18 June 2013

The Power of One Word

Very recently I attended the Womensphere Europe Summit in London.  This was an inspiring event, with many exceptional men and women sharing the story of their career journeys and their views on diversity.  I left the summit feeling two things:

  1. Reinvigorated in my passion for what I do.  It never hurts to have purpose.
  2. What a shame more people who don’t yet get the business case for diversity weren’t in the room. I feel it would have changed their minds.


I took a nugget from each presenter (there were many, with brief ten minute time slots each).  But some of these nuggets connected, and have manifested into the concept of this blog: the power of one word.

Part of the summit focused on STEM industries, which is not at all surprising when we consider that less than 25 percent of STEM jobs in the U.S. economy are held by women, despite women holding nearly half of all U.S.  jobs.   At points the discussion moved in the direction of understanding why these disciplines don’t appeal more to women.

This gets one thinking about how these subjects are ‘packaged’;  historically they have often been articulated in a manner that makes them appear boring, uninteresting, too challenging, dull and masculine to females, in particular school girls.  Yet, at the same time we know that women in these industries can excel – think Ada Lovelace or in more modern terms Marrisa Mayer.  

This certainly resonated with me.  I remember getting the results of aptitude tests I had to complete during my penultimate year of secondary school (high school). The career advisor informed me I had an excellent aptitude to become an engineer.  When I asked her what such a job would entail, I soon switched off – it sounded anything but interesting to me – and engineering aspirations I did not pursue.  With hindsight, I know that engineering is  anything but dull and uninteresting.  I wonder how many others girls had the same experience as me?

Dr. Oliver Oullier a Professor of behavioural and brain sciences referenced some research during his session.  The reference sparked my interest so I found it, and read it.  The research involved an experiment whereby school children ranked as both high and low performing geometry students were asked to learn a complex geometrical figure and reproduce it.  One group was told they were completing a geometry task, the other group was told they were completing a drawing task.


The results: both groups of students performed equivalently in the drawing task, while the low achievers underperformed in relation to the high achievers when the task was presented as a geometry task.   Low achievers in geometry performed better on the exact same task once it was labelled a ‘drawing task’; many reasons including stereotype threat were identified as the antecedents for such results.  At its simplest what you can take from this research is that the power of one word can enhance performance.  This certainly is thought provoking when we consider how these disciplines are ‘packaged’.

Next I move onto Phil Smith CEO, Cisco UK and Ireland.  Phil spoke of an apprentice programme Cisco had introduced recently to target school leavers.  Year one, they advertised for Programme Services Apprentices.  Their intake was 60% female and 40% male.  Year two, they went to market with a System Engineer Apprenticeship programme – they had 19 applicants, but only two were female.  In response, they took note of the ‘packaging’ and rebranded seeking ‘Business Technology Specialist’ apprentices for the exact same roles. Guess what happened?  They recruited 60% female and 40% male.


Cisco has taken this concept from ‘thought provoking’ to ‘practice’, and from a gender perspective has reaped the reward.  And when it comes to thinking about how we ‘package’ STEM, how about the fact that women with STEM jobs earn 33 percent more than comparable women in non-STEM jobs.

Moving beyond STEM to business more broadly, it’s hard not to talk about ‘the power of one word’ without mentioning the HBR Heidi/Howard case-study.  For those of you that have recently read Sheryl Sandberg’s Lean In you’ll be well familiar with this research, which was aimed at testing the perceptions of men and women in the workplace. 

Groups of Harvard students were provided an identical case-study with one exception – a name change – one group’s case study referenced Heidi, the other group’s referenced Howard.  Both groups equally respected Heidi and Howard, and rated them equally competent.  However, Howard was considered to be the more appealing colleague while Heidi was considered selfish, and not the type of person you would want to work for or hire.  Let me reiterate the case was identical; Heidi and Howard are the exact same person with the exception of the name change.  The case reinforced a plethora of research that finds success and likeability are positively correlated for men and negatively correlated for women in business.

Ultimately, if you are in the business of seeking objective talent and development strategies for your entire workforce no matter the industry, or attracting talent towards STEM disciplines or careers, there is a lot to be considered when we think about the power of one word (or in Cisco’s case three words!). 


04 June 2013

Vital Signs: Understanding - and Impacting - Your Talent Pipeline

Earlier this year, our ‘Diversity – it is a business issue with a clear business case’ blog issue shared some of the Global D&I activities that are keeping Dale and I busy.  One such initiative is the launch of our Global D&I toolkit.  A clear message delivered through this toolkit is that before creating a D&I business case it is critical our D&I SMEs across the globe first understand the demographic fitness of their member firm.  In this regard internal data and benchmarking is integral.

So when I saw Catalyst release their Vital Signs series I just had to take the opportunity to enable the sharing of this message more broadly and I am very pleased to bring you a guest blog from Jennifer Kohler on the topic.




Vital-SignsFor years, we at Catalyst have catalogued the progress (or lack thereof) of companies pursuing greater gender diversity and inclusion. Our Census has shown consistent gaps between the numbers of women and men in leadership positions. Our research has explored common myths for why women lag so significantly in obtaining leadership roles. And companies often approach our consulting practice concerned about gaps, “drop-offs,” or ceilings women face as they move through the pipeline. Combining our foundational research with on-the-ground insights from this consulting, Catalyst now offers a new approach to moving the needle and building a stronger, more diversified talent pipeline: Vital Signs.

Reports and numbers alone don’t generate answers for why the needle is stuck, so we are asking companies to shift from seeing their workforce data as points of awareness, to real drivers of change. It’s also about more than the numbers—it’s about your talent and, importantly, understanding the experience of that talent within your company. This internal benchmarking is fundamental to making progress: we call it understanding your diversity and inclusion “health.” Only with an accurate picture of your health can you secure the right prescription for getting better; and in this case, more talented women advancing means stronger, more sustainable business results. 

At Catalyst,  we guide organizations to an elevated understanding of their workforce, and Vital Signs turns this into a self-directed exercise, with easy-to-use tools, short exercises, and key questions that focus you on what to track, and why. Once you have an understanding of where you’re losing women, we then help you think about the root causes. It’s only with these insights that you can identify actions specifically suited to your organization, department, or region – actions that have the best chance at having impact. 

For those who aren’t steeped in the data, we invite you to test common assumptions that hurt women’s careers, and to replace them with facts.  For example, many companies claim they can’t find senior-level women. To counter this, we offer leading-edge practices and steps to take to circumvent this “excuse” and find the talented women you need.

We also want individuals across organizations—from line leaders to talent management professionals—to ask critical talent-related questions, such as “Who received the last three high-profile assignments?” These questions yield critical information that can provoke more thinking than any pie chart, and ultimately can help change the shape of your workforce—without tons of numbers.

Globally, we know workforce data can pose a challenge, so we encourage companies to monitor policies and programs in place and their impact on talent—for example, tracking the assignments of those returning from parental leave.  We also share ways all organizations can better monitor, and prevent, the loss of valuable talent—for example, looking at time in position. 

These insights can support a business case, help companies set goals, and focus on the right key performance indicators to track – but the benefits go beyond this. From our experience with leading organizations, many have been “stuck” for some time – struggling to close gaps in representation from the entry-level to senior leadership ranks – and don’t know what to do.  We know the exercise of challenging assumptions about women with data, asking targeted, talent-related questions, and understanding the full story behind the numbers leads to the breakthroughs necessary for getting past “stuck.” We know companies are ready to move on from talking about diversity and inclusion to doing something that has impact on their talent and their Jennifer-Kbusiness—and Vital Signs is here to help. 

Jennifer Kohler is a Director and Consultant, Global Member Services, at Catalyst, and also leads Vital Signs. 

Find out more about Jennifer.

21 May 2013

Evolve or die: workplace flexibility and the next generation

PwC’s NextGen: A global generational study, which was conducted in conjunction with the University of Southern California and the London Business School, represents the most ambitious research into the Millennial generation, or ‘Generation Y’. The study included responses from 44,000 employees throughout PwC’s global network of professional service firms, with almost one quarter of the responses coming from Millennials.

This two-year research undertaking finds that the Millennial generation, those born between 1980 and 1995, seek more workplace flexibility, better balance between their work and home life, and opportunity for overseas assignments as keys to greater job satisfaction.


The research study both confirmed and dispelled stereotypes about Millennials.  While younger workers are more tech savvy, globally focused, and willing to share information, the study found they did not feel more entitled or less committed than their older, non-Millennial counterparts, and are willing to work just as hard.  The global survey also found that many of the Millennials' attitudes are consistently shared by their more senior colleagues.

The study sought to measure factors relating to workplace retention, loyalty and job satisfaction. It compared responses among Millennials to those of non-Millennials at the same stage of their careers to assess generational differences between the two sets of employees.

There are a number of key lessons at the heart of the PwC NextGen study findings. 

When-you-were-bornMillennial employees want greater flexibility…and so does everyone else.

Millennials and non-Millennials alike want the option to shift their work hours to accommodate their own schedules and are interested in working outside the office where they can stay connected by way of technology. Employees across all generations also say they would be willing to forego some pay and delay promotions in exchange for reducing their hours.

Millennials put a premium on work/life balance.

Unlike past generations, who put an emphasis on their careers and worked well beyond a 40-hour work week in the hope of rising to higher-paying positions later on, Millennials are not convinced that such early career sacrifices are worth the potential rewards. A balance between their personal and work lives is more important to them.

These findings are important for business leaders who need to understand, and diversity practitioners who need to deliver, the business case for diversity.  For too long flexibility and work/life balance have been associated with female talent.  This NextGen research report does more than dispel stereotypes related to the Millennial generation, it also goes some way towards dispelling some gender stereotypes. 

Flexibility is not just about women; for Millennials, it is a talent wide imperative.  In fact, the study finds that given the opportunity, 64% of Millennials and 66% of non-Millennials would like to occasionally work from home, and 66% of Millennials and 64% of non-Millennials would like the option to occasionally shift their work hours.  15% of all male employees and 21% of all female employees say they would give up some of their pay and slow the pace of promotion in exchange for working fewer hours.  What is critical here is that work/life balance is more important to a much broader subset of Millennials – Millennial women and Millennial men. 

Likewise, work/life balance, while more important to the Millennial generation, is valued by non-Millenials as well; in fact, 71% of Millennials vs. 63% of non-Millennials say that their work demands significantly interfere with their personal lives.

When leadership and organisations understand that flexibility and work/life balance are not just Millennial- or women-focused challenges, but are indeed about everyone, and begin to consider them with strategies and policies targeted at the whole talent population, then we will continue to see a shift toward more truly diverse and inclusive work cultures and organisations.  

So please, let’s start talk about flexibility and work/life balance as a talent wide proposition! Find out more on the PwC’s NextGen Study at http://www.pwc.com/gx/en/hr-management-services/publications/nextgen-study.jhtml.


09 May 2013

How the light gets in

We had a phone call from The Institute of Arts and Ideas (IAI) recently and we have to admit, they were not a body we would have intuitively linked with our strategic efforts here in PwC on diversity.  However, reading their brand statement ‘realising the potential of the 21st century intellectual landscape’ gave us pause for thought; as part of our diversity strategy is undoubtedly about realising the potential of our PwC intellectual and talent landscape.  

So it turns out, some of their team are avid readers of our Gender Agenda blog (which is always nice to hear) and they wanted to bring our attention to their upcoming How the Light Gets In festival, which it turns out it is the world's largest philosophy and music festival, and appears to have a wonderfully eclectic programme of thought-provoking debates, music, and comedy. 


As diversity practitioners we keep ourselves informed of current research, legislation, best practice and dialogue on all things diversity. 

