23 January 2015

Emma Watson and PwC at the World Economic Forum: What will men lose?


What do men have to gain from women’s empowerment?

It’s a candid, critical, and often controversial question. When some groups win, don’t others, by default lose?

While the answers to these questions aren’t straightforward, they are increasingly positive as we think about how to increase the productivity, quality of life, and most important, the happiness of every single person around the world.

This morning at the World Economic Forum in Davos, the United Nations launched the “10x10x10 initiative of the HeForShe Campaign, with PwC as a founding sponsor. Created by UN Women, the United Nations entity for gender equality and the empowerment of women, HeForSheis a global effort to engage men and boys in removing the social and cultural barriers that prevent women and girls from achieving their potential and thus together positively reshaping society.

Achieving gender equality requires an inclusive approach that recognizes the crucial role of men and boys as partners for women’s rights, and as having needs of their own in the formulation of that balance.


Emma Watson, of Harry Potter fame, as well as a recent Brown University graduate and UN Women Global Goodwill Ambassador said:

“The groundswell of response we have received in support for HeForShe tells us we are tapping into what the world wants: to be a part of change. Now we have to channel that energy into purposeful action. The pilot initiative provides that framework. Next we need all country leadership, as well as that of hundreds of universities and corporations to follow HeForShe’s IMPACT 10x10x10 so as to bring an end to the persisting inequalities faced by women and girls globally.”

Our leader, PwC International Chairman Dennis Nally, is one of three CEOs who has joined heads of state and universities to commit to getting men more engaged than ever through both education and action.


We’re excited to share more with you in the coming months about how this campaign will come alive and how you can be a part of it.

In the meantime, I must express my acute admiration for Emma Watson: How awesome is she? A role model for millennial men and women everywhere, she embodies the best of the sweeping and positive changes that a new generation of leadership is bringing to the table.

If you haven’t seen her short speech at the UN to launch HeForShe, I promise it’s worth the twelve minutes of your time it will take to watch. At once fiercely intelligent, vulnerable, and confident, Emma promises good things to come of the much-discussed millennial generation, and effortlessly delivers the message that gender parity will benefit everyone.


I’ll end with a reminder for all of our millennial readers to have your say about the world of work in the exciting research study PwC launched last week. Almost 7,000 millennials from across the globe have already shared their views– fill it out or share with friends, colleagues, and everyone else: click here to complete.

#PwC launches global study asking #femalemillennials to share their views on the world of work. Have your say: http://pwc.to/1ILmXdH



15 January 2015

Millennial women - have your say!

This week we bring you the exciting news that PwC is launching a global female millennial research study.

Organisations the world over are currently challenged with a lack of women in leadership positions, and concerned about the competitive and financial toll this could mean for their business.  They are also facing the challenges that come with vast numbers of millennial talent entering and reshaping the workforce.

At PwC, we believe that organisations looking to address the gender leadership gap must drive parallel efforts which tackle enhanced leadership diversity in conjunction with systemic change efforts targeting their workforce from day one.  But to get this right, organisations must first better understand how to attract, develop, and retain female millennial talent.

We have commissioned Opinium Research to conduct a global piece of research focused on the views of the female (and male) millennial.  The survey is open to millennials (those of us born between 1980 and 1995) anywhere in the world – who have worked within the past two years or are due to start work.  

The aim is to help us understand how gender and generation intersect and what this means for organisations looking to develop inclusive talent strategies.  We’ll be delving deeper into the themes explored in our -- ‘Next Generation Diversity, Developing tomorrow’s female leaders’ publication released last March -- so that the work views, needs and desires of the millennial are fundamental to shaping inclusive talent strategies that inspire and engage the workforce and leaders of tomorrow.

Are you a millennial woman (or man) in business – well why not share your views and help shape the inclusive talent strategies of tomorrow?  Simply play your part by investing ten minutes of your time to complete the survey!

We’ll be sharing the findings of our research with you in March, so watch this space!

