically – but not exclusively – taken for childcare reasons.  Candidates get to work on client work appropriate to their existing skills and experiences and they are paid accordingly.  There is an opportunity to take up a permanent role at the end of the programme depending on their desire and performance. 

We decided to run a return to work programme in the UK for a number of reasons:

  • It is an innovative way to help our business meet the critical business need of increasing the proportion of women in senior roles.
  • It has enabled us to access a previously untapped talent pool of experienced senior individuals.
  • It is the right thing to do. Women who have had time out of the workplace, often find that they are overlooked by recruiters due to the gap in their CV. Our return to work programme has been designed to address their experience gap and provide another route to get talented senior women back into the workplace. 
  • The programme opens the door for women to see what it feels like to come back whilst leveraging a strong support network. It offers a valuable experience for women who are ready to restart their careers by giving them the opportunity to rebuild their professional confidence and skills in a supportive peer environment.

The programme was originally piloted in our Deals business which is traditionally a more male dominated area due to the image of long and unpredictable hours, and high client demands. And through this pilot we have learnt a lot.

What we have learnt:

  • Continued support from the senior people in the business is required to make significant cultural change happen. The partners involved in this process (and recruiters) have gained much more insight into the complex systemic issues around attracting and convincing women that Deals has a culture where they can be successful. This will have a positive impact on their future leadership approach.
  • Mindsets about flexible working can shift - one female partner believed at the beginning of the process that it would be very difficult to work flexibly in a deals environment. By the end of the recruitment process and after interviewing some good candidates who wanted to work flexibly, her opinion was different – ‘we will just make it work’.
  • An overwhelming theme emerging from interviewing the candidates was that the women were eager to return to work but recruiters overlook them because of the gap on their CV. The majority of candidates lacked confidence in their abilities as a result. This does require interviewers to be more open minded to really seek potential rather than the 'finished article and work ready' candidates that organisations typically recruit.

As a result of the success of the pilot, I am very pleased to share that 75% of the candidates on the pilot programme have now secured permanent roles within the UK firm. And we’ve now launched the return to work programme across the wider business increasing the number of positions we offer ten-fold.

Learning from our pilot experience we’ve also extended the length of the programme to 16 weeks so that the women have a longer period in which to demonstrate their skills.  And  we’ve also taken up a longer term view of our talent pipeline and opened up the programme to both managers and senior managers.

The success of our pilot programme demonstrates how important it is to adopt interventions in the system that can spark real change.

So if you are based in the UK and interested in our ‘Back to Business’ returnship why not learn more by clicking here or if you are interested in discussing the programme further please feel free to contact me.


IMG_9727 Angela Cooke is an experienced HR professional with specialist expertise in diversity, inclusion and employee wellbeing at PwC UK.  She works collaboratively with senior business leaders to help them create more inclusive and diverse working environments.  She leads PwC UK’s long term behaviour change campaign, ‘Open Mind’, which focuses on raising awareness of unconscious bias.  And she also works closely with the UK firm’s recruitment team, ensuring it is attracting and recruiting from as wide a talent pool as possible. 

She is a qualified business psychologist having gained a Master’s degree in Occupational Psychology and CIPD qualifications. Angela was also recently recognised by 'We are the City' as a Rising Star in HR and Recruitment.  


02 August 2016

Moving women with purpose: From trailing spouse to leading spouse and managing family on assignment

PwC’s recent Moving women with purpose research highlights that global mobility is in equal demand from both mothers and fathers. However, our research also shows that far fewer mothers actually experience mobility compared to fathers. And both women and men rank “women with children don’t want to go on an assignment” as the top barrier to higher levels of female representation in global mobility. These findings underline that organisations need to make sure they’re not overlooking female talent based on outdated gender stereotypes. Creating awareness of mothers with mobility experience is one small way to illustrate what assignees in your organisation look like, and overcome the effect of such stereotypes.

This week we bring you the final blog in our series from our guest PwC blogger, Sarah Morrin. In this closing instalment, Sarah shares more about her experiences of relocating with family, while also discussing how it felt to go from trailing spouse (Botswana) to leading spouse (the Middle East). 



Trailing spouse blues vs leading spouse pressures

It’s often said that that the real barometer of success for a mobility experience is marriage and family. While one spouse or significant other leads the move, it’s often their partner – the ‘trailing spouse’ – who experiences a higher degree of change, because they have to re-establish their life from scratch without the familiarity of company structures and work.

When we moved to the Middle East, I was the ‘leading spouse’ – a new experience after being the ‘trailing spouse’ previously. I quickly came to understand that being the leading spouse also brings pressures, not least because I’d brought my family somewhere new to further my own my career aspirations. For me it was eye-opening to see those initial struggles from the other side – including finding the right role and being reliant on your partner – and it was important for us to be understanding and supportive of each other. From a leading spouse perspective, this meant not only being encouraging but also actively seeking out and acting on advice and opportunities to share.