This festival made us think we need to start thinking in more broad and diverse terms as to how we keep abreast of developments in such areas beyond our usual sources.   So when Zoe Willox Dunant of the IAI encouraged us to look at the programme for How the Light Gets In festival because she thought some of it may be of interest to us, we couldn’t have agreed more. 

The programme includes a number of relevant philosophy sessions: The World after Men, Revolutionary Women, More than Equal, After Feminism, United in Difference.  And one that particularly piqued our interest entitled Thinking Differently

This Thinking Differently debate brings together a diverse mix of experts including Scottish feminist linguist Deborah Cameron, feminist psychologist Carol Gilligan and Cambridge philosopher Simon Blackburn as they embark upon a quest for new ways of thinking.

A rather enticing session description is outlined…

Thinking differently
Have we made a mistake in the way we think? Some believe our very language and thought are inherently male, and that this is a serious shortcoming. Can we create a new way of thinking that is not masculine, and as a consequence create a new world, or is this a misguided fantasy?

…which already has us thinking. 

Encouraging new ways of thinking is part of our role.  We aim to get leadership, management, the whole talent population of our organisations to think in new and different ways, including thinking about diversity itself differently.  To understand that diversity is a business issue with a clear business case, and harness the creativity and innovation of our workforce.

The importance of language and thinking differently was at the crux of Dennis Nally’s recent PwC CEO Insight’s blog entitled Stop talking about diversity.  Dennis shares why he believes that discussing diversity implicitly  at the global level (as opposed to explicitly) will sustain momentum in the face of uncertain markets and help tap into talent.

One thing is for sure: just thinking about ‘thinking differently’ in itself is a positive step.  Be that through broadening the scope of our subject matter sources on diversity, or through evoking new ways of thinking about diversity in our leaders and peers.

We can’t wait to see how these fascinating philosophy sessions take form at How the Light Gets In festival, which runs from 23 May-2 June. 

For those who can’t attend, the IAI will make the philosophy sessions available on line at http://iai.tv/ - we’ll be sure to let you know when, so that we can all tune in. 


23 April 2013

Women in work – Nordic countries lead the PwC rankings

By Yong Jing Teow and John Hawksworth

New PwC research reveals that the Nordic countries lead the OECD countries in advancing equality in gender pay and opportunities in the workplace.

Our new PwC Women in Work Index shows that women in OECD countries are gaining ground in the workplace (see figure below). This is based on a weighted average of five key indicators of female economic empowerment: the equality of earnings with men; the proportion of women in work both in absolute terms and relative to men; the female unemployment rate; and the proportion of women in full-time employment.

The Nordic countries have consistently remained in the lead. In 2011, Norway was in pole position, followed by Sweden, Denmark, New Zealand and Finland. Though Spain’s performance in 2011 remains below the OECD average, its improvement over the years is striking: Spain saw a 15 percentage point increase in female labour force participation rates and a 9 percentage point reduction in the gender wage gap (find out more on Women as Leaders in Spain here).

Women in OECD countries are generally closing the wage gap with their male peers and are more likely to go to work compared to a decade ago. However, the share of women in full-time employment has declined and female unemployment has increased slightly on average.

One striking result from our research is that the overall progress of the average OECD country has slowed since the great recession, but it hasn’t stopped countries like the Netherlands, Germany and Israel, which nevertheless made significant gains between 2007 and 2011.

[Click the image to view a larger version]

Source: PwC analysis of data from the OECD, Eurostat, Australian Bureau of Statistics and Statistics Bureau of Japan

Our index makes clear that though improvements have been made in the past, much more needs to be done. Women account for the majority of university graduates in OECD nations, and yet the transition from education to paid work reveals the inequalities that women face in the labour market. Female labour participation rates have remained 17 percentage points lower compared to men for the average OECD country in 2011. Women still find it challenging to climb the career ladder and this is most apparent in the lack of visible role models: only 10% of board members in the OECD are women, and female top-earners are paid 21% less on average than their male peers.

There is a clear business case for diversity, and perceiving it merely as a moral imperative risks missing the big picture. Research by Catalyst – a diversity think tank – shows that higher levels of female boardroom representation in Fortune 500 companies is associated with better financial performance, as indicated by return on sales, return on invested capital and return on equity. These findings are corroborated by a study by Eversheds, which show that companies with more female directors experienced better performance during the financial crisis.

Businesses and policymakers have a critical role to play in addressing the needs of female employees in areas like flexible working, childcare, female promotion pipelines and diversity goals. Clear targets and goals need to be set, and businesses must monitor and publish their progress. However, it is also important to reflect on the effect of corporate culture and working practices on all employees, not just women. Though family-friendly work practices are often targeted at women, there needs to be a shift away from the notion that women alone are responsible for familial responsibilities. Policies that enable employees to reconcile both work and family commitments will work only if both men and women take advantage of them.

Change will not come easy, but only by putting diversity at the heart of the business and policy agendas can the potential skills and talent of the  complete talent pool be harnessed.  Dennis Nally, Chairman of PwC International, Ltd. explores how discussing diversity implicitly – as an integral part of business and growth – will sustain momentum in the face of uncertain markets and help us to tap into the talent we desperately need.

For more information on the PwC Women in Work Index, please visit http://www.pwc.co.uk/the-economy/publications/women-in-work-index.jhtml

Yjt-jhYong Jing Teow is an economist in PwC's UK Economics and Policy team, with experience in macroeconomic research and analysis.  Find out more about Jing

John Hawksworth is Chief Economist for the UK and editor of the Economic Outlook publication, and many other reports and articles on macroeconomic and fiscal policy issues.  Find out more about John

They both contribute to our Economics in Business blog and have previously collaborated on the Women in work – UK slides down PwC rankings article (March 2013).

10 April 2013

Leaning In Together


Photo 1 Lean InLast week, I attended my first Lean In circle meeting at the British Consulate in San Francisco. Although a portrait of Queen Elizabeth II presiding over us imbued the meeting with a sense of gravitas, the event was full of vibrant, informative, and sometimes humorous stories of leaning in and leaning back. I’ll be writing about that truly unique experience in an upcoming blog, but in the meantime, asked my friend and colleague Jennifer Allyn to express her takeaways from the book.

Jennifer is an avid reader (I love holding impromptu book clubs with her when I’m in our New York office) as well as a leading national expert in diversity whose previous Mad Men piece you all raved about. I was so pleased when she sent me today’s guest blog, which I believe brings new insight to the conversation Lean In has ignited around the world — enjoy.



In 2008, PwC hosted a panel discussion about women and ambition in our New York office. We surveyed the audience of 150 partners, staff and guests to understand their perception of the word “ambitious.” While 94 percent of the men said the term was positive, only 57 percent of the women agreed. Instead a quarter of the women—and strikingly, none of the men—felt ambition was a negative word. Fast forward to today: Sheryl Sandberg, the COO of Facebook, has ignited a national debate about why this gender gap exists and what women can do to “lean in” to leadership. It’s an important conversation that I hope will inspire PwC women to aim even higher, but as our panelists demonstrated personal drive is only part of what it takes to have a successful career. The other elements of the equation are opportunity and recognition. That’s why coaches need to lean in too, and use the insights in Sandberg’s book to help close the gender gap in leadership.

The full version of this video appears at the end of this article

An entire chapter of Lean In is devoted to advising women to “sit at the table.” Sandberg tells a story about hosting a meeting where a group of women literally sit in chairs at the back of a conference room instead of joining the men seated at the table. She attributes this behavior to a lack of confidence where women underestimate their abilities and feel they don’t belong.

How can we make sure women sit at the table? It turns out encouragement is critical. In a study Photo2 Lean Inabout politics, researchers found that female politicians were much more likely to have run for public office because someone encouraged them to do so, while men “self-started” without that support. As Marie Wilson, founder of the White House Project, noted in our panel, “Women don’t run [for office] … unless somebody calls them and says, ‘have you thought about running?’ … so encouragement is huge.” The same dynamic operates in the workplace and here coaches, managers, and engagement partners play a vital role in encouraging women to take on leadership. Instead of waiting for staff to volunteer or promote themselves, leaders can take the following actions:

  • Randomly assign team members to lead internal meetings
  • Rotate who attends client meetings and delivers presentations
  • Explicitly invite women to compete for opportunities and illustrate why you think they are qualified for the role
  • Don’t assume someone is not interested in an assignment because they didn’t ask for it

These simple steps can make a big difference because true confidence is built through successful performance and you can’t perform without opportunities.

Lean In is full of research findings and one of the most disturbing is the Heidi/Howard experiment. Students were given a Harvard Business School case describing how an entrepreneur named Heidi Roizen used her real-life network to succeed in business. Half the students read the original story about Heidi, while the other half received a version with the protagonist’s name changed to Howard. Although the facts were identical, both male and female students liked Howard better; they didn’t want to work for Heidi because she was considered too self-promoting. The researchers conclude that “success and likeability are positively correlated for men and negatively correlated for women.” 

As Anna Fels, author of Necessary Dreams:  Ambition in Women’s Changing lives, told our audience, “When women assume leadership positions, unlike men, they get a lot of negative recognition. They get negative feedback about their femininity…about their style.” This double standard in how we recognize achievement is clearly one of the reasons so many women view ambition as a negative word.

Sandberg advises women leaders to let go of wanting to be liked. However, supervisors — male and female — also have a responsibility to question comments like she’s “too aggressive” or has “sharp elbows.” Merely asking whether the same behavior would be described that way if demonstrated by a man sends a powerful signal. The journalist Anna Quindlen once wrote that we want our women leaders to be “tough as nails, and warm as toast.” Naming that double bind, and recognizing the impossibility of displaying both qualities at the same time, is an important step to eliminating it.

The business case for gender diversity is clear for our profession. In the U.S. women earn the majority of college degrees and represent half our new hires each year. Bob Moritz outlines the role CEOs can play, but you don’t need to be a senior leader to create change. Each of us can profoundly influence the aspirations of the people who work with and for us. If we want women to lean in we need to help cultivate those dreams. Treating ambition as a collaboration, where coaches are an integral part of the process, will help PwC maximize the talents of all our people.

Jennifer Allyn photo_red

Jennifer Allyn is a managing director in PwC’s U.S. Office of Diversity, where she is responsible for designing programs to retain, develop and advance women.

Read about PwC Lean In experiences here: Maria Castañón Moats, Diana Weiss, Carol Sawdye, Terri McClements, Laura Cox Kaplan

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27 March 2013

Crafting your career – ten great pieces of advice from mothers all over the world

Since our last blog post a couple of pivotal things have happened to celebrate women.  Of course, there was International Women’s Day (IWD), but also here in Ireland Mothers Day fell on 10 March this year.   As shared in our 8 March blog, our firms around the network celebrated IWD in many different ways, while globally we focused our efforts on our own unique theme for the day – Gender, generation and leadership: supporting the millennial woman craft her career. 

Thousands of people have already visited the various resources we created to support this theme and foster a broader conversation on gender diversity.  There is something for everyone -- whether you’re a millennial woman, a talent leader, a mentor, a parent, or a CEO, so if you haven’t already – why not check it out

In addition we marked IWD by giving all of our talent the opportunity to take part in a PwC network-wide discussion by posing the question – Crafting your career, what’s the best piece of advice you ever received from a woman?

This proved to be a great exercise, one that certainly exceeded my expectations.  I expected great discussion that would help us to better understand the contribution that all of the women in our peoples’ lives have made to both their own success and the success of PwC.  But what I hadn’t really appreciated was that in essence this exercise would create what I can only refer to as ‘repository of development advice’ that our talent can take something from, be it IWD, or any other day of the year.