Want to share this survey with a millennial you know? - simply share the message below via your social media channels:

#PwC launches global study asking #femalemillennials to share their views on the world of work. Have your say:  http://pwc.to/1ILmXdH

22 December 2014

Why I became a feminist: a female graduate’s perspective

The millennial generation has grown up in a world that exposes them to far more technology, globalisation and diversity than the generations before them.  Because of this, employers can fall into the trap of perceiving that this generation view inclusion as the status quo rather than a business challenge they need to prioritise.  Our recent thought leadership publication, highlighted that diversity is very much front of mind when it comes to the female millennial.  In fact, 82% of female millennials said they considered an employer’s diversity and equality record when deciding whether or not to work for them and 52% of millennials (male and female) said that while they believe employers talk about diversity they do not feel opportunities are really equal for all.


I recently had the pleasure of meeting Sheila Cassidy, a very recent graduate hire to our consulting practice here in Ireland.  Like the majority of our consulting hires, Sheila already had a couple of years work experience under her belt before joining PwC.  We had a great chat and naturally ended up discussing diversity.  What really struck me was how attuned Sheila was to many of the malleable barriers organisations are challenged with when it comes to gender diversity at such an early stage in her career.  I wanted to get the message out there so employers can view their workplace cultures through a female career starters eyes and think about what they need to change. 

So I hand you over to Sheila so she can share her experiences.



Two years ago I embarked on a leadership programme in Washington D.C. for the summer.  Throughout the programme something struck me, I noticed differences between the male and female participants.  These differences took various forms; the men were the first to raise their hands with questions, networked with much greater ease and, in general, appeared to have much more confidence than the women on the programme.  This sparked something in me and I decided to do some research. What I found were countless studies supporting my observations. I then began to consider if this could be rooted in the messages we send young girls and how we need to change these. This can begin from a very young age, and I think this video is an illustration of the kind of impact we can have, intentionally or unintentionally.

After completing this programme I re-entered a professional working environment and was more attuned to the challenges faced by women; they weren’t hard to find. I distinctly remember an occasion when I was shown a picture of the senior leaders of the company I had just joined.  There was a glaringly obvious lack of women in the group.  I would like to ask men to imagine sitting down on their first day with a new employer and realising that the vast majority of the senior leaders of the organisation were women. How would you feel?  Would you feel that you had an equal opportunity to progress? For me, this broadcast a clear message that women were at a disadvantage in terms of progression; I was at a disadvantage in terms of progression!

Although I am just starting out in my career, I can already pinpoint many occasions where I have been treated differently to my male peers.  Unlike me, I’ve never heard a man being told to be a ‘good little girl and make everyone coffee’ or ‘not to wear fake tan in the office as guys don’t like it’.

I recall working harder and longer hours than a male peer who sat beside me, yet at the end of the week it was with him that the senior leader asked to play golf.  It’s not just experiences that impact me that I’ve paid heed to; on one occasion I heard the candidacy of a woman being questioned because she was pregnant and might not want to move internationally – surely she should have been allowed to make a choice rather than have one made on her behalf? I’ve seen women display the same assertive behaviours as their male counterparts, however these behaviours are considered ‘bossy’ rather than assertive when displayed by women.

I am always fascinated by the reactions I encounter when I talk about my passion for feminism.  ‘Feminism’ must be amongst the world’s most misconstrued concepts. The primary reaction is that people think I want special treatment. This couldn’t be further from the truth – I want equal opportunity! Gender balance is about creating an environment that is beneficial to, and representative of, both men and women. Gender balance is about a work culture that is free from gender stereotypes for both genders. I think it is equally important that men are not subjected to the pressure to be the chief earner and that they should be given the opportunity to take substantially longer paternity leave.  What’s important is that we all understand a gender balanced environment is advantageous to both men and women. A diverse organisation is advantageous to both men and women.

Since having these experiences I have challenged myself to, in the words of Sheryl Sandberg, ‘lean in’. This has meant pushing myself to be the first to ask questions, to attend networking events on my own, to make sure I am heard; this does not mean that I don’t get nervous doing these things, but I remind myself that leaning in paves the way for others to do so. However, I recognise that women leaning in will not be enough to drive the cultural shift required to enable the required pace of change.  For this, we need male and female leaders to lean in, to engage with this topic and realise they are in a position to make a real difference.

Through this blog post I want to ask leaders to stop and think. Imagine what your organisations looks like to all of the female talent starting their careers.  Are they experiencing a workplace culture you, as a leader, are proud of? 

TGA_CassidyIf the answer is no, what are you going to do to change it?

