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.

23 April 2014

Aspire to Lead: The PwC Women’s Leadership Series – Why not lean in?

It is very timely that I share this Gender Agenda Blog from Ireland as Sheryl Sandberg founder of Leanin.Org, author, and Facebook COO has been in town this week promoting her latest book Lean In for Graduates and spending time in the Facebook International Headquarters based here in Dublin.

Lean_in-for_gradsThis Thursday (April 24), PwC will officially launch our first-ever global forum focused on women and leadership geared to students around the world.  Our launch activity includes a live webcast with Leanin.org featuring Sheryl Sandberg, and you are invited to be part of it.

Aspire to Lead: The PwC Women’s Leadership Series will be promoted by PwC across the globe on April 24 and through mid-May.  In addition to bringing this webcast to our people, our clients and our future talent, we will be hosting events with students on campuses across the world.  Hundreds of panel discussions that highlight diverse perspectives and choices, insights into career and leadership development, and work/life and related topics will take place with talented female students who will soon make the transition from campus to career. 

To register, click here: http://www.pwc.com/aspire

Our recent publication Next generation diversity: Developing tomorrow’s female leaders shares insights on the female millennial.  Born between 1980 and 1995, female millennials make up a significant proportion of the current and future talent pool. Female millennials matter because they are more highly educated and are entering the workforce in larger numbers than any of their previous generations. The female millennial has likely outperformed her male counterparts at school and at university and is the most confident of any female generation before her. She considers opportunities for career progression the most attractive employer trait. When it comes to the female millennial we really are dealing with a new era of female talent; both in terms of the make-up of the workforce she enters and the career mind-set with which she enters.

It is fair to say the female millennial sounds pretty amazing, right? But how will organisations lean in to this new era of talent so they are successful in capitalising on these stellar traits?

At PwC we recruit some 20,000 campus hires from across the globe annually.  For the past number of years just over half of these hires have been female.  That is a hell of a lot of female talent.  So we very much understand just how important responding to the aforementioned question is.  As an organisation we are leaning in and part of our lean in journey is to help young female talent starting out in their career lean in too. 

For us, leaning in is part of a critical equation that we want to invest in.

Leadership commitment demonstrated by leaning in to diversity + 
Talent strategies, structures and processes that lean in to developing diverse talent +
Male and female talent leaning in to their careers =
Better workplace and leadership diversity.

So while female millennial talent might sound amazing, despite their stellar traits they still enter a workforce that very much lacks female representation at the top.  We feel the sum of our leaning in equation parts will support the mitigation of the organisational and self-barriers that may have presented obstacles for women in the past.  In turn we feel this will equate to greater levels of leadership diversity in the future.   

So play your part.  Whether you are a woman about to start out on her career or you manage young female talent or have a daughter, sister, niece, cousin who is about to experience this transition, lean in, and register or share a link to our webcast this Thursday.  You can do this by clicking here:  Aspire to Lead