The fact that I celebrated Mothers Day with my mum the Sunday after IWD did not influence how I viewed all the advice shared.  Mothers Day or not, a clear theme emerged - nearly half of the great advice our male and female talent received came from women in their family (see poll results below), but in particular from mothers all over the world.


I couldn’t help but feel compelled to let all those mothers out there know how influential they have been to careers, but also, to share some of this great advice further. 

 So I am very happy to share with you today, ten of the great pieces of advice shared as part of our internal discussion to mark IWD.

Advice from mothers in Australia:

Australian PM
Pictured: Manuela Schmid, PwC Australia and Julia Gillard, Prime Minister, Australia
  • “Most people say no, and then think about it.  We need to say yes, and then think about it. 
    Have no regrets…..
  • One day many years ago I was thinking about giving up on something that I thought was impossible to accomplish – my mother simply asked me “Why can’t it be you?” Those wise words have stuck with me forever, and I often ask myself the question in my personal and professional life.  Be that when I’ve been pursuing that promotion or buying my first home.  I met the Prime Minister of Australia this morning, and while I was sitting there deciding if we should go up and ask for a photo, guess what I said to myself – “Why can’t it be me to have a photo with the PM?”

Advice from a mother in Austria

  • Sometimes it can be easy to feel nervous or intimated when meeting senior leaders in business.  My mom always told me to remember that “everybody puts their pants on one leg at a time”.  I always remember this and it helps me have confidence no matter who I am dealing with.

Advice from a mother in China

  • When I think about some of the most valuable advice I have received throughout my career, I have to pay homage to my mother who always told me “you have the right to voice your opinion, and you have the responsibility to respect the opinion of others”. 

Advice from a mother in Hong Kong

  • Growing up as a child my mother always told me that “we can change our future simply by changing our attitude”.  This advice has stood me in good stead over the years.  In all careers we face challenges or problems at different times.  Instead of letting problems get me down, I see each problem as a hurdle with hidden opportunities. In my career this has led me to embrace change and become a stronger person. 

Advice from a mother in India

  • “Enjoy your journey, don’t worry about your destination”

Advice from mothers in the Middle East

  • The best career advice I ever received was from my mother who said “Move on, don’t let a set-back dishearten you.  Learn from it, and you can forge ahead”.
  • “Never let anyone decide what you can’t do”

Advice from mothers in the UK

  • I remember as a small child not wanting to go to a party.  My mum told me “it’s often the parties that you don’t want to go to that turn out to be the best, don’t miss out on an opportunity, you’ll never know what you missed”.  I have always tried to embrace that idea since, so now if there are things outside my comfort zone that I’m reluctant about, I always think of this advice, take a deep breath and dive in.   And my mum was right, many of the best things that have happened in my career are because I did exactly that. 
  • I remember my mum telling me “you don’t need to ask anyone but yourself if you are making the right decision – but bear in mind that every morning when you get up you will have to look at yourself in the mirror and you had better like what you see” which was a nice way of reminding me that I would have to live with my decisions, but perhaps more importantly has been a critical guide as I have shaped my career and helped me become the authentic leader I feel that I am today

My own mum has always told me to make sure I enjoy what I do, and when you are getting to share inspiring advice from women all over the world, well, it is hard not to.  I hope this blog inspires you to think about the great advice you have received from women that helped you craft your own career and how you can share it further. 


08 March 2013

Is the world your oyster?

CentredinternationalwomensdayGreetings from Dublin and San Francisco.

As many of you know, today (Friday 8 March) marks International Women’s Day (IWD).

IWD is a global celebration of the economic, political, and social achievements of women, and this year’s theme is The Gender Agenda: Gaining Momentum. Today’s blog is a collection of ‘gifts’ from us to you - resources intended to support and inspire you and the women in your lives.

Yesterday our Chairman, Dennis Nally, posted a blog about why we should stop talking about diversity. Dennis is also leading a PwC network-wide discussion today in which he shares the best advice he received from a woman – and asks our people to contribute their own best advice. This discussion will help us to better understand the contribution that all of the women in our peoples’ lives make to their own and PwC’s success.

Our firms around the network are celebrating IWD in many different ways. We’ve harnessed the topic globally with our own unique take on the day, the theme:

Gender, generation, and leadership: supporting the millennial woman craft her career

IWD 2013_RGB_P_MX_D4_1609-2

The conversation on women in leadership, while critical, has dominated the diversity conversation in the media. We believe that by focusing on developing talented junior women now, we’ll prepare them for leadership roles in the future.

To that end, we encourage millennial women – as well as those of you interested in their development because you parent, coach, lead, work with, or spend time with them in your professional and personal lives – to take a look at and share the tools and resources we’ve made available to everyone.

We know you’re busy, so our content is in bite-sized chunks. Go to our dedicated PwC International Women’s Day website or click on one of the links below to read, watch, and listen, and be part of a broader discussion on gender diversity.

Podcasts and Video Vignettes

Dr. Elisabeth Kelan of King’s College London provides succinct advice to millennial women and talent leaders based on extensive research in her book, Rising Stars: Developing Millennial Women as Leaders. Hear her advice on these burning questions:

As a woman in your 20s and early 30s, you may think the world is your oyster...but research shows that some small tweaks could prime you for even greater success...and navigate the bumps in the road

Listen to the 7-minute podcast: How to craft your career as a millennial woman

Website photo

Does gender really matter in the workplace anymore? Are role models and women’s networks relevant to today’s upcoming female talent? What must I do now to become tomorrow’s leader?

Watch three short videos of Dr. Elisabeth Kelan answering these questions and more.

Leader Insights

Dennis Nally, Chairman of PwC International, Ltd. tells us why we must stop talking about diversity.

Five female CEOs from around the world share their insight on today’s most pressing business issues in PwC’s 16th Annual CEO Survey.

Moira Elms, Chair of PwC International, Ltd.’s Global Diversity and Inclusion Council discusses her insights on diversity in The Glass Hammer.

PwC’s Gender Agenda Blog

Occupation: Housewife – does the Feminine Mystique still exist in 2013?

Read our Gender Agenda Blog – Occupation: Housewife

Why does diversity matter, anyway?

Read our Gender Agenda Blog on the diversity business case

Happy reading, watching, and listening and happy International Women’s Day!

Aoife and Dale

Also available from PwC: New research from our Economic analysts reveals woman in the UK are less likely to be in full-time work and experience greater pay inequality than their counterparts in other developed countries. Find out more.

28 February 2013

Occupation: Housewife

Last week marked the fiftieth anniversary of Betty Friedan’s seminal book, The Feminine Mystique, prompting a glut of commentary by academics and journalists reflecting upon its socio-political impact. My seminar cohort was assigned to read the text this week in a course on “The American Condition,” so the book is fresh in my mind. Colleagues, friends, and my professor all cautioned me about how dated this sixties-era tome would seem.

Not so. Not at all.

The enduring relevance of many of Friedan’s observations astounded me.

It would be absurd to say that things haven’t changed for women in the last fifty years or that her research was without its flaws; still, I was disturbed by how many people thought this book would seem so dated when many of Friedan’s perceptions struck me as still pertinent in today’s world and reflect the still-contemporary call for culture shift to improve the lives of both women and men.

The Fem Mystique 50 Year EdThe problem that has no name

Friedan defines the feminine mystique as an image that has been imposed on females by a society that prevents her from accepting or gratifying her basic need to grow and fulfil her potentialities as a human being, a need which is not solely defined by her sexual role as a housewife and mother.

Women, Friedan argued, can only find their identity in work that uses their full capacities. I couldn’t help but think of Julie’s Blog last week on what women’s careers mean to them; she said that the women she interviewed “explained that work contributed to their sense of self – a vital source of confidence, fulfilment and accomplishment.  Women respondents experienced a sense of being valued at work that is, in some way, particularly satisfying because it is not directly tied to others in their lives.”

I believe this claim goes to the heart of what Friedan was saying about the need for women to have purpose in their lives beyond managing house and children (and for that matter, the need for men to have a purpose beyond being the breadwinner). Professional work is not the only way a woman can fulfil her potentialities outside of the wife/mother role, but it is an important one in today’s world and one that, as Julie noted last week, provides another key need that women express – financial stability amongst the vicissitudes of life and love, for both herself, and her dependents, if she has any.

While unarguably professional women fuel the global economy today in a way they simply didn’t in 1963 (60% of graduates worldwide are women, and they make up half the workforce), certain of Friedan’s observations remain pertinent, and I believe there is a danger in complacently believing that the world has evolved as dramatically as we’d like to think.

Friedan’s observation: women earn less than men

Friedan talks about the sixties-era pay differential in her book. More recently, Catalyst summed up the state of the pay gap glibly, by tweeting: pay your daughters less pocket money than your sons to get them used to working life. In 2010, women earned 77.4% of what men did in the US. Also troubling is that women earn about five thousand USD less than their male counterparts right out of business school. Gloria Steinem addressed the pay gap just this week and importantly, OECD statistics show that the gender pay gap prevails not only in the US, but internationally as well.

Friedan’s observation: women experience subtle discrimination which deters them from ascending the business hierarchy

Friedan says that

subtle discrimination against women, to say nothing of the sex wage differential, is still an unwritten law today, and its effects are almost as devastating and as hard to fight as the flagrant opposition faced … the unwritten law makes the men writers and editors, the women researchers … women were often driven embittered from their chosen fields when, ready and able to handle a better job, they were passed over for a man.

Research out of Harvard University has shown that people have blindspots about others that affect the way they treat others, which in turn, influences the performance of those people. Diverseo also released research last year which suggests that people overwhelmingly continue to associate males with leadership , even in the face of visible counter-stereotypes, such as Angela Merkel.

In 2013, despite the fact that women comprise half the workforce in the US, they make up only 4% of the leaders of Fortune 500 companies. As women have increasingly entered the workforce over recent decades, balance at the top has not happened organically as many assumed it would. Although empirical evidence shows that companies with gender-balanced leadership teams financially outperform those with homogenous leadership, the message hasn’t yet taken root in daily life, suggesting that Friedan’s points about the mystique are deeply rooted in society and culture.

Friedan’s observation: Women are cast in the domestic sphere, men in the professional one

Friedan interviewed college-educated women, many of whom had filled out the U.S. Census questionnaire with “Occupation: Housewife,” to better describe this problem that has no name. In the book, she reproduces a memo from an advertising agency at the time:

Since buying is … based on … the woman’s yearning to know how to be a more attractive woman, a better housewife, a superior mother, etc., use this motivation in all your promotion and advertising. Take every opportunity to explain how your store will help her fulfil her most cherished roles in life...

The prevalence of television, print media (and now online) ads that manipulate women into spending on beauty products, weight loss treatments, and the like, has been discussed ad nauseam, so it’s hardly necessary to point out that this has changed little since the ‘sixties.

What did surprise me, was how alien certain advertisements aimed solely at women, or featuring them, felt to me when I moved back to the US in 2011. I’ll describe three briefly, to give you an idea of what I mean.

One, for a cleaning apparatus, shows a woman dancing around her home gleefully with a mop and duster – the image could have been right out of Friedan’s book.  I see many, many similar ads for cleaning products and household appliances (featuring women) and all strike me as wildly anachronistic. Most of the single and coupled women I know either hire professional cleaners or share the housework with a partner, or a combination of both. My mother was a stay at home mom with three kids for some of my childhood and far too busy to do the tango with a mop. These commercials feel right out of another era to me.