Sheila Cassidy is based in Dublin and is an associate in PwC Ireland’s Consultancy division. Prior to starting with PwC Ireland this October, Sheila completed a Masters of Science in Management and Bachelor of Law in Queens University Belfast and The University of Newcastle, Australia. Sheila has worked in numerous organisations, including time abroad in London and Atlanta.

10 December 2014

International careers - the importance of role-modelling female assignees!

Today it is cold, windy and wet in Dublin which makes me wish I had a little more time to appreciate the sunshine I was exposed to in San Diego last month; where PwC hosted their 2014 Global Mobility Conference.

GA_101214_AI had the pleasure of being invited to present at this conference on the topic of the female millennial and what employers can do to achieve a more gender inclusive international assignment programme.  Not too surprising given our Next generation diversity: Developing tomorrow’s female leaders report highlights that 69% of female millennials would like to work outside of their home country during their career and 63% of female millennials feel international experience is critical to furthering their career.

One thing is clear, female demand for international mobility has quite simply never been higher.  Yet despite this, only 20% of current international assignees are female.

Along with my co-facilitator Joni Edwards, a tax partner based in our US firm’s Hartford, Connecticut, office we posed a number of polling questions to those attending our seminar.  The questions varied in the level of commitment or complexity their implementation would require from an employer, but all were important for organisations to have front of mind if they wish to achieve an inclusive mobility culture.

One of the questions we asked was: ‘Do you role model successful female assignees?’ For me, this is one of the most simple but effective actions an organisation can adopt to support a more gender inclusive mobility programme.

Employers need to get themselves familiar with the expression ‘you can’t be what you can’t see’.  The 69% of female millennials who desire international experience will want to be able to look up and around them and see women who have had international experience opportunities at your organisation and seen their careers benefit as result.  If this is not what they see, you may struggle to retain this talent cohort as they leave to pursue such opportunities with other employers.

And it is not just the female millennial whom will benefit; the effects of role modelling female assignees will help change mind-sets on what an international assignee looks like at your organisation.  This in turn will help drive the behavioural change required during the international assignee selection process.  Opportunities that may have historically been implicitly associated with male employees will now be associated with both genders at your organisation.  

The good news is that 45% of organisations represented in the room already role modelled the experiences of their current and past female assignees.  But for the 55% of organisations who weren’t sure or don’t currently take advantage of this opportunity and want to do so, here are some tips to help you on your way.

Do you role model successful female assignees in your organisation?


It is important to think about who you role model and that all of your female role models don’t look the same.  Aim to role model women who have had international experience early in their career and when their careers are more established.  Aim to role model women who have deployed to geographically diverse markets.  Aim to role model women who have deployed on their own, with their partners, and with their families. 

Joni my co-facilitator spoke about her experience of undertaking an international assignment to PwC Japan.  She struggled to say yes to this opportunity as she found it hard to picture her family of four children living and going to school in Tokyo.  In fact, she turned it down twice before she did say yes.  For her the opportunity was career changing and for her whole family life changing.  She also expressed that having been aware of someone who was in her shoes and had gone through a similar experience would have been hugely helpful when she was first presented with this opportunity.  This is one of the reasons she is very proud to be a female role model in this light today.

From Joni’s experience it’s safe to say that it may not only be women who desire international experience whom will benefit from such activity in your organisation, but role-modelling female assignees might also convince those who are not so keen on international experience for whatever reason to take the plunge.

Stay tuned for future blogs which will share more on the other questions we posed during our seminar!


04 November 2014

Where in the world are female CEOs?

A study earlier this year by our colleagues at Strategy& revealed some fascinating trends about women CEOs over the past 10 years. The findings have continued to resonate with journalists around the world, and have remained relevant due to the splash of articles on global women CEOs and women in the technology field.


The key findings of the study are as follows. Over the last 10 years:

More women are becoming CEOs slowly but surely. Over the past decade, there have been 75 percent more women CEOs in the incoming than outgoing classes. However, women still make up only 3.4 percent of CEOs around the world.

Women more often led in North America and least in Japan: most often led in IT and least in Materials.

Women were more often hired from the outside than men.

Women were forced out of office more often than men.