With our move to Botswana, I had been able to use my PwC contacts to find a job before we relocated. While my husband didn’t have these ‘pre-connections’ in the Middle East, he soon succeeded in finding a great full-time job with a new career direction in the UAE. Among other trailing spouses I have met, the happiest are those that have used the relocation as an opportunity to do something a little different, whether it be establishing a new business, writing a book, studying for a course, or – in some cases – taking time out with the family.

But whatever the chosen option, it’s inevitable that both partners will face the pressures that come with setting up a brand new household, or difficulties in obtaining work permits for the trailing spouse. My advice is not to let these challenges discourage you from moving – but also not to underplay their impacts, especially in the early days.

Managing the move with young children: stay flexible

Without doubt, when I look back on my experience of managing a move with young children, there are things I would do differently. What we found worked was getting the children into a routine – in our case a nursery – as soon as possible. This was the best option initially, as we wanted to take a bit longer over finding the right home childminder. Having the children at nursery and settling in also gave us time to run around sorting out the basics.

However, it’s also important to stay flexible and allow yourself some space and time – which means being open with your employer. One thing I forgot to take into account is that kids get ill when they meet other children, so I needed a few days working from home to manage this.

You also need to remember that the logistics of establishing a household can be lengthy and time-consuming. For my most recent move to Dubai, I went out a month in advance to sort some of these things out before the children arrived. For Botswana, by contrast, we all moved together, spent a week on initial set-up and then worked through it. For me, the latter approach worked better.


Being away from support networks

For most people, the idea of having a baby in a different country is pretty scary - especially because they wonder how they’ll get by without their usual support networks. I had my second child while on assignment in Botswana. And while being away from family and friends at such a time is a wrench, today’s social media and videoconferencing tools make keeping in touch much easier. When you’re speaking to family in Cornwall, it doesn’t really matter whether you’re in London, Dubai or Gaborone!

Tight-knit communities characterise expat living and in both in Dubai and Gaborone, we’ve found it’s much more common than at home to meet not only your colleagues outside work, but also their families. Work social events usually include family or at least spouses, and are a great source of information, friendships and advice as you find your feet.

For fathers who may need to ‘lean in’ even more when overseas, I have found that concepts like ‘stay-at-home fathers’ or ‘shared parenting’ are still only just being understood in some areas outside work. This suggests that the workplace is now changing much more quickly than in the past. However, you still get annoying school letters addressed ‘Dear mums’ and invites to ‘mums only’ events: these are not only irrelevant in the modern context, but are also unhelpful to my efforts to act as a working role model to my young daughter. Fortunately this is changing, but it does mean more effort may be needed to show the kids that today’s mums and dads can play the same roles.

Young children adapting: don’t project your own fears onto them!

Of course, worrying about how your children will adapt to a new environment is natural and warranted. However, my experience is that to our young children, home is where mum and dad are. Our concerns about how they would integrate, find new friends and continue to play were probably the most misguided of all our worries. For both of our moves the kids have been adaptable, excited and comfortable making new friends, while also keeping in touch with the old ones and sharing their thoughts on the different countries (in their own way of course). Personally speaking, I have to remember not to project our fears onto them, and that changes that can sometimes seem challenging to an adult – like travelling to a new place on an aeroplane, speaking to grandparents on videoconferencing and settling into a new environment – are second nature to them. For example, after a recent trip to the UK, my daughter announced for the first time that she wanted to move. I was concerned, and asked: “Do you mean to the UK or back to Botswana?” The answer came back: “I want to live in the Burj Khalifa when I’m older!”


Finding the right schooling

I have seen schooling become an obsession for some parents, who have expended huge effort on trying to match qualification types, subjects and – in some cases – the quality of teaching they wanted. It’s important to remember that school selection is also a challenge back home. With younger children, we have found that any minor academic differences are strongly outweighed by the wealth of learning, appreciation and confidence our children get from exposure to different cultures and experiences. The schools or nurseries that our children attend are not only providing an academic background, but are also supporting them in becoming rounded, experienced, global citizens able to learn, share and play with those of different languages, nationalities, cultures and religions. As at home, I’ve found it’s generally best to go with your instincts when selecting a school. Research and conversations may help – but opinions are subjective, and you’re the person best qualified to find the best fit for your own child.

The ‘I hate…’ days

I’d like to sign off with one of the best pieces of advice that a friend gave me before our first move. During any mobility experience there will be ‘I hate…’ days: whole days when everything seems foreign, the simple things are difficult and all you want to do is get back to familiarity. Well, guess what: they pass. Just get through them, and be careful not to blame all the usual ups and downs of life on the country you’re in. Also, use these times as a trigger to plan something you couldn’t do at home. Living abroad can be hard, so it’s important to make extra efforts to maximise the benefits. Sometimes, a mini-escape can provide perspective. And while I love visiting family back home at Christmas, I’m also happy to replace the grey skies over the M4 to Heathrow with the blue skies of Botswana or the warmth of Dubai.