Another ad for insurance shows a suit-and-briefcase clad father happily leaving the house for work, while his wife and two children lounge on the couch and watch television. I’m not sure what message this is supposed to send about families, women, or children, but it’s not a positive one. In the third commercial, a woman, having worked in a corporate office all day, commutes home to cook dinner for her husband and children, then leaves to volunteer at a homeless shelter in the evening. The commercial is for vitamins. And no wonder she needs them with that inhuman schedule.

All of these commercials strike me as anomalous if you take even a moment to think about what they imply about gender roles and expectations. And they are playing on televisions not in 1963, but 2013.

Friedan’s observation: Women are hesitant to embrace ambition

Friedan noted that women are reluctant to commit themselves to work requiring initiative, leadership and responsibility. You might argue that this is ridiculous in the face of the plentiful successful and bright women you see around you and in the media. However, Facebook’s Sheryl Sandberg makes an almost identical claim in her book due out March 11, entitled, Lean In (PwC US is among the Lean In community sponsors). Many might even say that Sandberg has ferreted out the problem with no name for 2013.

Sandberg believes that women have taken themselves out of the running for high-ranking professional jobs even before the opportunity materializes; she believes that they fail to “lean in” to their careers early due to the mere anticipation of having children later on in life, and rigid HR policies ensure that speaking about planned pregnancies is a taboo subject. Sandberg urges women to insist their partners split housework equally, create an early vision for their career, take risks when appropriate, and connect with other women who have lofty career ambitions. We’ll be blogging about her much-discussed book in the coming weeks, but for a preview you can watch the Ted Talk, in which she articulates many of her views.

Friedan PHOTO 2

I see in Friedan’s work and its echoes in 2013, the massive implications for both genders. The abnegation of self – both by women who feel compelled to drop out of the workforce due to ambivalence or social pressure, and the men who feel obligated to stay in tedious jobs because they alone shoulder the burden of the family economic burden – is not only unnecessary, but is a largely unacknowledged and ordinary tragedy of squandered potential. I think that as a global society, we can do better – we can create an environment where people can make the right choices for themselves, no matter their gender, whether that means working in or outside of the home, or some combination of both.

I sat down with Dennis Nally, our Chairman yesterday. What keeps me optimistic about the future of women, men, and work, is his (and other leaders’) acknowledgement that work must be done radically differently than it has been in the past, and their assiduous, sometimes very public, but often very quiet work behind the scenes to foster change. Dennis, along with other PwC leaders, will lead a celebration of International Women’s Day (8 March) next week.

We believe that the dearth of women in leadership roles has dominated the conversation for too long and that to foster more women in leadership roles in a sustainable, realistic way we must expand the conversation to focus on junior talent now, to get them the right experiences for future leadership roles.

Stop by pwc.com/women next week for a series of tools, podcasts, and video vignettes.


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12 February 2013

What does your work mean to you?


We heard great things from you about guest blogger and PwC-Alum Julie Armstrong’s previous post on her research about gender and business culture.

I asked her to approach her findings from a different angle this time: what role does paid work play in a woman’s sense of self? How does she choose the nature of her work and whether it’s paid or unpaid? What factors influence her choices to put in more hours or fewer?


Read on for Julie’s insight, including how her findings intersect with highly-publicized narratives of choice by Ann Marie Slaughter, and female executives at Yahoo! and Facebook.



Recently, while out for a run around a university track, I noticed that students have returned to campus after their winter break.  As I ran (something I started in college and have done ever since), I reflected on my college years...It was, or at least it seemed, to be a period of life full of choices: choosing among majors, classes, clubs, roommates, and so on.  Of course, many choices made in college are intended to prepare us – for better or worse – for the “real” world that awaits after graduation.  But if the students I ran by are anything like me, no matter what decisions they make in college about their professional future, things will not turn out as expected.

In a previous blog post, I wrote about some findings from my research on the impact of workplace culture on professionals.  While discussing workplace culture and the ways workplace norms shape professionals’ experience both at work and outside of it, my study respondents talked at length about the meaning of work in their lives, ultimately giving insight into the reasons why they choose to work in demanding careers (most acknowledged the possibility of choosing a less intense career path).

Both men and women respondents alike spoke of the intellectual challenges their work affords them, the opportunity to work with smart and talented colleagues, the variety inherent in their work – all things they greatly value in their careers.  Thus, alongside the frustrations, misgivings and work/life conflict caused by the demanding and unpredictable nature of their work, respondents’ also enjoy many elements of their work.


While both men and women spoke of the value of their work in these ways, women respondents expressed an added layer of importance that their careers occupy in their lives.  They described their careers as a means of financial independence and self-sufficiency – a way to hedge against life’s uncertainties, ensuring their ability to care and provide both for themselves and for current, or future, dependents.

Moreover, women explained that work contributed to their sense of self – a vital source of confidence, fulfillment and accomplishment.  Women respondents experienced a sense of being valued at work that is, in some way, particularly satisfying because it is not directly tied to others in their lives.  Several women respondents also emphasized that their careers made them better partners, family members, friends and mothers.  Indeed, some women respondents discussed the meaning and importance of their work as a way to justify the demanding careers they pursue. 

I should point out that I do not interpret men’s silence on these issues to be indicative of a lack of meaning or importance in their work.  Rather, it is the contrast of men’s silence and women’s vocal expression of these issues that is notable.  This contrast, I believe, reveals women’s acknowledgement – albeit sometimes a subconscious one – of an alternative in which women do not work in the paid labor force, an alternative that is more readily accepted by broader cultural standards for women than it is for men.

These findings reveal just how committed women often are to their work, aspiring to have meaningful careers.  Some of you may think, “Well, of course, they do! This is obvious!”  But, in fact, cultural conceptions of men and women in the workplace often bring into question the ambition and commitment of women in a way that is not true for men (for example, consider research on the “motherhood penalty”).  In this way, I think these findings serve as a particularly useful reminder to organizations and to the people that fill their ranks (us!) to not make unsubstantiated conclusions about women’s level of ambition and commitment to work.  Perhaps findings like these help us rethink what it means to be committed to work.  Take, for example, flexible work arrangements: what if such arrangements were seen not as a signal that one is less committed to their career, but in fact that one is quite committed and is thereby finding alternative ways to “balance” career and family?


Having listened to respondents talk about what their work means to them and why they’ve made certain career choices pushed me to think more broadly about what it means to choose.  As you read this post, you may be inclined to think that these findings reveal a somewhat judgmental attitude towards women who have chosen to step out of the paid workforce, whether permanently or for a period of time.  But, in fact, this is not the case at all: women respondents in my study were very careful to explain that the thoughts they shared with me – the reasons why they’ve made such career choices – really are about their own choices, not somebody else’s.  In fact, several women respondents emphasized that one day their choices regarding their careers may change, perhaps even dramatically, as changes in their personal lives occur.

Choice is probably best thought of as the “expression of preferences within constraints” (see research by Correll or Stone for more on this idea).  Sometimes those constraints are wide and flexible, affording us a high degree of latitude in our decision making, and other times they are narrow and rigid, thereby limiting our alternatives.

To think about choice in this way deepens our understanding of the fact that choices are not made in a vacuum.  Often, we find ourselves taking into account the various factors that shape the alternatives available to us, weighing the advantages and disadvantages of such alternatives. In short, rarely are our choices regarding work easily made.

Perhaps this deeper understanding of choice will lead us to respond to the “choice narratives” of Ann Marie Slaughter or Marissa Mayer or Sheryl Sandberg in a less defensive, reactive fashion but instead with a greater measure of empathy.  Not necessarily because we understand why such women have made the choices they’ve made, or because we think their choices are ones we would make, but precisely because we can’t fully understand why they’ve made such choices.  We simply don’t know the constraints, whether few or many, that they operate within: demands, public policies, resources, relationships, ambitions, values, experiences past, present and future, and so on.  Perhaps we will even experience a greater degree of freedom to feel confident in our own choices, doing what works well for us, not what works well for someone else.

What does your work mean to you?  What are the choices you’ve made or wished you’ve made or regretted you’ve made or plan to make?  My hope is that as we create diverse and inclusive workplaces, where our differences are valued, that we’ll develop a greater appreciation for the diversity of choices we make.  This past new year didn't bring the start of a new school semester for me (although it has, many times, in the past).  It was marked, however, by new steps in my career.  While the process of deciding what that next step will be is often a tricky endeavor, I do take some comfort in knowing that meaningful work comes in a variety of forms, at different times along our career paths.  And I also take comfort in knowing that I'm certainly not the first and I definitely won't be the last person to navigate the sometimes messy process of making career choices.


28 January 2013

Diversity – it is a business issue with a clear business case

February is almost upon us, and strangely enough for me that means one thing. The setting of my New Year’s resolutions.  History has told me that my success rate in January is non-existent – so as a rule of thumb I never set them January 1.  Instead I psyche myself up for the month of January and hope for better success from February on. 

It is also that time of year when my thoughts are not solely focused on changes in my personal life, but also of course on the world of work.  Each New Year brings with it the opportunity to reflect back on the year behind and of course look forward to the year ahead.  This blog gives some insights into that process regarding our global Diversity and Inclusion strategy.

280113_Global_Annual_ReviewLast year we achieved a lot to be proud of as we continued to progress our diversity strategy forward.  Globally, for the first time our female percentage of the partnership reached 17%.  Up from 13% in 2003, additionally 20% of our new partner admissions were female.  You can learn more about our diversity and inclusion achievements in our 2012 Global Annual Review (pp 54-55).

While we acknowledge we are progressing, we also recognise we still have a lot to do, giving us plenty of food for thought as we think about the year ahead. 

As we look forward to 2013, January it has to be said, has provided a great start.  Firstly, we have begun the journey of launching our global Diversity and Inclusion Toolkit; initially to our diversity subject matter experts throughout the PwC network.  This toolkit focuses on two critical facets.  The first of which is that it includes a comprehensive change framework; which of course is so critical to achieving diversity success and moving the needle.  

Second, it includes successful diversity practices from throughout our network.  We have worked hard to include only practices that have been empirically proven to drive results; for example, be that higher levels of leadership diversity or better return and retention of women post maternity leave.  This we hope means practices that equate to results will be leveraged more widely throughout our network, while in parallel drive a diversity culture focused on impact and driven through measuring results.

Additionally, our Global Diversity and Inclusion Council all came to London for a full day in person meeting on January 10.  With the core objective of considering our diversity strategy and the critical next steps to drive it forward, this proved to be a very fruitful meeting.  For me personally, it was very rewarding to hear so many of our senior leaders talk so passionately about their commitment to and the business need for diversity.  We agreed on a number of critical actions for the year ahead focused on creating broad global awareness of the diversity business case, creating a willingness to drive change and providing tools to support change.  These actions were endorsed by Dennis Nally, our Global Chairman, who joined us for the first half of the meeting.  Additionally, they were bolstered further through the fresh perspectives gleaned from two new members to the Council.  Antony Eldridge, who will soon take up the position of Financial Services Leader for our East Cluster and Paul Stewart, our Global Tax Human Capital Leader.  We look forward to keeping you posted throughout the year on how we progress with these actions.

As you consider your gender and broader diversity strategies in the context of the year ahead I wanted to share some PwC resources that might help you on your journey.  Last week our Global Chairman, Dennis Nally, launched PwCs 16th Annual Global CEO survey at the annual World Economic Forum in Davos.  The survey includes the insights of 1,330 CEOs in over 65 countries.

For the first time in last year’s survey, CEOs escalated talent challenges to the top three potential business threats to their growth prospects.  This year talent challenges have been elevated further, with CEOs ranking the lack of available key skills as their second highest concern.  Furthermore, 77% of CEOs plan to revise their strategies for managing talent in the coming year; realising that they won’t be able to attract and retain new customers without well-trained, highly motivated employees.  The challenges aligned with such talent constraints is of course an inherent piece of the business case for diversity. 