These findings all deserve further probing and we’ll explore them in a series of Gender Agenda Blogs. But the first thing I wanted to understand was: who and where are these female CEOs? We hear a lot about certain female CEOs – Marissa Mayer at Yahoo and Indra Nooyi at Pepsico immediately come to mind. But who are these other stellar woman and which countries do they lead in?

The number of female chief executives in the Fortune Global 500 rose to a record 17 this year. This deserves our attention. The study from Fortune reveals that Fortune 1000 companies with female CEOs recorded an average return of 103.4% over the course of the female CEO's tenure, much higher than the 69.5% average return for the S&P 500 Index, which looks at the combined performance of the largest companies on the market.

In addition to these encouraging numbers on average returns, the study also found that although only 5% of Fortune 1000 companies have female CEOs, they generate 7% of Fortune 1000's total revenue.

The following is a list of these stellar 17 women around the world, and the companies they lead:

1. Mary Barra, Chief Executive of General Motors Co., also the first female CEO of a major global auto manufacturer.

2. Maria das Graças Silva Foster, CEO of Petrobras-Petróleo Brasil (Petrobras); she is also the first woman in the world to head a major oil-and-gas company.

3. Meg Whitman, the president and chief executive officer of Hewlett-Packard Company (HP).

4. Ginni Rometty, Chief Executive of IBM and the first woman to head the company.

5. Pat Woertz, the President and Chief Executive of Archer Daniels Midland Company (ADM)


6. Karen Agustiawan, the president and CEO of Pertamina, an Indonesian state-owned oil and natural gas corporation. 

7. Indra Nooyi, Chief Executive of PepsiCo Inc.

8. Marillyn Hewson, Chief Executive of Lockheed Martin, the aerospace and defense company.

9. Gail Kelly, Chief Executive of Westpac Banking.

10. Nishi Vasudeva, Chief Executive of Hindustan Petroleum, also the first woman to lead an Indian oil company.

11. Arundhati Bhattacharya, Chief Executive of State Bank of India, the country’s largest bank.

12. Ellen Kullman, Chief Executive of DuPont.

13. Irene B. Rosenfeld, Chief Executive of Mondelēz International .

14. Phebe Novakovic, Chief Executive of General Dynamics, American aerospace and defense company.

15. Carol Meyrowitz, Chief Executive of TJX, also the highest paid woman running an American Global 500 company.

16. Li Dang, Chief Executive of China General Technology, China’s state owned machinery and pharmaceuticals conglomerate.

17. Lynn Good, president and chief executive officer of of Duke Energy.

Watch this space for the next installment on the Women CEOs of the Last 10 Years Study … what we found, what was remarkable, and most important, what we can learn from the data.


14 October 2014

What does becoming a parent mean for your career?

A PwC-alum and good friend of mine who wrote a great blog on “having it all” e-introduced me to Sarah Wang, this week’s guest blogger. Sarah, a freelance writer and former attorney, shares her ire over the confounding fact that women and men are treated dramatically differently in the workplace after becoming parents. When people find out that my job is about bringing more diversity into leadership the first thing they want to know is: why? Why aren’t women already there? We know more educated women are currently graduating in greater numbers than men, and we know that companies have been publicly committed to developing talented women for decades. So what’s the deal?

The answer to that question is complicated, nuanced, and multi-faceted. However, I believe that Sarah hits on one of the key factors of this conundrum in her insightful and hilarious blog. Enjoy!



S. Wang PhotoI recently took a bit of a break from blogging, where I focused on important things, like mastering the grocery store (I am serious) and learning how to both pronounce and cook quinoa. I was having a perfectly enjoyable little break, until I read this article describing the “motherhood penalty” and the “fatherhood bonus.”

And just like that, my blogging break was over. Take a deep breath, everyone: the article explains that after controlling for variables like hours, types of jobs, experience, and salaries of spouses, research shows men’s pay increases around six percent when they have kids, and women’s pay decreases around four percent when they have kids. Why, you might ask? Well, the research shows that the majority of this motherhood penalty is because of “discrimination” and “a cultural bias against mothers.”

Oh come ON. I wrote about some of this nonsense four years ago here and it’s hard to see where we have made much progress. But maybe this hard data—and giving the “motherhood penalty” a catchy little name!—will help.