Mine is certainly not the only expatriate story out there – and I hope that in the future, there will be many more to come: male and female, mums and dads, young and old. It’s never too early or too late to experience the personal or family adventure that is global mobility!

Signing off for now…


Sarah-Headshot Sarah Morrin is a Senior Manager in PwC Middle East’s consulting practice, specialising in the Energy, Utilities and Mining sectors. As an engineer and a chartered accountant, she specialises in working at the interface between commercial and operational concerns of clients. Her core skills are in asset management optimisation, business process implementation and major contractual reviews. Sarah is passionate about international experience and has acted as a project manager and PwC consultant in the Middle East, UK, Ireland and Africa.

You can connect with Sarah on LinkedIn.

21 July 2016

Moving women with purpose: The Middle East – “Trailblazing whilst specialising”

Our recent research report Moving women with purpose: Creating gender inclusive mobility tells us that organisations priority destinations for growth are often those low on the list of employee’s favoured destinations.  The Middle East and Africa in particular rank the least attractive relocation regions for female and male talent across the globe.  

Last week PwC guest blogger Sarah Morrin shared her first in a series of blogs in which she discussed the amazing experience she had living and working in Botswana Africa.  This week, Sarah turns her attention to sharing her experiences of working in the Middle East and all that the region has to offer.




I think in every assignment, there comes a time for reflection and the decision to stay or go. For us, Botswana wasn’t our ‘forever’ place – and while we could have both had happy careers there, we wanted to move on to our next adventure……

……Having been in Botswana for two years, the time came for our careers and our family to look towards our next move. Although we had been away from the UK for two years, we had maintained good contact with our family and friends through visits home, weddings and having people to stay. And although we wanted to live a little closer to the UK, we weren’t in a hurry personally or professionally to move back there. Meanwhile, I had maintained my contacts with the PwC Middle East firm, and a number of colleagues that I had worked with on Middle East projects from the UK had made the move to the UAE. 

My desire to live as well as work for the Middle East firm had been a work in progress since 2010 when I first worked in the region. Between 2010 and 2012, I worked on a series of projects supporting the establishment of a new joint venture between an oil and gas major and the Iraqi government, including setting up new processes, organisational models and systems. During this period I travelled to the region frequently to provide consulting advice drawing on my combined engineering and accounting background, and I found it very different from what I’d expected. The clients were keen to build towards a successful new venture so the fact that I was female was secondary to the information and services I was delivering. Holding training sessions and workshops, I was welcomed and appreciated and really enjoyed the process of delivering tangible value in a short space of time.

A year ago, I joined the Middle East firm as a Senior Manager in the Energy, Utilities and Mining team. In making this move, I was looking not only to build on my Botswana experience, but also to refocus my career into a more specialist industry area where my combined engineering and financial skills could bring new perspectives to managing assets. As well as being able to be more focused by virtue of the larger size of the firm, the Middle East firm also had the advantage of a strong history of working on a cross-border basis, so I knew that I would have the opportunity to work in any of the 12 countries in the region.

ME sights

Shortly after my arrival, the decline in oil and gas prices meant the focus of clients changed, in turn requiring changes to the firm’s offerings. One of the advantages of having already experienced a new market and change meant that I had some preparation for this. The switch to a larger market and gaining an understanding not only of country but also new regional differences, business cultures and markets are work in progress. So far, my engagement experiences have included an oil refinery in Oman, sustainable investments in Abu Dhabi, health & safety reviews in Kuwait and, more recently, working for one of the largest industrial companies in the world on its IFRS conversion and IAS 16 compliance.

The last of these is based in the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, with special arrangements being made so I can be one of the few females allowed on site. Again, the result has been successful workshops, presentations, consultations and collaboration regardless of my gender or nationality. For me, it is very empowering to be able to take on the role of ‘trailblazer’. It is humbling and inspiring to feel that in addition to the challenging and engaging work I’m exposed to, there is often the potential side-effect that I am paving the way for other women in the Middle East to follow in my footsteps. While I might be the first women in many of these situations I know I won’t be the last.

Living in Dubai continues to be a wonder every day. It’s a modern global hub with an estimated 200-plus nationalities holding UAE residency at any time, so work and leisure are always multicultural. This is a Muslim country that is formed of seven distinct emirates and seeks to balance its cultural and religious heritage with modern life. It is important to be cognisant and aware of the traditions and requirements, but on a day-to-day basis their effects are rarely felt. A common question asked by visitors is what they should wear – and while the time of year and the particular country or Emirate being visited do have an impact, the usual rule is that modest clothing is appropriate. From my own perspective, I only wear an Abaya (a traditional overcoat of dark colours worn by women outside the house) when I am working in Saudi Arabia.

