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01 May 2009

When will there be good news?

A wise woman once told me that the secret of happiness is thick skin and low expectations.  When I have, in the past, shared this nugget with friends, the response has always been a mixture of nods of recognition and acknowledgement and a few comments along the lines of “that’s a really pessimistic outlook on life, isn’t it?”. And I agree; as a philosophy, it does seem to imply an assumption that you won’t receive the gift, the promotion, the new job, the prize.  But, on the other hand, the possession of thick skin can be a very useful attribute in tough times, enabling one to shrug off unwelcome news and developments with a degree of ease.

I reminded myself of this mantra when I arrived at the Brewery in Chiswell St, central London, on Wednesday evening.  Along with 450 others, I was there for the Opportunity Now awards, a very prestigious annual celebration of achievement in the fields of gender equality, diversity and inclusion.  Unlike most of the people there, though, I was present because I, as part of the Gender Advisory Council, had been short-listed for an award. And as those close to me will know, I’ve been living with the details of The Award since January, so I was hugely amused to arrive at the venue and be greeted by a charming lady at the check-in, who gave me my name badge and then enquired: 

“Did you know that you’d been short-listed for an award?  Because that’s why your name badge is a different colour to everyone else’s.”


And she was right; I had a GREEN badge, whereas the majority had white.

The ON awards operate under a cloak of secrecy not dissimilar to that allegedly ascribed to Opus Dei, so I’ve been sworn to confidentiality until now.  But I can at last reveal that we entered the award back in the middle of January, when we completed a highly complex, strictly word-counted (1500 words, max) form, in an anonymous style, which asked us to describe the details of our “global initiative”, with the descriptor that it must be:

“… specifically for a gender equality, diversity and inclusion programme/work or initiative which extends across at least three countries.”

So we entered the Gender Advisory Council for the Global Award and filled in sections about our motivation, impact, aims, management commitment (that part was particularly easy to write, given the huge support that we have always enjoyed from Sam DiPiazza), our actions (the Leaking Pipeline, the “Closing the Gender Gap” film and so on), our accountability, our communications approach (hello) and our organisational learnings.  And all of this had to be done within 1500 words and without ever uttering those three little letters which mean so much: P.w.C

I pressed “send” on 21st January and then sat back and waited … which wasn’t too painful at that stage, as I left the country shortly thereafter and took up residence in the sunshine with my stash of books.  Upon my return, the very first email which I opened on February 9th was the one from Opportunity Now which both informed us that we had been short-listed (hurrah!) but also warned that it was a confidential exercise until the night of the awards and so we could not mention the fact of the short-listing and nor could we find out who else had been short-listed or even how many of them there were. So that’s why there’s been no loud trumpeting of the news on here or anywhere else, although at times it was a tough secret to keep.

The next stage of the process was to prepare a presentation to be given to an Opportunity Now judging panel – so the PwC team swung into action, marshalled our resources and started planning.  How do you condense all this great material and our strong messages into a mere thirty minutes?  How do you convey your impact and achievements?  What angle do you take?  And who are the best people to present your case? 

We decided upon a three woman team of myself, Moira Elms, the GAC’s chair and Sonja, our Dutch representative.  Sonja Barendregt-Roojers is the powerhouse behind the Dutch diversity movement in our firm in that country and we knew that her passion would come across in a very authentic way and add to our presentation.  A mere eleven iterations of the slides later … we were ready.  Our presentation summarised the application form and followed the same approach, but had a strong focus on the impact of our work; We were keen to indicate the significance of having Sam’s support, so we included the two minute trailer to the film as an opening gambit.  The judging panel took place on March 10th and went, we thought, well, although we agreed at the time that it was very difficult to really know; I do commend the three judges for their poker faces and complete unity on not conveying a single aspect of their thought processes.

So, fast forward to April 29th and my arrival.  I met up with Moira and our other PwC colleagues, as the UK firm had also been short-listed for an award; this was the Advancing Women in Business award, for which they entered the pioneering Advisory Women’s Leadership programme.  Three of the women who were promoted to Partner as a result of the programme were there (and they had in turn done their judging panel presentation a few days after us, in March)  and we met at our table, immediately pouncing on the programme to see who else was short-listed.

And this is the point at which my skin grew tougher and my expectations dipped, as I saw that we were up against two incredibly impressive sounding global programmes from the Foreign & Commonwealth Office and Goldman Sachs.  The programmes were described in case studies within the brochure (and are also now up on the ON website) and I was instantly convinced that one of them would win – how could they not? 

I settled in and enjoyed the speeches from women including ON Chair Carolyn McCall, who reminded us that these initiatives “improve companies for women – and so they improve them for everyone – full stop.”  Alison Platt, the incoming Chair, noted that it was a fantastic achievement to even be short-listed, and I murmured that one to myself under my breath. Journalist Samira Ahmed was the evening’s host and she cited the PwC survey on the recession in her opening remarks, reminding us of the old World War 2 mantra that we need to “Keep Calm and Carry On”.  She also noted that it was important for us all to:

“Keep our foot on the diversity pedal in these difficult times; the recession won’t last forever and we will need female talent to pull us into the future.”

Keynote speaker Cilla Snowball urged everyone to guide and support the careers of at least two women,  and talked about her own role models; both men and women who had, throughout her long and successful career in advertising (“it’s not at all like Mad Men”) provided her with the enthusiasm and motivation needed to make a success of her profession. 

And so, finally, to the awards.  The Global Award was the fifth (I think) announcement and I actually gave human form to the saying “she almost fell off her chair” when the words:

And the winner is … PricewaterhouseCoopers!” -

were announced.  Moira and I made our way up to the stage, were warmly congratulated by Carolyn and Samira, were presented with the award and were photographed.  This bit is all a blur to me; many, many people have subsequently commented that I was “grinning widely” and “looking absolutely, ecstatically, happy” and “very emotional and overwhelmed” – and they’re probably right.  But I can’t remember!  I do remember cradling the huge lump of engraved glass that is The Award in my arms as we made our way back to the table, sitting down and draining a large glass of water and being warmly congratulated by my colleagues.  But I had hardly calmed down from all of this and found the presence of mind to text my husband and my best friend with the single word: “YES!!” when the words:

And the winner is … PricewaterhouseCoopers!” –

were again heard from the stage – and this time Honor, Jo and Madeline went up to collect their award.

So – what an amazing night for PwC! And how proud and happy we all were to have the three years of work that has,  to date,  gone into the Gender Advisory Council in order that we can be recognised as the first winners of Opportunity Now’s global award.  Here is a photo of the award – taken when I arrived back home, so please forgive the poor quality of the image:


As GAC member Rich Baird commented yesterday:

“It must be one of the shards of the glass ceiling mounted and engraved.  How clever they are!”

Until next time – from a very proud member of the award winning Gender Advisory Council


PS: Happy Birthday today to Sonja – what a wonderful birthday present this award is for her!


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