For one, it should answer questions about why women leave the workforce more than men after having children. No, it is not because our ovaries flip some maternal switch in our bras, causing us to prioritize nap schedules and diaper changes above all else. It is because, for many families, after paying hundreds, even thousands, of dollars a month for childcare and then dealing with an actual monetary penalty in their paychecks, quitting may be the most rational choice. Throw in the stress of, say, pumping milk in a supply closet in between client meetings, or knowing that your daddy colleagues are getting high fives while you are getting eye rolls, and the decision becomes even more reasonable.

Also, maybe it will encourage supervisors to be aware of what messages they are sending to their employees and what cultural biases they are reinforcing. I have spoken with plenty of women about that intangible shift that happens in the office when they announce that they’re expecting. Many of you know what I’m talking about: suddenly finding yourself out of the loop on projects you used to manage; supervisors assuming you don’t want challenging work anymore; people asking if you’re really going to come back to the office after maternity leave. I’ve talked with two talented women in different and demanding fields about supervisors who explicitly said they expected them to have one foot out the door if—IF—they came back from maternity leave. Sigh. I want to believe that these supervisors think they are being supportive of a huge life change. But assuming that moms don’t care about their careers anymore isn’t supportive, it’s ridiculous. Also, um, discriminatory.

Speaking of that, I will leave you with this little nugget. This summer I was small talking with someone I had just met while on vacation. Turns out he was a law firm partner. When I told him I had worked at a big law firm and was taking some time off, he seemed sympathetic to my decision. And then he said, “Look, I hate to say it, but 30-something moms working in a law firm are the worst. They’re so entitled and think they should get treated like the men, and then they need all these breaks during the day and want to go pick up their kids early. It’s just non-stop drama.”

OH COME ON! I was enraged, and I am pretty sure smoke came out of my ears. But then I used my highly trained analytical thinking skills and realized something: that guy was old. Very, very old. And the fact that he was saying nonsense like that out loud to lady strangers showed some extremely poor judgment. He is literally the old guard, and his days of passing over talented women because he’s sexist (oh yes he is) are numbered. And then what will happen? Well, all of us more enlightened folks will be in charge, and the motherhood penalty will just refer to something else less devastating. Like when your skinny jeans don’t fit and your youngest child is seven – it’s not baby weight anymore, it’s the motherhood penalty. Or when you hear yourself yelling sophisticated things like, “The next person who makes a potty joke is sleeping outside tonight!” you guessed it; that’s the motherhood penalty talking.

Sarah Wang is a recovering attorney and freelance writer who blogs at mamaesq.com. She frequently overshares and writes about whatever sticks in her craw, including women’s issues and work life balance, and cares a little too much about celebrity gossip. Sarah lives outside of Washington, DC, with her husband and two amazing kids.

15 September 2014

Gangster Squad - Diversity Prevails

Over the last few months I’ve been focused on some new personal objectives, namely achieving better work life balance.  One reason for this is to spend less time with my laptop and more time with my fiancée.  Our aim:  to have one mid-week ‘date night’ each week.  Last Wednesday we kept it easy and simply rented a DVD.

Sometimes you watch a film as we refer to them here in Ireland (movie) that you just really, really, love.  And for me, last week’s rental “Gangster Squad” did just that.  I don’t recall it winning any awards and it certainly won’t be for everyone, but for me it offered more than just a good movie experience, it left me with a lovely sense of nostalgia.

Dad-and-meIt reminded me of the more old school gangster films, the type my dad used to love, and I used to watch on the couch beside him as a teenager almost through finger covered eyes.  Sadly, my dad passed away when I was only 21, so to watch a film 13 years later, and have it make me feel closer to my dad – well of course, for me, that is a result.  (I’ve included a photo of me with my dad taken October 1998.)

Recently I had dinner with a partner from PwC Ireland who commented on how clearly passionate I was about my role.  I reflected on that statement after watching this movie as it was more than nostalgia that was on my mind when the film concluded.  The partner is right, when diversity is the key theme that hits me from a ‘gangster movie’ it cannot be denied that I am extremely passionate about the ‘day job’.

So where exactly does diversity find its place in a ‘Bugsy Malone’ style film about a Los Angeles Gangster.  The movie itself centres on a rogue police squad (the gangster squad) assembled to take down the notorious, ruthless and unstoppable gangster Mickey Cohen in the very late 1940’s.