Having missed the sea in our time in Botswana, a gulf view was a must – so we made the decision to give apartment living a try. While some families soon move to a villa for the garden and space, we love the view, facilities and convenience, and all the family have taken to it. The rhythms of living inside in the hot summer months but having outdoor adventures in the winter is familiar from our experience in Africa – albeit that we now camp in the desert rather than the bush, and see more camels than elephants.  

Selfie Fun

One year in, my time in the Middle East has already been hugely rewarding, both personally and professionally.  My advice to women who’ve already struck the Middle East off their potential list of work destinations is: don’t believe everything you hear – and don’t knock it if you haven’t tried it! The main thing is to go and see for yourself and gain first-hand experience of not only the differences but also the similarities of the global workplace.

To be continued……


Sarah-Headshot Sarah Morrin is a Senior Manager in PwC Middle East’s consulting practice, specialising in the Energy, Utilities and Mining sectors. As an engineer and a chartered accountant, she specialises in working at the interface between commercial and operational concerns of clients. Her core skills are in asset management optimisation, business process implementation and major contractual reviews. Sarah is passionate about international experience and has acted as a project manager and PwC consultant in the Middle East, UK, Ireland and Africa.

You can connect with Sarah on LinkedIn.

12 July 2016

Moving women with purpose: Botswana, Africa – “Expanding my horizons and portfolio”

Our recent research report Moving women with purpose: Creating gender inclusive mobility confirms that both businesses and talent face clear mobility location-related challenges. Seventy-five percent of global mobility leaders agree that assignment destinations match their organisation’s priority destinations for growth, yet the markets targeted for growth may be low down the list of employee’s favoured destinations. Our research tells us that 48% of women say they would never consider relocating to the Middle East as an international assignment location, while 43% say the same for Africa, ranking these regions as the least attractive to female talent from across the globe.

Organisations will need to explore how they manage this mismatch, while talent – especially international experience-hungry millennials, 73% of whom want to work abroad during their career – will need to consider destinations beyond the developed Western markets that have traditionally been favoured.


So, the question for international businesses is: how do you make opportunities in locations such as Africa and the Middle East more attractive to the modern workforce?

Employers’ responses to this question should include creating greater awareness of what these locations have to offer, and role-modelling the experiences of successful assignees in these locations. With these aims in mind, let me get the ball rolling by introducing the first in a series of blogs from PwC guest blogger Sarah Morrin, who over the course of three blogs will be sharing her experiences as a woman and mother on international assignment in Africa and the Middle East.



In August 2012 I was fortunate to move from London to Botswana.  I say ‘fortunate’ because despite being one of those millennials who would have quickly ticked the ‘working-outside-their-home-country’ box, this experience nearly didn’t happen. By 2012, my life was – at least to outsiders – very settled: we were married and had a mortgage, I had returned to work after my first baby, and I was commuting to my role at PwC in London from nearby Sussex each day. To satisfy my urge to travel I had some projects in the Middle East, but it seemed that my time for living abroad had passed.

But I was lucky – as this was all about to change.  My first piece of luck was that my husband came home one day and announced he had been given an opportunity to work in Botswana. My second was that being with PwC meant I could make this opportunity work professionally for me as well.

In Botswana we lived in Gaborone, the capital city. Botswana is a landlocked country in Southern Africa that is the world’s largest producer of diamonds. It was a British protectorate until independence in 1967, with English and Setswana as its languages. The population is approximately 2 million, and includes a tight-knit business community.

These were the basics of my early research. But living somewhere, you learn a lot more. As a farmer’s daughter, I learned to appreciate that Botswana was also a major beef producer, and I had some important clients in this sector. In Botswana, the cattle often roam free range, which was a welcome sight alongside the goats, chickens and donkeys. Whilst most of the wildlife resides in the North of the country, the South also had its excitements – such as a tribe of resident monkeys in the PwC carpark, warthogs by the road and lizards everywhere.


Through working on risk assurance engagements with major donor agencies and related parties, I came to understand more about the impacts that TB, Malaria and HIV have had on the population in Botswana. I also saw how this burden of disease has created its own drivers for success and research, including planned eradication of malaria and the successful protection of unborn children from HIV transmission.

I think that all too often, potential moves to ‘less developed’ markets are considered through the lens of what one will be giving up, rather than what these locations have to offer. Likewise, assumptions and myths can potentially get in the way of what could be the career and personal experience of a lifetime. I feel very privileged to be able to share my experience and debunk some of these myths; myths like emerging markets won’t provide as much career opportunity or be as female-friendly as one’s home country.