Focusing specifically on pipeline development, the figure below outlines the various practices CEOs are focused on.  Interestingly nearly 60% of CEOs are focused on programmes that support leadership diversity.  More interesting, 45% of CEOs don’t rate their diversity initiatives as highly effective.  Referring back to our aforementioned toolkit, fostering a diversity culture that is focused on the right type of impact and measuring for results is a key message in this regard.


What is equally interesting is that while diversity programmes might be the second least deployed practice, diversity is inherent within all of the practices deployed.  Be that thought and generational diversity through ‘involving managers below board level in strategic decision-making’ or gender diversity in ‘active succession planning’.   Ensuring your business leaders understand that diversity is inherent within and critical to all facets of talent management should further enhance buy-in of the diversity business case.   To learn more about the findings of this year’s CEO survey why not watch the webcast recording of the survey launch at Davos or read the full report.  There are also lots of interesting tools available, including opportunities to make the report as relevant as possible to your business by downloading tailored versions by geography or industry.

280113_CEO_Women_ExecutivesWe hope that this helps support awareness that diversity is not just a nice to have or about doing the right thing, but is in fact a business issue with a clear business case.  On this front we are also pleased to share more detail on the business case for gender diversity with a specific focus on Spain.

Please find some recent thought leadership from our Spanish firm entitled Women as Leaders.  For those of you who like me are not fluent in Spanish I am pleased to attach the executive summary in English.

We are also happy to share that during 2012 our Gender Agenda Blog had over 12,000 readers.  Which for us only illustrates further that gender diversity is continuing to forge its path to being front of mind for the leaders of today and tomorrow.  Dale and I would like to say a big thank you to YOU for reading and of course encourage you to keep on reading and sharing our blogs.

As for my February (New Year) resolutions, hopefully in December I will be letting you know that I have eaten healthier, exercised more, improved my sleep routine and finally got around to passing my driving test………!!!!!!!!


15 January 2013

Does social media harm the self-esteem of girls?

I've always been taken by something that Danny Thomas said to his daughter Marlo: “I raised you to be a thoroughbred. When thoroughbreds run, they wear blinders to keep their eyes focused straight ahead with no distractions... they just run their own race. Don’t listen to anyone comparing you to anyone else... run your own race.”

Comparing oneself with others can be fraught in the brave new world of social networking. Whether we like social networks or not, one thing is certain: they're inexorable. It's almost impossible these days to do whatever it is you do, without interacting online with others.

I know many bright and talented women and am connected with most of them on social networking sites. These women lead regional business units, instruct yoga, raise kids, argue court cases, fly airplanes, start businesses, buy property, publish novels. They're brilliant. If I wasn't a relatively well-adjusted person, I might feel inferior as their status updates flood my inbox and dazzle me. (Okay, I admit it. Sometimes I do.)

Here's the thing about online interaction. It's selective. I'm less likely to advertise my failures and insecurities. That means that if we're connected via social media, you're probably getting a pretty flattering snapshot of my life at any given moment (and I'm getting the same from you).

We tend to put our best selves forward on the web, and we probably should in most cases. But in aggregating all of the best news and information from friends - and let's be honest, many acquaintances - are we raising the bar of expectations to unrealistic levels? Might these carefully vetted, rosy swathes of other people's lives have some unintended consequences on how we view our own lives and selves?

You might be as surprised as I was to learn how gender and emotion shape (and are shaped by) social networking behaviour.

Christine_R_Blog_PhotoIt was something I hadn't thought much about until I took a seminar with this week's guest blogger, Christine Rosakranse. 

Christine is a PhD Fellow at Stanford University in the Communication Department. She currently studies emotions, interfaces, and social networking as part of the CHIMe Lab (CHIMe stands for "Communication Between Humans and Interactive Media.")

Of course, I peppered her with questions over lunch about whether she had come across any gender differences in her research. She had - and I found these differences fascinating. I asked Christine to guest blog with her observations and some pointers on how to mitigate some of the less constructive effects of social media.

If you (or your daughters, sisters, girlfriends, etc.) use social media, read on.

- Dale


"Our interpersonal expressions of emotion are shaped by biology and by our culture.  What is considered appropriate for a woman to say is not the same as what is considered appropriate for a man to say, for example, when the topic concerns one’s emotions.  Evolutionary biology had a great deal of impact on why women would be more comfortable with talking about and expressing emotions.  They were responsible for keeping track of kin relations, and the rearing of children.  However, culture also shapes and maintains how each gender interacts with their peers. 

Social norms follow certain “display rules”.  This term was first introduced by Ekman and Friesen, whose work defined three types of display rules: the tendency to express more positive emotions, the tendency to mitigate negative emotions, and the act of replacing one emotion with another

An example of replacement may be smiling in a culture where negative emotion expression is not considered appropriate.    

Studies have also shown that women are generally higher in empathy than men.  Of course, as with any "advantage," this can be a double-edged sword.  This increased level of empathy may be the very thing that produces detrimental effects when combined with social networking and display rules. 

If we only see and hear about those positive aspects of another’s life, we tend to discount the amount of negative emotions that other people feel.  So much so, in fact, that we then become lonelier and experience greater feelings of isolation over time (“Misery Loves Company”, Jordan et al.). 

While this has not yet been directly tested in online communication, evidence exists that suggests that similar effects occur when “tweenage” girls go online (Nass & Pea, 2011).  A correlation was discovered between higher levels of using social networking and lower levels of self-esteem.

The role of social networking in shaping culture has yet to be fully determined, but we can see that language constrained to an online format is different than how we naturally speak.  From abbreviations to emoticons, new slang to meme references, language is changing every day at an accelerated rate, but display rules place certain constraints on the way we interact.  This in turn shapes culture in a cyclical manner.  With several iterations, we may find that these display rules are magnified, exaggerated, or completely replaced by new norms.

What we have to be constantly aware of are the insidious effects of long-term use, especially for individuals higher in empathy. 


One solution may be the paring down of one’s contact list to only include those that we truly care for, close friends and family members.  When our list only consists of those individuals, we can experience true sympathetic joy at their accomplishments, instead of jealousy, as can happen with non-close acquaintances. 

Another intervention might be realizing that other people have unhappy moments, just like us, but that they would never admit to that through social networking.  Realizing that this medium is like a pair of rose-colored glasses may be the way to defy any blows to one’s self-esteem and to remind us of our common humanity."

--Christine Rosakranse

20 December 2012

What MasterChef can teach us about inclusion

This week diversity and inclusion seemed particularly prevalent in my life beyond the workplace. 

Working globally for six years (learn more about my role in my blog bio) has meant frequent travel and late nights on the phone with other parts of the world.  This has had an impact on my TV viewing, as I found it difficult to find the ‘commitment’ to follow a programme at the same time every week.  It's only recently with advancements in digital TV - and the ability to view shows on demand - that I've been able to actually follow a few series that I enjoy.  

Seriously, how times have changed.  I vividly remember only having two TV channels at the age of eight.  It does make you wonder what TV will have to offer in another 24 years…!!!

MasterChefMasterChef Ireland is one of the three TV shows I watch loyally.

Many of you may be familiar with MasterChef in its various country formats, as it runs in some 35 countries.  The second series reached its season finale last week and there have been a few things about the show that struck a chord with me.


Firstly, the gender split of both finals has been two-to-one; two women and one man.  Secondly, both winners have been female, deserving winners, winners who have a serious passion for food and an innate talent to match.  Given the numerous disheartening corporate diversity stats (for example of the Fortune 1000 company CEOs less than 4% are female) these MasterChef results inherently make me feel good, but they also got me thinking…..

Towards the end of the season the finalists spent a lot of time cooking for Michelin Star chefs or in Michelin Star restaurants.  And well, all the chefs were men….. so while I realised I know a lot about corporate diversity statistics, I also realised I didn’t know much about the gender statistics when it comes to the world of elite chefs, so I researched it.  I am not sure what I was expecting, but what I found was that only 1% of Michelin star restaurants have female head chefs (and as an interesting aside that ‘chef’ means ‘boss’ in French).

Puppet-showWell, the story moves from the world of TV shows to a different kind of show, a puppet show, the entertainment at my beautiful niece and nephews' (Hannah and Alex) fourth birthday party on Sunday, which I think I enjoyed nearly as much as the kids. 

The puppet show had five core characters, one of which was of course a 'villain' -- the Ice Queen.  She was trying to ruin Christmas by putting spiders in the Christmas crackers and gifts and by stealing Rudolf’s red nose to wear on the top of her hat.  After a lot of child (and adult) participation to the effect of singing Christmas songs to raise the Christmas cheer and shouting ‘she’s behind you,’ her plan was foiled.  And then came the messages……. the Ice Queen proclaimed she was only a mean person because others were mean to her and nobody included her.  At this point Harry the Elf chimed in to explain that ‘we mustn’t be mean to others and that inside everybody is the same; isn’t that right boys and girls?’

I vividly remember hearing these messages as a child, but noted to myself how we seem to hear them less as we grow older. 



This brings me back to MasterChef Ireland, and the final show last Thursday, during which we got a bit more insight into the personal life of each finalist.  Nisha Maguire my favourite contestant throughout the series said the following:  “It worries me – when you look at me I’m Asian.  I kind of have that fear that when people look at me they will think what is that woman doing in Masterchef Ireland?  Does she even know how to cook Irish Stew or Roast Beef?  But my husband told me they don’t look at you or what colour you are this is a food competition it is about the look and taste of the finishing dish that is what they look at and you have that.” 

Connected, these made me think about two things – transparency and accountability.   Yes, those important messages were much more transparent and frequently heard as a child, but I feel we were also much more accountable as children.  If I ever did or said something wrong, I was made to apologise and suitably punished - the same was true for all of my school classmates.

As for MasterChef Ireland, two women have risen to the top and taken the coveted title because the audience holds the programme accountable.  No stereotypes, no bias, no mini-me syndrome no gender preferences can creep into the progression process because we consistently see all of the hard evidence, their cooked dishes, side by side.

MC-finalistsIt is this transparency and objectivity surrounding the quality of the ‘work output’ that means it is the end dish not the person who is appraised.  And so, those selecting the winner are held accountable.

Nisha’s husband is right – it is not about who you are, it is about your talent, ability and performance, because all of those things have no gender, no race, no age…..    

So, why do the important messages about inclusion get somewhat lost as we get older? Why do transparency and consistency regarding accountability not hold strong?  Research places an emphasis on making managers and leaders accountable as one key to greater gender diversity.  But for me it felt refreshing to be struck by this same important message through some of the more joyous experiences in life like my favourite TV programme and my niece and nephew’s birthday party, rather than through the reading of a research report.   

So tell me, what are your organisations doing to be transparent about gender diversity and to foster a culture of accountability?

The puppet show was reminiscent of Christmas time, so from myself and Dale we would like to sign off with this last blog for 2012 by wishing you all a fantastic holiday, no matter how you celebrate it, and a very happy New Year.   


10 December 2012

Returning to work – Perspectives from a first time mum

Like the subjects of nearly all my blogs, maternity leave isn't something I ever thought about much (given I don’t yet have children), though that has changed more recently as I come to grips with my diversity role.  I’ve had the opportunity to learn about some of the great support and programmes we have in place for expecting and returning mothers throughout our network such as the US Firm's Mentor Moms program or Full Circle Program.