This small squad of six in total was selected ingeniously.  While it was a small squad it had diversity in abundance; across lots of dimensions such as generational, skill, experience, ethnicity, personality and thought diversity. 


For me, as the movie progressed it was clear as day that this team delivered creative ideas all of which stemmed from diversity inspired innovation.  Ultimately this was what made this squad, the right squad.  Their diversity was combined with a clear purpose and belief by all in what was right for their city -- a better, safer, cleaner LA. 

Certainly this team was all male.  In fact most of the cast was male.  So why am I writing a Gangster Squad related blog for the Gender Agenda?  

Well, it is the squad leader’s wife who takes it upon herself to select the various squad members.  In essence it was a female character that unleashed the power of diversity and through this action alone contributes to their overall success.  

This does not surprise me; I’m familiar with the Harvard research findings that regardless of the IQ of a group’s individual members, if the group includes more women, its collective intelligence rises.   The chart below plots the collective intelligence scores of 192 teams observed in the referenced Harvard study against the percentage of women these teams contained.  Indicated on the red bars is the range of scores in the group of teams at each level, with the blue circles highlighting the average score.


Clearly the findings of this study suggest that the teams with more women tended to fall above the average, while teams with more men tended to fall below the average.   Of course, I don’t want to give anything about the film away, but the contribution of one further female character, in essence further increasing the level of female involvement ultimately leads to a critical game changing moment in the movie…..

So how can we translate the lessons from this squad’s success to our own organisations? 

First, teams must have a purpose.  In Gangster Squad the team all had a moral hunger for what was right.  Creating a common purpose will be a motivational driver for team success.

Second, organisations need to be focused on creating diverse teams because diverse teams are good for business.  In fact, informal studies at Stanford University looking at student team design for almost a quarter-century strongly suggest that a team’s diversity is indeed very relevant to a team’s success.  

This research indicates that performance improves when a team pays attention to its individual personalities. The basic principle learned is that even though it will likely take longer for such psychologically diverse teams to achieve efficient cooperation and smooth communication,  in the long run teams do better when they are composed of people with the widest possible range of diversity.


28 August 2014

How do cultural differences influence the leadership styles of successful women?

"Companies have to be cognizant of culture and open to accepting that people come with different values and backgrounds. Companies that continue to focus with just a western lens will be at a disadvantage. Those who understand different types of clients and environments will be the successful ones.” Karen Loon provides this powerful quote in her Voice of Experience profile published in The Glass Hammer today. 

Karen is PwC Singapore’s Territory Diversity Leader and this week I’m delighted she shares her voice with our Gender Agenda readers.  




I’m delighted to have been invited to “blog” for the gender agenda, but feel I must share that this is the first time I have ever blogged... hopefully it won’t be the last time!

Recently, I had the opportunity to return and work in my home country of Australia for two years.   While I’ve always been a strong supporter of gender initiatives this experience which came after 17 years living and working in Singapore, really opened my eyes to the importance of having a broader focus on diversity and inclusion, especially cultural diversity.

I myself am a third (or Americans would say 4th) generation Australian born Chinese which means that whilst I am ethnically Chinese, I am culturally western.  Unfortunately, I do find that people seem to misunderstand the “true me” depending on their background.  After working in Asia for many years, having to readjust myself to working in Australia and looking at things through a different lens was very much an eye opening experience.  An experience that has made me even more passionate about ensuring PwC is an inclusive place where people, no matter how different, can bring their whole self to work.

1Recently, I had the pleasure of being invited to a networking event in Singapore where the guest speaker, Jane Horan spoke about her new book “How Asian Women Lead – Lessons for Global Corporations”.  Jane has an interesting background herself – she left the United States over 25 years ago to study Chinese language, history and culture in Hunan Province in China.  This was followed by a successful organisational development career with various MNCs in Asia.  

After this event I was eager to read her book and better understand how the obstacles facing Asian women can differ from women in the West.   

Horan covers a number of important areas from an Asian organisational perspective including unconscious bias and politics.   In particular I found there were a couple of interesting nuggets that really resonated with me and warranted further reflection. 

Family support – critical to success

The first, was that for many Asian women, family support is critical to success.  In Sheryl Sandberg’s book “Lean In: Women, Work and the Will to Lead”, Sandberg highlights the importance of having an equal partner.  In Asia, however, the support of an extended family, beyond just ones partner, plays a pivotal role to the success of women. 