As part of my move I took a promotion to a new role as an Advisory Senior Manager. This role became the lead for the new Advisory practice, managing all Botswana Consulting and Risk Assurance projects alongside building and training a young local team. I had the opportunity to grow a new business, challenge myself, and have early exposure to tackling practice challenges like balancing pipeline and delivery, bringing a new team up to speed, entering a new market and collaborating with other PwC firms to deliver projects.

Professionally, my position as a pioneer for PwC in the country meant that not only the range but also the profile of projects I undertook was high. These included setting up new entities for the government, having meetings with high-profile ministers and contributing and speaking at corporate and society events on key topics.

My exposure to female role models was also immense. Working at senior levels for government and private clients, I appreciated that Botswana has one of the highest proportions of female heads of household and that many of these women were forces to reckon with. I attended many Board meetings with powerful, successful and educated Batswana women who had a strong interest in serving their communities and families. At PwC, I was the most senior client-facing female – and I soon found that those applying for positions to join the team were young ambitious, educated Batswana females with much to contribute now and in the future.

Personally, I arrived in Botswana with one baby and left with two, as life’s more common adventures continue. Whilst arrangements for childcare were easier, I must admit that the school run remained the same headache as it does wherever you are in the world trying to balance competing commitments.


Working in an emerging market – especially when coming from a more mature market – does bring its own challenges physically, emotionally and professionally. For us, there were physical challenges such as appreciating and living with increased house security, a drought resulting in water shortages and interruptions in power supply. There was also the emotional upheaval of being far away from family and friends, although many did make the visit of a lifetime to share in our adventures – and we encouraged them to do so. Professionally, starting something new on your own is daunting and stalled progress can be frustrating, along with trying to work out which of your work behaviours to adapt to a new business culture and which are needed to be retained to make progress. At times it could be very lonely, until I began to reach out to PwC colleagues not only in Botswana, but also fromother African firms and back in the UK and Middle East.

Looking back, it was definitely all worth it, with the positives far outweighing the challenges.  The opportunity to develop a practice area, while working on such a wide range and variety of client engagements, is something I simply would not have been afforded back in London. I strongly feel I’ve developed leadership skills, established amazing relationships and vastly expanded my engagement portfolio and horizons. I feel that many of these stretch and learning experiences were because of – and not in spite of – my relocation to an emerging market.

So, my advice to women (and men) considering an international experience is: don’t be afraid of or rule out some of the more adventurous locations this world has to offer.

To be continued……


Sarah-Headshot Sarah Morrin is a Senior Manager in PwC Middle East’s consulting practice, specialising in the Energy, Utilities and Mining sectors. As an engineer and a chartered accountant, she specialises in working at the interface between commercial and operational concerns of clients. Her core skills are in asset management optimisation, business process implementation and major contractual reviews. Sarah is passionate about international experience and has acted as a project manager and PwC consultant in the Middle East, UK, Ireland and Africa.

You can connect with Sarah on LinkedIn.

16 June 2016

Keep your colleagues close and your friends closer

Thirty-one years ago I began primary school and since then there have been four constants in my life; they go by the names Maria, Michelle, Maureen and Máire. Back then we played with the same toys, held the same interests, wore the same clothes and even formed a girl-group at the age of ten called ‘4M’s-1A’ long before the Spice Girls and ‘girl power’.  Today, we are much more about embracing our own unique differences, recognise we can’t sing and work in the fields of diversity, finance, travel, writing and acting.

Last year my mum’s two best friends were very welcome guests at my wedding, they’ve been friends for 60 years. Powerful friendships have been instrumental in both mine and my mother’s lives.  So when this week’s guest blogger Claire Millar asked me what I thought about her writing a guest blog on the impact her friends have had on her career, I simply could not have been more on board. 



There are many influences in a woman’s life that can help to enhance or hinder her career progression.  In particular, the people in our lives play a pivotal role, women and men. I do however feel that a girl’s best friend can play a much bigger role than that portrayed in the movies and my experience has shown me that strong female friendships can affect your work life as well as your personal life.

I have been lucky enough to have phenomenal women at PwC guide and support me thus far in my career as well as some very special women outside of work. Women supporting women in the workplace is often discussed and widely documented. There is much research highlighting the benefits of female support on a woman’s career. However, it is less common to hear of the positive impact the women outside of the workplace can have on our careers.

I have lots of amazing female influences in my personal life; my mother, my sister and not least my best friends. I would rarely make a decision pertaining to my career prior to consulting with my best friends and they have played a hugely influential role in my chosen professional path.

Last September marked 20 years since my mother first put me in my bottle green school uniform and said goodbye at the school gates. It also marked the beginning of many beautiful friendships, the majority of which still hold strong today.  


The group comprises a range of careers; nurses, accountants, marketing and media execs, teachers, social workers, finance analysts, a scientist, an air hostess and an architect. Some own houses, some are mothers, others are single.  Yet irrespective of our diverse careers and lifestyles, we have the strongest friendship I have ever witnessed and act not only as a support network for each other, but also as advice givers and mentors. There is something incredibly special about having my own personal team of mentors with such a wide range of expertise. We’ve even taken to holding an annual award ceremony recognising the accomplishments of one another.