But aside from my role, I think it is important that we all think about the experience of the returning mother a little bit more.  Many of us already are or will be working parents someday.  All of us certainly work with parents and some of us are in a reporting or coaching relationship with parents. So by putting ourselves in their shoes we can consider the challenges of the experience itself and with that perhaps think a little bit more about what we can do to support returning mothers back into the workforce in a more inclusive way (both as organisations and as employees).

In this light, we are very happy to share a guest blog from Alina Stefan, of our PwC London office, who provides an honest and refreshing perspective of her experience as a first time mum returning to work.  Also, we’d like to bring your attention to some recent Australian research focused on what organisations can do to boost return from maternity leave rates. 




As I am getting ready to leave for work, there is a pitter-patter of little steps following me to the door: my one year old son.

I was on a ten month maternity leave, which in some countries is considered insufficient and in others excessive – in the end it proved to be the right time for us. When I started the leave I was quite certain that I wanted to return to work, but determined to keep an open mind on my choices. I love motherhood, with all the ups and downs (to be honest mostly the ‘ups’). After six months I felt that I wanted to go back to work; it was important to me and it was important to our family. After eleven years of working in PwC my professional persona is too entrenched into who I am.

Cyprusphotos2012 057-002Coming back to work was more difficult than I thought: not only the fact that it was (and still is) difficult to leave every morning. My son is clearly distinguishing my ‘going out’ clothes from my home ones, and clings on to me with all his worth when I dress for work. The good news is that he doesn’t dwell on my absence, having the attention span of a tweeter. My separation anxiety aside, my work landscape has changed radically: my manager had left while I was on leave, I ended up with a different role than the one I thought I was coming back to, there were four new team members and a totally different dynamic.

Considering the circumstances, I expected the re-entry to be challenging and that it would take some time  - but I totally underestimated how much I would have to stretch to ride this change. While I was on maternity leave I had this mental picture of more or less picking up where I left off, and when reality bit I felt adrift. In my picture, returning to work was a return to normal and stability in a way, a place where (in some cases) I knew what I was doing and had a resemblance of control. Some new parents will tell you, in various degrees of seriousness, that they went back to work for a bit of rest – you work hard, as hard as ever, but you can have a lunch break, have a coffee with a colleague, organise your day and many other wonderful things that had been elusive ever since your baby was born.

The great balancing act of motherhood and work (and ideally a little bit of your personal hobbies if possible) rests for me in how much I enjoy doing each of them. I feel they influence each other so deeply that it is impossible to fully differentiate them, so I am working on integrating them better. Being a perfect mother is Sisiphus’ boulder: you have your objective in sight but not the means to reach it; every single decision you can take can stir a debate on whether you are putting your child in a disadvantaged position by not breastfeeding for years, giving them a dummy, sleep training, potty training and a million other issues.

Sundayinthepark 021-001

I wouldn’t want to forget to talk about our partners: midnight quarrels on whose turn is to feed the baby aside, my husband did a brilliant job at being a new father, naturally slipping into this new role. He moved to a new company just before I gave birth, went through intensive change on the job and still managed to keep us sane.

Somehow I have to spare a thought on the fact that even a decade ago this flexibility we have at work was an aspiration.

I will be honest and say that I struggled to fit neatly back in. It was hard to let go my mental picture and it is probably still ‘work in progress’. But I did shift the focus to the half filled part of the glass and will toast for new beginnings. I am sure I am not alone.


13 November 2012

Why Millennial Women Do Not Want to Emulate Senior Women and What To Do About That

One of Aoife’s recent blog entries shared some insights on the PwC Sponsored session that took place at this year’s Women’s Forum for Economy and Society’s annual global meeting.  The session entitled ‘Rising Stars: Developing Millennial Women as Leaders’ was a solutions-focused session based on the research findings of Dr. Elisabeth Kelan’s very recent book of the same name.  PwC have been very proud to support Dr. Kelan’s research and book which focuses on the intersection of generation, gender and leadership and what this means for developing millennial women as leaders.

PwC UK will be hosting a book launch event in their London office next week (19 November) during which we will host a panel discussion focused on the findings of Elisabeth’s research.  If you are interested in attending please contact Aoife and stay tuned to our blog and website as we will be posting videos and a chapter from Elisabeth’s book in the very near future.

In the meantime we are very pleased to share with you a guest blog from Dr. Kelan which zones in on one of the many topics covered in her book: the matter of role models.



Most conversations on women in leadership are quick to pinpoint a genuine reason for the absence of women in senior positions: the lack of female role models. The argument, junior women lack the inspiration to develop into senior leaders as there are so few women in senior roles. What does this mean for Millennial women? Millennial women are women from the Millennial generation, also called Generation Y. Those women are in their 20s and 30s, in junior roles in organizations and preparing themselves for leadership roles.

131112 - Kelan-PresentingWhile there is a lot of focus on the lack of senior women, how to develop junior women into leaders of tomorrow is still an under-researched area. This requires a focus on gender, generation as well as leadership development to articulate the nuances that will allow Millennial women to flourish. For this purpose the book describes a heuristic to help individuals and organizations to think through the issue of developing Millennial women as leaders. One element of this heuristic is role models. My book shows that the assumption that Millennial women just lack role models to develop as leaders is too simplistic: there are women in senior roles but Millennial women often reject them as role models.

Role models are essential for leadership development because they show aspiring leaders potential selves. Role models allow for identification. We often identify with others who are similar to ourselves. This explains why Millennial women might look for other women as role models. As women in senior roles are still scarce, many Millennial women need to look further afield. With a wider search pattern, Millennial women are likely find senior women who can function as a role model.

However the relationship between Millennial women and senior women is often not as straightforward as one would expect. Many Millennial women feel that senior women are not supporting them enough. Senior women are perceived to be pulling the ladder up behind them. This is often called the Queen Bee syndrome, which presumes that there are a limited number of places for women in senior roles and senior women do not want to have more competition from junior women.

However the reality is more complex than the Queen Bee syndrome suggests. Senior women might be overburdened by requests from junior colleagues to support them. They might be tired of being presented as ‘the female’ role model all of the time. Many senior women also feel inadequate as role models because they think of themselves as less than perfect - senior women without children often feel that way. In fact, many Millennial women look for female role models who have it all: a successful career, children and partner in life (they expect more from their role models than their male counterparts who often only want professional success in a role model). Senior women who do not have it all might just appear as less inspirational to millennial women. 

Another explanation for the fact that many Millennial women cannot identify with female role models relates to how we imagine leaders to be. In the minds of many people leaders are still white men of a certain age. This is still the ideal that many aspiring leaders try to live up to and obviously women do not fit this stereotype. By being women alone, senior women will appear as unusual leaders and Millennial women will pick up on this. A female leader will appear against the background of the stereotype of a leader as a much weaker role model.

131112 - Book-CoverWhat can be done about this? Instead of emulating female leaders, Millennial women should integrate a range of role models. Leaders of the future will have to be authentic rather than clones of others. Millennial women should not struggle to find the ideal female role model but build composite role models that all embody a certain aspect that Millennial women can take on board. Organizational initiatives should ensure for instance that traditional mentoring relationships are going beyond a pair of people but instead embrace a multiplicity of relationships.

It is not just the scarcity of female role models that holds Millennial women back but also the ‘content’ of those female role models. Understanding why Millennial women might reject role models and how to challenge this, is a key issue when it comes to developing Millennial women as leaders. It is however not the only issue that needs to be considered. The book for instance highlights how specific barriers such as stereotypes and work-life balance can be navigated.


06 November 2012

Sweet Dreams

Hello everyone,

I read something recently that shocked me in The Oprah Magazine.  A doctor explained that most people who complain of anxiety are actually chronically tired. "The solution is so simple," she says.  "Lie down. Just lie down.”  So, it seemed like a good time to share Aoife's "sleep blog" resulting from her June trip to Boston, MA for the  Boston College Centre for Work & Family’ s National Workforce Roundtable event. 

Enjoy - and sweet dreams.



It came as a shock when whilst tiredly sifting through my calendar at the weekend I realised that the Boston College Centre for Work & Family’ s next meeting is taking place this week (see a photo below of the beautiful Boston College campus from my June trip).  And funny enough, my tiredness made me laugh as it brought back memories of one of their June meeting sessions.

Campus BCnDr. Orfeu Buxton of Harvard Medical School facilitated an interesting session focused on the causes and consequences of sleep deficiency and their workplace impacts.   Sometimes, I’m not even sure if I know what sleep is!!!  As such, I recalled it being a session of both professional and personal interest to me at the time. 

I had never really given much thought before to the collective employee impact of bad sleep and the workplace.   But indeed, much academic research has proven that factors impacted by employees lack of appropriate levels of sleep, such as; poor concentration, higher stress, and, being more susceptible to falling ill, all impact overall productivity and indeed a company’s bottom line.  Some rather scary statistics from the Better Sleep Council show that sleep deprivation reduces accuracy by 31%, clear thinking and judgment by 31% and the ability to remember important details by 30%.

The simple fact is; we all need to sleep to enable factors such as energy conservation and brain temperature regulation.  But how much sleep do we need?  I’ve been living under the false assumption that six hours sleep meant a good night sleep, when in fact I learned that our mind and body actually needs eight hours sleep a night.  I’ve been short-changing myself out of at least 14 hours sleep a week.  How much have you been short-changing yourself on sleep? and what can we do to rectify this?  Below are some sleep hygiene tips for healthy sleep discussed during Dr. Buxton’s session.

  • Only go to bed at night when you think you can fall asleep
  • Get up within 1-2 hours of the same time every morning, workdays and weekends
  • If you are having trouble sleeping, try not to nap during the day (day times naps should not exceed 30 minutes)
  • Get as much natural light as you can during the desired working day
  • Limit alcohol, nicotine and caffeine, as well as any drugs which disturb sleep
  • Get regular exercise
  • Associate bed and bedroom with sleep only (not a place for watching TV, etc.)
  • Enjoy a relaxing bedtime routine

For women in the workplace if it is work or personal related stress, then perhaps these tips might help.  But if you have and in particular are nursing young infants many of these tips go out the window.  The best tip in this case, is to be aware of the impact sleep deprivation has and to do your best, where possible, to tick some of the boxes for the points mentioned above (no easy feat).

As for those of us who have to travel a lot, it is indeed true, each hour of time difference requires one day to recoup.  Dr. Buxton’s advice, use a ‘jetlag calculator’ to support you when booking travel and while travelling try to order mild and healthier foods and fit in some exercise.

Now, before all this talk of sleep makes me sleepy it’s time to sign off.  I leave you with Dr. Buxton’s ‘litmus test’ for contemplation.  Sleep, diet and exercise are the three pillars of health, in order for things to be going well, you need to get all three right.  So ask yourself, am I getting enough sleep?, am I getting enough exercise?, and do I have a healthy diet?

Wishing you all a healthy night’s sleep tonight, and if you want to learn more, visit:  http://healthysleep.med.harvard.edu/


24 October 2012

Do we all unconsciously believe that male equals leader?

PwC has been a proud sponsor of the Women’s Forum for Economy and Society since its inception.   The Women’s Forum eight annual global meeting took place a little earlier this month in Deauville, France.   This year I didn’t attend the event but Aoife has managed to give me and hopefully all of you a little taste of what is always a fantastic meeting with the blog below. 



Earlier this month I got to attend the Women’s Forum for Economy and Society’s annual global meeting for the first time.  And what an amazing experience it was.  

I was a little awed by the grandeur of the event but even more so by some of the speakers, and particularly female speakers who addressed us.  We had two Nobel Peace Prize Laureates (Shirin Ebadi and Leymah Gbowee) the Government Spokesperson and French Minister of Women’s Rights (Najat Vallaud-Belkacem) and Cherie Blair (Founder and Patron of the Cherie Blair Foundation for Women).  Pretty good going, right?