Horan discusses the concept of Asian women leaders embracing the value of “harmony” – the idea of having inclusive networks which operate like an “integrated web”.  This web emphasises harmony between the diverse communities which the leader may operate across – for example, team, church, sports, family and work.  If any of the elements are out of sync, the entire web is impacted.  This focus on harmony reflects the collectivist values adopted by many in Asia.

Ambition has a different connotation

The second piece I really connected with was that the word “ambition” may not resonate well in some cultures.  In some parts of Asia the word ambition can be understood to mean evil and greed, this of course is not a label that anyone wants.  When operating in Asia it is critical organisations appreciate the feelings underneath words.

Horan highlights that Sandberg encourages women to be more vocal and intentional about their career and ambition, and that she should be commended for increasing awareness of women as equal partners and formidable leaders in the workplace.  However, she feels some of her messages will not easily work across Asia and the word “ambition” is often attributed to individualist cultures whereas “contribution” is more relevant to more multicultural environments.  Asian female talent will be much more comfortable discussing contributions made rather than ambition. 

Based on my experience in Asia I tend to agree with Horan.  Asian female leaders value inclusiveness, community and contribution over individuality.  They prefer to influence rather than dominate.  I have come across many women in boardrooms and senior management who display these very traits.  These women are firm, efficient and subtle in their approach yet are respected equally for their views.  In Asia, being more vocal about one’s career might not always be part of the recipe for success.

Horan reflects “Rather than more programs for women to learn how to be ambitious, organisations need ways to address systematic issues and mental blueprints that hinder career success.  Women usually know where they want to go, but organisations need to rethink attitudes toward female leaders and join in Sandberg’s dialogue.  The goals are similar: it’s the how that is different”.

As the Diversity Leader for PwC Singapore and our Asia Pacific region reading Horan’s book has given me plenty to ponder.  In particular, the understanding that while the challenges women face might be universal, attention to cultural nuance and differences when approaching gender diversity at the organisational level is critical.  

Want to learn more, why not check out Horan’s interview with Bloomberg on the unique cultural challenges Asian women face. 


PwC-Loon_Karen-2014-6P9A8351-FullKaren Loon is a client relationship partner in the Assurance practice with clients in the banking industry.  Karen was recently appointed as PwC Singapore’s Banking and Capital Markets Leader and Territory Diversity Leader.  She is also the Asia Pacific Financial Services People and Diversity Leader.





10 July 2014

He said, she said

As a literature-lover and a writer, stories are inherently important to me. But they’re also critical to how we think about ourselves, our societies, our friends, and our work. Currently, the world is largely narrated by men – about 80 percent of news pieces are written by men.

The Op-Ed Project, a non-profit based in New York, seeks to increase the range of “voices and quality of ideas we hear in the world,” by bringing in more women’s opinions to topical discussions.


But, I think it’s important to highlight the fact that it’s not just about increasing women’s voices, but rather about hearing perspectives that differ, often drastically, from the media juggernaut that informs our lives and water-cooler conversations. Some of the greatest achievements in human history have been brought about by such disruptors – people of both genders that spoke out (in a minority) against slavery, poor working conditions, oppression.

But it’s not just about revolutionary changes: diverse voices help us make better choices and help us understand others – skills that are increasingly important in our globalized business environment.

Fairy tales, as I’ve mentioned in this blog before, are critical to shaping the identities that stay with us through our adult lives. Like news outlets, they frame our experiences and attitudes in ways so powerful that they’re practically invisible. It behooves us as thoughtful workers and members of society to step outside our frames of reference and question them. This is where innovation and progress sprout from.

Fairy tales tell the story of how the “lost feminine” has had deleterious effects on society; similarly, the homogenous perspectives governing business for the last century have stalled economic progress and led to serious economic disasters permeating the globe.


It’s critical that women and men in business – and particularly leaders – demonstrate a much wider range of competencies than they have in the past. Those include empathy, the ability to connect and communicate, the ability to appeal to both minds and hearts. I recently wrote an Op-Ed for The Huffington Post, The Secret Life of Maleficent, which encourages us to engage with the “other” – that could be anyone who’s different from us on a variety of levels – gender, race, age, nationality, educational background, life experience. It’s also about engaging with new or underrepresented voices in the media – reading the same narrators over and over narrow rather than widen our perspectives, because they often reiterate and reinforce our strongly-held beliefs. It’s difficult to grow in stale territory.

