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17 July 2013

Women Leaders: the key organisational ingredient to surviving in a millennial world

Little things happen in our daily work life and sometimes it is these little things that make us most proud to be associated with our organisations.  PwC sponsored a recent Harvard Alumni event and while making arrangements for this event I asked the core PwC partner involved who they would like to invite along.  Given this was a high profile event, pitched at high profile women, I was rather pleased that the partner chose to bring Sarah, a millennial talent she was focused on mentoring. 

What might seem a ‘little gesture’ to one can be somewhat magnified to another.  This invite meant that Sarah got exposure to very senior female role-models, very early in her career, and had it not been for this ‘little gesture’ Sarah might not have been exposed to such senior female leaders (beyond PwC) until much later in her career.  Even more gratifying for me is the fact that the experience left Sarah feeling inspired, and it is through this inspiration that we bring you this week’s guest blog, written by Sarah Passmore.

Before I hand you over to Sarah, I want to first share the exciting news that Bob Moritz, Chairman PwC US, will be embarking on a conversation with Sheryl Sandberg next week (23 July).  Even better, we would like you to be part of this conversation.  Interested? Just click here to learn more!




Recently I attended the London Harvard Business School Alumni Club’s celebration of 50 years of women on the Harvard Business School campus; sponsored by PwC.

There was an impressive line-up of speakers, including Barbara Minto, designer of the Minto Pyramid principle (and first ever female consultant at McKinsey), Orit Gadiesh, first female Chairman of Bain and Company and Rona Fairhead, former Chairman and Chief Executive of the Financial Times Group.  These women were there to tell stories of their rise to the top following their time at Harvard.  One of the reasons they had been asked to join the panel was because they were ‘trailblazers’, both at Harvard and in their subsequent careers.

It’s easy to forget that it wasn’t long ago, when these women were setting out, that overt gender discrimination was commonplace.  Orit, for example, was told in all seriousness that ‘women are bad luck’ when she started work in the steel industry.  The story is told as a joke today, which in itself shows how much, luckily, times have changed.  For example, a 2012 study found that 50% of graduates are women. Diversity has a voice on the agenda in the boardroom.  It feels like we’ve come a long way from the business world described that evening.

But we can’t get away from the much-publicised fact that women are not reaching board positions. Although we’ve got equality at entry-level, only 30% of these women go on to become managers, and only 10% progress to senior management levels.  The successes of Barbara, Orit and Rona are still in the minority.  There are only 192 women directors on FTSE 100 boards, out of a total of 1,110 places. Women make up 20 of 193 world leaders recognised by the United Nations.  Even the most diverse organisations, and nations, simply aren’t cutting it as you near the starry heights of the Executive.

So even though we’ve come a long way, there is a prevailing undercurrent of prejudice, at least at the top levels.  But it’s been over 40 years since women like Barbara, Orit and Rona joined the workforce.  What’s it going to take to get us to the top?

Recent studies explore a number of changes that will support the female agenda.  This varies from ‘executive feminism’ and a growing focus on diversity initiatives, to a steady rise in Asian female employment due to savvy multinationals.

I’m going to focus on the ‘millennial effect’, because I believe it will have a major impact on the diversity agenda and on how businesses are run.

In the HR Consulting practice, we have seen an increased focus on organisations seeking to embed their corporate values and behaviours.  Over the last 18 months specifically, companies have been increasingly looking to define what they stand for.  Why? Because companies know that today, values matter.  There are two reasons for this, and both will support the rise of women through senior management.

Firstly, customers have changed.  In addition to caring about the quality of product or service they are getting, they care about what the brands they buy stand for, and are willing to go elsewhere if it doesn’t fit with their own value system.  Consumers increasingly demand information as to how and where their products are produced. They demand fair working conditions for factory-workers, will pay a premium for fair-trade, and avoid brands who don’t pay ‘fair’ amounts of tax.  These preferences are no longer limited to an ‘elite shopper’; they simply reflect the demands of the ‘millennial shopper’.

In this way, customer loyalty is increasingly coming from creating a connection between the customer and the brand, so companies are placing a real focus on getting to know their customers and building relationships with them.  This was also the focus of Seth Godin’s latest book The Icarus Principle. Take the success of brands like Innocent, Apple, or Google.  Their success comes from having strong and authentic corporate values that build and maintain powerful relationships with their customers.

There is a second reason that values matter to businesses.  At the same time as businesses having to change to accommodate the ‘millennial shopper’, they must also accommodate the ‘millennial worker’.


As we know, the millennial generation is a growing presence in today’s workforce.  Businesses are beginning to understand what impact this will have on how they operate.  What makes this more pressing are the results of the recent PwC NextGen study; it shows that millennial values aren’t limited to the millennial generation.  The workforce as a whole is increasingly caring about corporate values.  People want to feel like part of a team.  They want a purpose.  They also want things like a flexible schedule and development opportunities.  By 2020, millennials will account for 50% of the global workforce, but as we’ve seen, ‘millennial values’ are likely to account for more.

To respond to this, businesses are increasing focus on embedding corporate values, investing in graduate development and talent management programmes, and on flexible working.

Savvy organisations are going further than this.  To engage both millennial workers and millennial shoppers, they are actively building authentic, values-driven organisations that encourage their employees to ‘live’ their corporate values.  They encourage employees to really connect with the organisation, and for this to shape how they interact with their customers.  In this way, employees create the authentic connections that customers are looking for.

What has all of this got to do with the gender agenda? Simply, building this change in the way organisations view their customers and workforce requires a radical change in the way they are run. Without adapting, traditional top-down organisations won’t survive.

A study of 7,280 leaders by Harvard Business Review reveals that women excel in the areas that will deliver this change.  According to the study, women have high integrity, and a greater propensity to develop others, to inspire, and to motivate.  Women build relationships, collaborate and champion teamwork (Men were rated more positively on only one leadership competency in sixteen).  These are the very qualities that deliver the leadership and values that millennials are looking for.  They build the sense of purpose, the authenticity and the values-driven culture that will engage and retain millennial workers. It is these leadership traits that will ensure workers are equipped with the skills they need to build strong and lasting relationships with customers.

Women are positioned for success because we have millennial values.  We can help to shape organisations that can thrive in the changing environment.  There’s a clear message for business here.  They need to set women up to succeed if they want to survive in a millennial world.

Sarah Passmore is a Manager in PwC's UK HR Consulting practice, where she works with clients to align their people strategy with business strategy, focussing specifically on individual Performance Management.



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Having worked in various offices throughout the finance industry I was told by Management that women in the office in general are better at communicating,resolving conflicts and a fierce competitor when it comes to liaising with their respective foreign counterparts. In today's market I found that with so much going on it's sometimes overwhelming and the experience that I gained working with executive brokers is continuous educational program along with a supportive network of peers in the work place.

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