Additionally the Women’s Forum had 17 young amazing women attend as part of their Rising Talent Network, each and every one of whom was both inspiring and impressive.

I am very pleased to share that PwC sponsored a break-out session entitled ‘Rising Stars: developing millennial women as leaders’ a solutions focused session based on the research findings of Dr. Elizabeth Kelan’s very recent book of the same name.


We were very lucky to have two of the aforementioned rising talent Michelle Meyer and Melissa Boteach partake in this panel discussion.  Their perspective combined with Dr. Kelan’s and Agnes Hussherr of our D&I council truly made the experience of moderating this panel discussion an exceptional one for me (the picture below shows the panel in action).  The experiences and thoughts they shared will stay with me for a long time and no doubt filter into the themes of future blogs.  Do watch this space as Dr. Kelan will be sharing a guest blog on her earlier referenced book in the very near future.


The final day of the Women’s Forum global meeting opened with a plenary session I had very much been looking forward.  Entitled “Look me in the brain: Do we all unconsciously believe that leader=male?”  and facilitated by Nathalie Malige, CEO, Diverseo. Well,  it did not disappoint and I just had to blog about it.

Nathalie took us through a live implicit association (more commonly known as unconscious bias) test, the results of which showed it took the audience longer to associate women as leaders as it did men.  Fascinating really, given that most of the delegates attending the plenary were women.  Why not watch the session or read Diverseo’s white paper to learn more about the science behind our implicit biases – we all have them.  Ultimately while we think we know what we think, unbeknown to us our brain makes different decisions.  All in all, it is pretty captivating stuff.    

Nathalie shared the findings of research she conducted specifically in the run up the Women’s Forum meeting which found that “while most people consciously believe that men and women are equally good leaders, in fact, they tend to recognise any random well-dress grey-haired serious-looking man as a leader more than famous female leaders such as Julia Gillad, Dilma Roussef or Christine Lagarde.”  Yes, what I am saying is that while explicitly men and women believe that men and women are equally effective leaders, when it comes to our automatic associations (implicit) they tend to recognise leadership more easily in unknown men than in well-known female leaders


Diverseo’s white paper talks of the growing body of scientific evidence that suggest that implicit bias has meant even when a woman has demonstrated better leadership skills, the man will still probably be promoted.  The result non-promoted female leader will often adjust and tend to opt out as a result.  Not good!

On a more positive note the research also found that men with female managers have lower associations of men with leadership.  So, the more women that we have in management and leadership positions should ultimately lower both men and women’s implicit associations of male = leader.  The white paper also has a focus on solutions and discussed in detail a three-stage approach to help women grow in the workforce and thus capture incremental value, outlined through three core steps which are:

  1. Build awareness and shape the business case
  2. Collect numbers to target the actions
  3. Transform the environment  

The good news is the attractive finding that 80% of people who take a relevant and related implicit association tests before making a decision are more objective than people who do not take the test.  So why not take a test, and learn more about your implicit associations.  After what this plenary session thought me I know that I want to learn more about mine!


10 October 2012

To Quota or not to Quota

Those of us that have been focused on the Gender Agenda for some time are well versed on the topic of quotas. Given that this is an area of ramped up focus currently in Europe I thought it would be interesting to ask Aoife to give some thought to the topic of quotas for two reasons.  Firstly, as a newcomer to the area of gender diversity I was interested in hearing her view, and secondly, as the European based member of our global team I was also interested in hearing her view, and her view she shares…..



The discussion and debate on quota’s continues and has received some recent stimulation as result of Viviane Reding’s recent proposal for EU legislation requiring 40% of non executive board seats to be appointed to the ‘under-represented gender’, of course we all know that in most cases this means women.  Reding is vocal in her view that self-regulation has failed, the result... legislation is the only option to accelerate gender equality in many of the most senior areas of business life. 


If approved Reding’s proposal would require state-owned companies to name women to 40 percent of the seats on supervisory boards by 2018, and by 2020 for publicly listed companies, along with various levels of sanctions for those that do not meet them.   Reding is expected to make the final proposal public by mid-October.  The legislation itself requires approval from the Union’s 27 governments and the European Parliament; some of which have already adopted quotas while others have publicly opposed such a system.  With all this in mind I have no doubt we will all be watching this space….!


In fact, a panel session entitled ‘Strategic Shifts: The future of human capital’ at the World Economic Forum’s annual meeting of the new champions (also known as the ‘summer-Davos’) in China last month got to discussing the very topic, as result of a question posed from the audience, who was a member of the European Parliament (watch the panel discussion by clicking here).

Considering all of the above and my relative ‘newness’ to the area of gender diversity, I gave myself a moment to pause and reflect on something that I had never really thought about before.  As a relatively young women in business, how do I feel about quotas?  And, do I think they are the answer? 

I look at my career and I think back to starting off and just how challenging it was to find a strong female role model I aspired to emulate.  Would my career path of been clearer, easier if this was not the case? And what if in line with quota requirements, 40% of the leadership landscape I was exposed to was female.  Would I wonder if that 40% got there on their own merit or were in token roles to fill such quota requirements?  These are questions I can only ponder, not answer. 

Naturally, I begin to think about the last few months of my career, another beginning, the beginning of my most recent role.  Given its focus is one of diversity and inclusion I think about all of the unnerving gender diversity metrics I am learning about throughout the world of business.  In this regard, I echo Dennis Nally’s (PwC’s global chairman, speaking at the aforementioned WEF session) frustrated view,  that given the female rates of participation in education and the workplace, the rate of change and involvement at the ‘top’ is just too slow. 


But does this mean I’m a supporter of quotas, well I’m not so sure.

I would like today’s talent and tomorrow’s talent to have female role models to aspire to, yes.  But I also want the focus to shine beyond the topic of women at the top.  Instead, for it to shine on women at every stage of their career ladder, so that perhaps they begin to naturally flow rather than fight their way to the top.   While progress is slow, I do believe that progress in this area is beginning to take form.  That succession pipelines that include qualified female talent for mission critical roles are beginning to take shape.  A sentiment widely expressed by the panel of the referenced WEF session as they clearly articulate that the bench strength of female talent for such positions undoubtedly exists.

The question that really concerns me with regard the European proposal for quota’s is not will it drive change, or will it impede it.  But what impact will it have on all the hard work that has gone before with regards driving more parity in these pipelines.  My concern is that such quotas might eat up this pipeline and we begin to see a trend of increasing non-executive female board members and decreasing female board members.  Personally, I would prefer to see this pipeline channelled towards C-suite roles rather than quota driven non-executive board roles, with today and tomorrow’s talent having female role models by way of CEO’s, COO’s, CIO’s and CFO’s to aspire to. 

For the first time ever in PwC’s 15th annual global CEO survey the issue of talent has been catapulted into the top three strategic challenges CEO’s say they are facing.  The issue of closing corporate leadership gender gaps is part of this challenge.  

For me, having a leader who believes in the case for change, is frustrated with the rate of change, and willing to drive change, the right kind of change, seems much more important and impactful than legislating quotas.  At PwC, with Dennis Nally, we are lucky to have that kind of leader, but of course I appreciate this will not be the case for all organisations.  

So I’ve reflected and thought about it, and I am not convinced that quotas are the answer.  But I am just one voice in an endemic debate.   What’s your view?  And if like me, you would like to understand Viviane Reding’s perspective better then tune into womens-forum.tv (at 10.30 GMT) this Thursday to hear Reding speak about the very same at the 2012 Women’s Forum For The Economy and Society Global Meeting, taking place in Deauville, France.  I have just arrived in Deauville and I am very much looking forward to being part of the discussion. 


04 September 2012

Gender Diversity in Professional Service Firms: Female Representation Boosts Performance

We are proud that globally PwC is one of the professional services industry’s largest graduate recruiters. Out of the 17,000 new graduate we hire annually, 51% are women. So, when Giulia Tongnini, a 23 year old recent MSc graduate of Bocconi University in Milan contacted us about her MSc thesis research findings on gender diversity in the management consulting industry, we immediately asked her to write a guest blog.

Inspired by extant research findings indicating a positive correlation between female leadership and firm performance, Giulia, as a woman strongly interested in a career in management consulting, decided to explore explicitly if similar findings would present themselves for the consulting industry. Giulia’s guest blog specifically highlights what she feels her research findings mean for professional services firms and female graduates wishing to pursue a management consulting career. 




As a woman strongly interested in a career in consulting, I chose to write my master thesis on gender diversity in the consulting industry.  That’s me in the photo below at my graduation.


In my sample of 81 consulting firms, I found that female professionals accounted for 39% of the total workforce, yet female partners accounted for only 17% of total partners. Clearly women seem to ‘disappear’ as we move up the ranks.  Through interviews with female consultants I discovered that a primary reason for this phenomenon was that, at a certain point in their careers, women chose to willingly exit their firm so as to focus on their families or other priorities.  This is largely because they don’t feel the consulting industry will allow them to progress in their careers and simultaneously focus on their families.

The second main finding of my research was that of a positive correlation between firm performance, measured in terms of profitability, and female representation in my sample of consulting firms. Most significant was the relationship between profitability and the percentage of female partners. Based on the research findings of my thesis, consulting firms may be able to improve profitability by increasing female representation at higher levels.

My research results have implications for both consulting firms (and professional service firms in general) and for female graduates like myself, looking towards pursuing a career in professional service firms.


By increasing female representation, professional service firms can achieve a balance of skills that can help firms better solve client problems.  Those professionals interviewed through the course of my research, in fact stated that mixed teams allow firms to bring diversity in tackling assignments. Male and female professionals have different strengths and competencies. Having a gender diverse workforce will allow firms to achieve a balance of complementary skills.

As for the effects on firm performance, there are the potential improvements in profitability that my research findings posit.  In addition, research by McKinsey has found that gender diversity programmes aimed at increasing female representation can also improve employee motivation, customer satisfaction, and corporate brand name. Gender diversity programmes may also allow firms to achieve cost savings. Keeping female professionals inside the firm decreases employee turnover, which can be extremely costly in terms of recruitment and retention efforts.

So, how can professional service firms increase female representation? At the start of my research project, I perceived the apparent ‘glass ceiling’ in the industry to be caused by a male-dominated workplace environment or by possible discrimination towards women.  However, my research findings suggest it is a lack of policies specifically aimed at helping women move to the top ranks in their firms, while allowing them to take care of their families at the same time, that poses an obstacle to women’s career advancement in this industry.

If the main reason behind the ‘disappearance’ of women within management consultancy firms is the difficulty in achieving work-life balance, then firms need to tailor their gender diversity programmes to this effect. Firms have already begun moving in this direction by offering flexible and reduced work schedules, childcare support, and mentoring and training schemes, to name just a few.  These policies allow women to achieve their career objectives without having to forego or sacrifice their family life.

This is great news for female graduates like myself! Having always perceived the professional service sector as being heavily male-dominated, the presence of gender diversity policies shows me that this is now changing. As awareness of gender issues in the workplace increases, so will the number of firms implementing specific measures aimed at helping women in their career advancement. I hope that empirical studies showing a positive correlation between gender diversity and firm performance will convince those more sceptical firms that gender diversity programmes can truly make a difference.

Knowing that these programmes are in place demonstrates that firms are actively working towards helping women like myself succeed in their careers while pursuing family objectives at the same time. This is a factor I will definitely take into consideration when choosing the firms to which I will apply.