I believe there is a strong parallel in the message of fairy tales and the message we’re trying to cultivate by increasing the diversity of thought, media, and experience in business management. There are never simple answers to difficult problems, but being open to perspectives that differ from our own – even if we don’t agree with them – transform us in the same way that fairy tale characters are transformed – to make us better versions of ourselves; to help us contribute to the success of the people around us. And that has great implications for the business world of tomorrow.


09 June 2014

Female graduates need fertile ground in which they can grow

By Chris Brassell

Our recent global thought leadership release ‘Next Generation Diversity’ highlighted that globally women now account for a majority of students in 93 countries while men are favored in only 46, earn more bachelor’s degrees than men and have an edge over men of 56 to 44% in master’s degrees. Here at PwC, our firms recruit some 20,000 graduate millennials annually from across the globe, just over half of whom are female. As such, this is a critical time to re-examine what we can each do to help female graduates reach their full potential.


As someone who has helped research the role men can play in advancing the careers of their female counterparts, I liken the relationship to the one that exists between a seed and soil. The seed holds inside of it the core qualities it needs to grow – in this case the skills female students have learned and the ambition that drives them. However, if you’ve ever experienced a drought, or you simply lack a green thumb, you’ve seen what can happen to a seed if the soil and other conditions – such as the organizational culture – do not make for fertile ground.

You’ve likely heard it said that in the corporate world the “tone” needs to be “set from the top” – in other words the leaders need to model, and at times mandate, the behaviors that they expect to see from others within their organization.

If women only account for 4.6 percent of Fortune 500 CEOs, then it goes without saying that men, in particular white men, must be part of the solution if we want to create the fertile ground that our campus hires need in order to have a chance at attaining success. Bob Moritz, CEO and senior partner of PwC in the U.S., touched upon this topic earlier this year when he presented at the MAKERS conference and called upon male leaders to lead change by personally figuring out who the top female talent is in their organization, sponsoring those women and helping them get the experience they need. He also noted that being a talent magnet for women could help address some of the concerns expressed by the majority of the respondents to PwC’s annual Global CEO Survey about having the right talent to achieve their strategic objectives.

As I told an audience at a best practices forum hosted by Bentley’s Center for Women & Business, the solution will not come overnight. It is going to take time, as well as a lot of conversations between men and women in the workplace to help us understand how we can relate to each other better, make connections and build the types of relationships that can serve as the soil in which the seeds of future female leaders can grow. 


But, you don’t need to be a CEO or take the stage in front of a large audience to have a positive impact on the ability of women to advance their careers.

Just ask Ken Stoler, a partner in PwC’s national HR Accounting Advisory practice, who is co-leading a Lean In circle in his office. As the father of four young daughters, he formed the circle because he wants to become more gender intelligent and gain insights into what’s ahead for them and how he can be a better colleague and mentor to others within the firm.

You could also talk to Dennis Trunfio, a partner in PwC’s Transaction Services (TS) group who serves as an informal mentor to Guilaine Saroul, an Assurance Director who co-leads the Transaction Services New York Metro Women’s Committee. Dennis is often invited to participate in sessions with the Women’s Committee. However, he primarily acts as a sounding board for Guilaine on different topics, including the activities the Women’s Committee has planned. Dennis also shared his own perspectives and stories during a recent White Men & Diversity session, which was part of a national US firm initiative to engage the “majority” in exploring the unique and critical role white men play in sustaining an inclusive workplace.

Whether the act is big or small, we need more white men like Bob, Ken and Dennis to step forward to create an environment in which our new graduates can take root and grow into confident, experienced professionals.

090614-Bentley2Chris Brassell is a National Director in our PwC US firm’s Office of Diversity, where he is responsible for driving national diversity and inclusion strategies, thought leadership and brand identity designed to support the attraction, development, retention, and advancement of the most talented individuals in the firm.

He is also a nationally recognized subject matter specialist on cultural transformation, inclusive leadership, work & fatherhood, and multi-generational diversity. He is currently spearheading a progressive effort at PwC to engage men in the diversity and inclusion discussion.