I told my friends I was writing this blog and asked if they felt this group had encouraged or helped them with regards to their educations and careers. The response was almost immediate and overwhelming.  There was not one of us that had not benefited professionally from each other’s support throughout the course of our 20 year long friendship. With many of the group now living overseas to follow their career and travel dreams, there were countless stories of the guidance and support they experienced when making the difficult decision to emigrate and throughout the transition process. Others thanked the group for encouraging them to return to college to further their education, a risk they feel was definitely worth taking.

One friend described the challenge she faced when deciding whether to leave what was described in her own words as a credible job in business banking to go and work as an air hostess for one of the largest airlines in the world. She explained how she faced negative reactions and felt patronised by people when they learned of her decision, yet received nothing but encouragement and honest advice from our group of friends. More than a year on, she feels that for the first time she is doing a job where she feels fulfilled both career wise and personally.

On a personal level, I had what was arguably the most challenging summer of my life last year as I faced the FAE exams, the final step towards becoming a chartered accountant here in Ireland. At times, I struggled to maintain focus but any time when my motivation faltered, I had a full team behind me to encourage and support me at every hurdle. When I got the good news that I had qualified my friends were bursting with pride. More importantly, they made me realise that regardless of the outcome, I would be ok.

These friends have had and continue to have a profound influence on my life both personally and professionally. I would encourage women to discuss career matters with their friends. We often talk about the importance of diversity and sometimes having input from people who work in a completely different business to you and know you personally can be tremendously powerful. As much as our conversations do revolve around the typically girlie topics, just as many involve notes of encouragement and congratulations on everyday achievements like a positive review in work.  

Are you experiencing a challenge in work, considering a career move or do you want to tell someone about something you achieved?  Take my advice and discuss with a friend!



Claire Millar based in Dublin is an ACA qualified senior associate in PwC Ireland’s Asset Management division.  Prior to starting as a graduate hire with PwC Ireland Claire completed a B.Sc. in Accounting and Finance in DIT Aungier Street before going on to complete the Master of Accounting programme in UCD’s Smurfit School. Her article, Through the Glass Ceiling – Influences on and challenges faced by female partners in Big 4 accounting practises, was published in Accountancy Ireland. Since joining the firm, she has become involved with the 30% Club in Ireland, acting as an aide to the Steering Committee.

You can connect with Claire on LinkedIn or follow her on Twitter.

24 May 2016

One Step Forward and One Step Back for Woman CEOs in 2015

In Strategy&’s 2013 ‘Women CEOs of the last 10 years’ we finally caught sight of some positive diversity predictions; in particular that by 2040, Strategy& projected that women will make up about one third of new CEO appointments.  Strategy&’s CEO Success study examines the degree, nature, and geographic distribution of chief executive changes among the world’s 2,500 largest public companies. This year, the study highlighted one further positive trend for female CEOs: that they are no longer more likely to be forced out than their male counterparts.  From 2004 to 2015, women CEOs were 27% more likely to be forced out than men CEOs, but in 2015 for the first time, the difference was not statistically significant.

However, it’s not all good news for women CEOs. Last year, just 10 women were among the 359 incoming CEOs; at 2.8% that was the lowest share since 2011, and far below the 5.2% peak reached in 2014. 


One of the least impressive results in 2015 was in North America, which has historically been the most welcoming of all regions for women executives. Since 2004, incoming women CEOs in the U.S. and Canada have made up 4% of the total, compared with the global average of 3%. In fact, 42% of all the women CEOs who have been appointed over the last 12 years were appointed at North American companies. But in the U.S. and Canada, only 1.1% of CEOs appointed in 2015 were female, the lowest percentage of incoming women CEOs in the U.S. and Canada since we began tracking the incoming class of CEOs in 2004 (see Exhibit B). 


Women CEOs continue to be hired from outside more often than men. From 2004 to 2015, 32% of new women CEOs have been outsiders, compared with 23% of men. In the past, Strategy& have attributed this to the relatively low number of women in senior leadership roles within companies. Only 14.2% of the top five leadership positions at S&P 500 companies are held by women, according to a CNNMoney analysis.


There could be another factor at work. Senior female executives, like senior male executives, often leave companies when they are passed over for a CEO role. The likelihood that some companies aren’t recognizing the potential of internal women executives may cause them to be receptive to recruitment efforts for outside CEO positions. Given the rise of outsider CEOs noted in the main article, however, the fact that more companies are considering outsiders might improve the chances for women CEOs in the future. 

