This week I’ve asked Erica Goldsmith of PwC UK to share how her recent international assignment enhanced her personal and professional life. I was inspired by Erica’s candour and insight – and having been on an international assignment, could relate to what she had to say about the dream versus the reality. Her story will be indispensable for anyone considering a move - and you’ll love her photos of the recent Winter Olympics where she watched Canada win its first home gold medal and dressed up as a Canadian moose as part of the closing ceremonies. Enjoy!
“PwC’s Leaking Pipeline report investigated factors that contribute to success and advancement in the workplace. Mobility is one such factor, identified by many of the female partners interviewed as a key stepping stone to leadership.
The firm has a number of network programmes to support and encourage international mobility amongst our partners and staff. One of the most successful programmes in recent years is the ‘Early PwC International Challenge’ – affectionately known as EPIC - a scheme aimed at promoting overseas experience in staff at an early stage in their career.
I have recently returned to the UK after a two year international assignment to Vancouver, Canada. My experiences overseas were indeed epic and I believe they will have a lasting impact on my career.
First a little background: I joined PwC as a graduate trainee in the Tax practice and spent the first part of my career working in Cambridge in the UK, with a mixed portfolio of clients including many technology and life science companies. I began to specialise in international tax and transfer pricing work and an overseas secondment seemed like a natural step to enhance my skills and broaden my horizons. With the support of my team in the UK, I identified a position in Vancouver that provided an opportunity to work in a similar industry specialism to my portfolio in Cambridge but to also gain experience in a new team and of course a new tax system, and before I knew it my visa had been approved and a one way flight was booked!
However, the idea of going overseas is quite different from the reality of actually departing for a new country and it was not without a certain amount of anxiety that I first arrived in Vancouver. Many people get to the idea stage and then find barriers in their path that prevent them from taking the all important step of turning ideas into action. A number of my colleagues wistfully said to me “I wish I could go abroad too...” as if it was something they would never be able to achieve. I believe that almost everyone at PwC could find an opportunity to go on an international assignment, but often it is our own fear rather than lack of opportunity that holds us back.
Within the firm there are many advocates of the benefits of international experience, but it does require each individual to be fully committed to making their own dream happen, and it does sometimes take creative thinking or compromise to implement as well as a good deal of support from colleagues. Schemes like EPIC make that process easier and one of my goals since returning to the UK is to be able to share my experiences and encourage others to follow in my footsteps.
Despite my own fear of the unknown, it didn’t take long to settle into my new role. Looking back, a significant element to this was being able to work with three key people. The first was a manager in my team who was also on an international assignment, from South Africa, and was generous in sharing her wisdom on everything from the best places to go for lunch (for anyone reading this in Vancouver, I really miss the sushi!) to passing my Canadian driving test. The second was my coach and team leader who made sure I was never short of client work, despite my relative inexperience, and always offered a friendly ear when I was unsure of a technical point. The third was my ‘host’ partner in the EPIC programme, who shared her own mobility story with me, including a significant career change and a move overseas with young children and husband in tow. These women acted as inspirational mentors to me throughout my EPIC assignment and challenged me to reach out, ask questions, and have faith in my own abilities.
One aspect of moving to a new team surprised me, and that was the lack of confidence I experienced in the first six or so months after moving. I hadn’t been mentally prepared to go back to square one in terms of my technical knowledge. I realised that I had taken a lot of this for granted in the UK, where I was a ‘go to’ person in my team, and where the gradual accumulation of knowledge had taken place over a number of years. Once I’d identified this feeling, it was actually very easy to deal with. Often the hardest part is admitting you need some assistance, but once you do so people are more than happy to help. Since then, I’ve encouraged everyone I work with to ask as many questions as possible and never to be afraid of asking for help, even if it seems trivial.
I have also noticed in myself the development of a real ‘can-do’ attitude which stems from knowing that if I can move countries, meet new people and learn so much in a short space of time I can probably tackle pretty much anything that is thrown at me. Shortly after I started work back in the UK one of my colleagues was out of the office for an extended period and I was asked to pick up his portfolio at very short notice. Before my EPIC assignment I might not have been so willing to simply pick up the phone to his clients and take over on their projects, but this time I was ready to get involved straight away and ensure that our clients received a seamless service from the team.
Outside of my professional experiences, my time in Vancouver was also one of personal growth. I made many new friends and spent time in the community as a volunteer. I was delighted by how friendly and welcoming everyone was, and discovered that ‘having an accent’ is always a sure-fire way to start a conversation.
Since I returned to the UK I’ve kept a more open attitude to everyone I meet. It is easy when you are in an established role to become set in your ways, but the experience of being new all over again has reminded me of the importance of sharing knowledge and understanding other people’s perspectives. Vancouver as a city is magnificently diverse, with a rich immigrant culture from both Europe and Asia. The people I worked with there inspired me to be the best I could and helped me to succeed in a new environment. PwC as a network wants to encourage diversity in the workplace and help create a culture that breaks down perceived barriers to success. My own personal experience leads me to agree that by encouraging mobility in our workforce, we really can embed the diversity perspective within our teams, and in so doing we create an environment that brings out the best in all of us.”