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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.


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