Although the numbers of incoming female CEOs have always been low, there had seemed to be a slow trend toward higher numbers over the last several years. Despite this year’s reversal, Strategy& remain confident that demographic, educational, and societal forces will continue to promote greater diversity in the C-suite and continue to predict as much as a third of the incoming CEO class around the world will be female by 2040.

Find out more by visiting: http://www.strategyand.pwc.com/ceosuccess/womenCEOs

16 May 2016

Unleashing the full potential of female wealth creators

By Sandra Dowling

PwC’s most recent internationally-focused study of the millennial generation made one thing clear, when it comes to the female millennial we really are talking about a new era of female talent. These women, currently entering the workforce and moving into management positions are more confident and ambitious than ever before. The ambition of this generation of women is exemplified by the fact that they rank opportunities for career progression as the most attractive attribute in an employer. Nearly half believe they can reach the very top within their organisation, which attests to their confidence.

Power and potential
What particularly struck me about the findings was the earning power and wealth creating potential of this generation as when it comes to earning power and patterns, female millennials are very much trail blazers. Of the female millennials who are in a relationship, 86% are part of a dual career couple, with 42% earning equal salaries to their partner or spouse and almost a quarter (24%) are the primary earner in their relationship. This means that 66% earn as much or more than their partner or spouse. And as millennial women progress in their careers, the more likely they are to out-earn their other halves.

Women should be able to fulfil their potential without being impacted by any blindspots that may exist within the workplace. More than 70% of the women taking part in our millennial research felt that opportunities are not equal for all. Over 40% believed that employers are too male biased when it comes to promotion, a big jump from when we carried out a comparable survey of millennials internationally in 2011. Research on blindspots suggests that leaders still tend to promote people like themselves, and because so many leaders are men, talented and aspiring women may face increased challenges.

Focusing on the outcomes
As a single mother bringing up young twins, one of the key issues for me is flexibility. Half of the women in our survey say that flexibility and work-life balance programmes exist in their organisations, but aren’t readily available to them in practice. Worryingly, more than 40% believe taking advantage of flexibility and work-life balance programmes would actually have negative consequences for their careers. If key talent and wealth creators are lost because of this, it will inevitably damage the business and the economy. Employers need to make flexibility a real part of all staff’s working lives rather than a just a passive policy. The key to this is focusing on outcomes rather than presence in the office: if I want to take time out to go to my children’s sports day, for example, that will enhance rather than detract from my ability to deliver for the firm.

We are working hard at PwC UK to change things and what’s encouraging for me is that diversity and inclusion are seen as business imperatives rather than just nice-to-haves. And to get where we want to be and realise the benefits, we recognise the need to ask difficult questions and challenge assumptions that have persisted for generations. For those that invest in their female talent, the rewards of creating more wealth for the business will flow.

Overcoming the obstacles
Women clearly need to keep pushing against these barriers, but to remove them altogether requires real engagement from male colleagues. One of the ways that we at PwC UK are trying to identify and overcome potential unconscious biases is through our open mind training curriculum. The change programme is designed to help people become mindful of the potential blind spots in their thinking and the impact on their decisions. For example, “Am I making assumptions about people that don’t reflect their real talent and potential?” We back this up by setting and tracking gender and ethnicity targets for our different business units.

I have also been closely involved in our UK shadowing programme, in which students get a taste of what we do and how they can contribute. Firms like ours can appear daunting from the outside, so it’s great to see that more than 90% of the women who take part in this initiative choose to seek a career with us. Additionally, leaders like me can get a taste of what our younger colleagues are facing through our reverse mentoring programme, allowing us to shadow them on a typical day.


Sandra Dowling Sandra Dowling is a partner in PwC UK’s Investment Management practice in London and leads the Real Estate Assurance group in the UK.

A version of this blog post was first published in the Women’s Executive Network (WXN) ‘The Opinion’ magazine, Spring 2016 issue.

03 May 2016

Women in Work – The Nordic countries maintain their position at the top of the index

By Yong Jing Teow and Shivangi Jain

The fourth annual update of the PwC Women in Work Index (WIW) indicates a continued strong performance by the Nordic countries, with Iceland, Norway and Sweden maintaining their positions as the top three performing countries. Our Index combines five key indicators of female economic empowerment: the equality of earnings with men; the proportion of women in work, both in absolute terms and relative to men; the female unemployment rate; and the proportion of women in full-time employment.

Figure 1: PwC’s Women in Work Index

Women in work index

Source: PwC analysis using data from OECD and Eurostat

As Figure 1 shows, other OECD countries have also made significant improvements in their performance: Hungary most notably has achieved the biggest year-on-year improvement jumping from 24th to 19th position due to a significant narrowing of the wage gap, a rise in female labour force participation and a fall in unemployment. UK’s improvement in performance in terms of empowering the female workforce is also noteworthy; it has moved up in the ranks from 21st position out of 33 OECD countries, a position it has held for the past 2 years, to 16th position in 2014. This improvement in the UK’s performance has largely been driven by a narrowing of the gender pay gap and a significant reduction in the female unemployment rate due to the stronger economic growth in recent years.

At the other end of the spectrum, Australia has continued to fall in the ranks from 10th to 17th position in 2013 and to 20th position in 2014, struggling to make any improvements in its performance across the component indicators of the index. Netherlands has also seen a significant fall in its position from 18th to 23rd with a worsening performance across all indicators. Korea, Greece and Mexico remain at the bottom of the index.

While overall gains have been made across the OECD to improve female economic empowerment, it is clear that there is more to be done; our findings indicate that women are still paid $83 for every $100 her male counterpart earns on average across the OECD, while underemployment also remains a pressing issue.

There is much more that businesses and governments can do to fully leverage female talent. The Nordic countries offer some useful policy lessons for the rest of the OECD. Their success has been made possible by a combination of family-friendly policies and cultural changes that acknowledge the right of each individual to work and support themselves, and to balance their career and family life. These include generous parental leave allowances, strong social safety nets, access to affordable childcare, as well as legislative protection against discrimination.

For instance, Sweden and Norway introduced shared parental leave as early as in the 1970s, with the view of increasingly involving fathers in childcare and household work. In Sweden, parents are currently entitled to share 480 days of paid parental leave when a child is born or adopted. Each parent has a “use-it-or-lose-it” entitlement of 2 months paid leave. Swedish parents also get significant support from the state in the form of family benefits for children. This support amounts to 3.1% of GDP compared to 2.2% for the EU on average.

Another factor supporting women returning to work following motherhood is the availability of affordable and quality childcare. In Sweden, public childcare operates on a whole-day basis. Pre-school is free for children between three and six for up to 15 hours a week. Childcare fees are also means-tested, as fees are proportional to parents’ income and inversely proportional to the number of children in the family.

The availability of state support means that the costs of returning to work for mothers are significantly lower. Including state support, childcare-related costs in the Nordic countries account for around 5-10% of household income, compared to almost a third of household income in the UK. As a result, the Nordic countries have one of the highest female labour force participation rates in the OECD, and the smallest gaps in the employment rate between women who have children and those who don’t.

Although these policies come at a cost of higher taxes, female employment has brought about significant economic benefits, as well as made it possible for parents to combine both work and family life. Our findings highlight the huge prize on offer; according to our research, improving female employment across the OECD to match Sweden’s performance could yield a boost to overall OECD GDP of almost US$5 trillion. While progress is being made, there is still a long way to go in creating a truly diverse and equal workplace through addressing the underlying structural factors in the labour market which discourage women from entering and have direct repercussions for business and the performance of the economy as a whole. With such significant opportunities to increase GDP in the world’s leading economies (see Figure 2), government and businesses really do need to work together and develop policies which support more women returning to work and which drive forward the gender agenda.

Figure 2: Estimated increase in GDP from increasing female employment rates to Swedish levels:

Estimated GDP increase WIW

Source: PwC analysis using data from OECD, Eurostat

For details on our analysis and full report, please go to our website: pwc.co.uk/womeninwork

03 April 2016

Moving women with purpose: creating gender inclusive global mobility

Did you know that we are experiencing a time of unprecedented – and as yet unmet – female demand for international mobility? PwC recently released our ground-breaking research report, Modern mobility: Moving women with purpose.

This global report reveals some glaring disconnects in companies’ approaches to female mobility. For example, some 71% of female millennials want to work outside their home country during their career, but only 20% of the current internationally mobile population are women and only 22% of global mobility executives said they are actively trying to increase their levels of female mobility.    Insert animated gif

Is your organisation prepared to respond to this global mobility gender gap?

Join us this Tuesday, 5 April, for our Moving women with purpose webcast where I’ll be joined by Kathy McDermott, Global Mobility Partner & US Tax Diversity Leader and Eileen Mullaney, PwC Global Mobility Consulting Leader.

We’ll be discussing the findings of the report, sharing our personal experiences and talking about what leading edge companies are doing to respond to the challenges it reveals. You’ll also get a chance to hear from some great female role models with successful international assignment experiences.

I hope that you can join us, Tuesday 5 April (07:00 PDT/10:00 EDT/15:00 BST/16:00 CEST) – simply register here



Aoife_Flood070316Based in Dublin, Ireland, Aoife Flood is Senior Manager of the Global Diversity & Inclusion Programme Office for PwC International Limited with responsibility for the development and implementation of our network-wide global Diversity & Inclusion strategy.

She is a proud PwC female millennial and lead researcher and author of our ‘Modern mobility: Moving women with purpose’, ‘The female millennial: A new era of talent’ and 'Next Generation Diversity: Developing tomorrow's female leaders' thought leadership publications.

Aoife is also co-author of our Global Gender Agenda blog. You can learn more about Aoife here.