20 August 2012

Floats like a butterfly, stings like a bee: Boxing and Business

London is basking in the wake of Olympic bliss as natives cautiously trickle back into the city and celebrate an exceptionally smooth and successful two weeks of athletic magnificence. The theme of the games has been, "Inspire a Generation," and as the streets fill with bicyclists, runners, and pick-up basketball games (more than she's ever seen on the London streets, a colleague told me yesterday), you can't help but believe that it has done just that.


I believe strongly in the power of sports to develop young girls into leaders, so imagine my delight when Aoife arrived from Dublin yesterday with this blog on Katie Taylor, Olympic gold medallist and Irish boxing phenomenon...enjoy!


Hello all,

Olympic fever has likely had an impact on you all for the past few weeks, as a spectacular Olympic event took place in London.  This is not the first time the gender agenda has considered athletics, a previous blog by Dale brought focus to the link between involvement in team sports and female success in business.  This blog looks at the parallels of a successful female boxer and the successful business leader.

Here in my native Ireland, the Olympic excitement and celebrations have been amazing.  A small nation (population 4.59 million), Olympic medals come few and far between.  London, 2012, however presented us with our first gold medal in twenty years, awarded to Katie Taylor, of Bray, Co. Wicklow. 


We all know that world champions of any nature are both special and few and far between.  In boxing, like the C-suite, female champions are indeed even sparser.  Those business leaders that have been truly great and are globally admired were not just successful business leaders achieving greatness during their peak, but they left behind a legacy.  Katie Taylor, has and is without doubt achieving greatness.  She is a five time European champion, four time World champion, and now Olympic champion. 

But she has not just made history in this regard.  Katie, herself, is credited with being instrumental in getting female boxing included in the London games.  So successful were the female bouts, that the number of weight divisions has already been increased for Rio, 2016.  It is in this regard, that Katie like the greats of the business world has not just achieved greatness, but created a legacy, and all by the tender age of 26.

Katie is a history maker; the first female boxer to win lightweight gold at an Olympics games, the first female boxer to be awarded the accolade of female boxer of the Olympic tournament, the first boxer to win a gold medal for Ireland in twenty years.  

However, despite Katie’s shrewd competitive streak and ambition, she is a shy, humble, reserved and modest young woman.  Traits that have endeared her so much to the Irish public and boxing world, they have made her the poster girl for sport in Ireland and women’s boxing globally.  Upon completion of each Olympic bout, she thanked her faith, her team, and her support, with not a hint of an ego or self proclamation.  In my mind, she achieves what Jim Collins describes as level 5 leadership.  In the boardroom, she would be described as the authentic rather than the charismatic leader. 

Those who might not know much about boxing might consider it a brutal and rough sport. It is however in fact nicknamed the ‘sweet science’ because it is a game of tactics.  Katie studies her competitors pre-bout, analyses   their form and every development throughout the fight, all while fighting with the expectations of a nation on her shoulders.  Just like the boardroom executive, to achieve her accolades Katie has undoubtedly had to be a strategic thinker. 

When her opposition appeared to resort to what the sport would call as ‘trash talk’ before the gold medal match, Katie did not respond.  Post-win she thanked her opposition for providing an excellent and challenging fight.  Katie is ethical and the consummate professional. 

Despite all of her success gender has of course been a factor.  For her first few years boxing she had no choice but to spar with males as there were no women in the sport. Had Katie been a male, she would have achieved national and global acclaim after her first world title.  Being female, this acclaim was slower to come.  But with time and success she became a national hero and sweetheart.  Being female, she had to fight hard not just for her place, but for the place of her sport at the Olympic Games; where gold medal success has no doubt guaranteed her the global acclaim she deserves.  These extra challenges of course drive parallels with the sentiments littered throughout the gender diversity literature and the extra challenges women have to overcome to make it to the c-suite.

Of course, being a success and dominating the field of female boxing has not been achieved solely by Katie herself.  She has had the appropriate family support, boxing support, coaching team and most importantly mentoring and sponsorship.  Mentors and sponsors that pushed her on, took chances on her and made opportunities for her when they did not exist.  The same sponsorship ethos required for business professionals, particularly women to advance as per Hewlett’s  The Sponsor Effect: Breaking Through the Last Glass Ceiling’

Katie is without doubt a role model for all aspiring young sports women.  The photo below shows me wishing I had just some of Katie’s talent.


However, her strategic thinking, ethics and professionalism, authenticity, ability to change the rules and create a legacy make Katie a role model and inspiration for aspiring young business women also.  If Katie can make it to the top in boxing, why can’t more women make it to the top in business!

I shed a tear when Katie won her gold, and while some might consider amateur boxing and business as worlds apart, for me the opposite is true.  This blog is my tribute to Katie, for the inspiration and pride she has brought to every woman in Ireland and perhaps beyond.


09 August 2012

Life-changing experiences: gender, mobility, and leadership

This week's blog post introduces my new colleague, Aoife, to the PwC Global D&I team, and explores the connections between gender and mobility experiences. Enjoy!


Hello and nice to meet you,

My name is Aoife and I am excited to have recently joined Dale in PwC’s Global Diversity & Inclusion Programme Office (a virtual office, I am based in Dublin).

In his book ‘The Leadership Mystique’, Kets De Vries (INSEAD) highlights how living and working in a foreign country is typically the single most influential developmental experience identified by effective global business leaders.  Mobility has and continues to be a key thread in my own career as I start my next chapter with the Global D&I team.

In 2000, I started my career with PwC's Learning & Development Team in Ireland. After five years, I transitioned to my first global role where I was responsible for operations and project management in our Global Ethics and Business Conduct Office.  Two years later I transitioned to my second global role where I implemented EPIC, a global key talent management programme offering developmental international assignments to our key talent below manager level.  I stayed involved with EPIC with my mandate expanding to involve global souring projects for four years (that's me, below - second from the right - with PwC's Global Mobility team in 2009) before my recent move to Diversity & Inclusion

Team 2

I am excited that my Diversity & Inclusion role will continue my work on projects that facilitate positive change for our network. As I develop my subject matter expertise in global diversity, I've naturally drawn parallels with my own professional journey.  Responsibility for EPIC has been a real career highlight for me; having gone through the experience of an international assignment myself, I really felt I that I was involved in an offering that offered our less experienced talent a life changing experience. My time in PwC's Boston office, as a 25 year old, moving into a new role and not knowing one person in the city without doubt provided me with the most professional and personal growth and development I've had to date.

Aoife and Donatienne

Rosalie L. Tung the Professor of International Business at Simon Fraser University in Canada, has highlighted in her research how people with international experience are pivotal to an organisation’s competitive edge in our globalised economy; with a ‘global mindset’ considered a critical competency for promotion to leadership.  What's interesting, however, is that currently only about 20% of international assignees are female.  So, what was really special for me regarding EPIC, is that 44% of our participants are female; perhaps because the international opportunity is offered early in the career! In fact, recent research and thought leadership by McKinsey suggests that women should be offered career accelerant opportunities (like international assignments) earlier in their career in order to support advancement.

Another key theme that has been beckoning at me as I get to grips with diversity is the importance of mentorship and sponsorship in supporting female progression. 

The HBR research report The Sponsor Effect: Breaking Through the Last Glass Ceiling’ outlines sponsors as powerful backers who, when they discern talent, anoint it with their attention and support, promoting the talent while also protecting, preparing and pushing them.  I am testament to the power of the sponsor. While not obvious to me at the time, it was my relationship with one of the previous global leaders I worked with that changed my own career journey. He supported, pushed and promoted me so that I was selected for the EPIC position.

This sponsorship was vital to me getting the role and my first management level position given that other stakeholders were concerned that I did not have subject matter expertise in the field of expatriate management at the time.  

Becoming more familiar with the extant diversity literature has truly made me realise the importance of sponsorship for my career; past, present and future!

I leave you with one final note, another prevalent theme I am becoming familiar with: the importance of networking.  Four years ago during my first weeks in my EPIC role, I met Dale for the first time in London.  We were both interested in each others’ roles and since then continued to ‘virtually’ network with each other.  It was this networking relationship that proved fruitful in me getting the opportunity to start my current career adventure. 

I look forward to blogging again soon and now that you know me I promise to keep them shorter.


19 July 2012

Lies I was told: women, work, and "having it all"

Hello everyone,

Anne-Marie Slaugher's recent essay, “Why Women Still Can’t Have It All,” incited vehement and very polarized reactions from readers. I personally didn't find anything particularly surprising in the essay (except Slaughter's underlying assumption that life should be easy).

190712 - 1

Many of you sent me your comments on this article - so many, that I decided to ask one of my good friends, Sindhu Hirani Blume (another PwC alum), to write a guest blog with her personal reaction.

Except for my own mom, Sindhu is the coolest mom I know (I tell her this all the time) and I felt that because of Slaughter's angle, it was important that a mom write this blog.

Sindhu has been a critical influence in my personal and professional life since we met in PwC's Washington, D.C. office, where we worked in the same group. She ordered me to take a writing class (which directly and indirectly led to many things, including a secondment to Europe and my current master's program); Sindhu kindles my motivation (she sends daily reflections to me and another mutual friend, like this one: "Do not let what you cannot do interfere with what you can do" - John Wooden); and hers was the first Indian wedding that I ever attended, which changed my culinary tastes forever (yum, Vindaloo!) and fostered a semi-obsession with all things Indian

Here's what Sindhu has to say about having it all:

"In 1993, I unknowingly lied to my college classmates at a women’s college in Virginia.  I also lied to their parents, our professors, and anyone else who was at our graduation ceremony on that hot day in May.  I was the student commencement speaker for my class at Hollins College (now University) in Roanoke and I told everyone in a rather heightened voice, and with the naïveté that is naturally present at that age, that we (women) could have it all.  I meant it because I believed it.  And I believed it because it had been drilled into me.  And it was a lie.

But as with some lies, it was a great motivator.  It pushed me to set and meet goals, to do the things my grandmothers could or would not do, and the things my mother did but to do them with more freedom, choice, and control.

Today, 19 years after that speech, “having it all” is still a relevant discussion as evidenced by the much-talked-and-written-about essay “Why Women Still Can’t Have It All,” by Anne-Marie Slaughter in The Atlantic.  Slaughter writes of her internal struggles in dealing with her troubled teenage son who was in New Jersey, while she was on a two-year, high-profile assignment at the State Department in Washington, DC. After the two-year mark, Slaughter returned to her family and her job at Princeton University, although she wanted to pursue other opportunities in Washington.

190712 - 2I now have a husband, two children, a mortgage, a business, and live in one of the most professionally high-pressure areas of the country, and my reaction to that article was:  Well, of course you can’t have it all.  No one can.  It is painfully difficult – still more for women than men -- to have a career and family life, and for all the pieces to come together at once.

Parenting and having a robust career are two separate and mutually difficult things.  And on top of these two complex undertakings, some of us want a social life, to read a good book from time to time, to exercise, to travel.  And getting all or any of that comes down to making choices. I have no problems, for example, telling my disappointed 3-year-old son that I am not chaperoning a preschool field trip because of a meeting, but I make sure it doesn’t happen all the time.

I grew up thinking that having it all was what I perceived most men had: a thriving career and family life, and, as a well-deserved bonus, a martini on a sliver tray at the end of the day (perhaps too much “Bewitched” in my childhood).  But there are two inherent problems with this fantasy:  1. I am not a man, and 2. I did not understand fully that that concept of “having it all” for a woman meant getting lots of help (thereby lots of money) or a spouse who stayed at home.

I knew after I had a family that I would continue to work, and I have.  I love working.  I love having a job.  I love getting a paycheck.  What I did not know about was the massive love you feel and have for your children, and how it changes your heart, your energy level, and your priorities.

I was a Director in PwC’s Washington office when my daughter was born in 2007.  For a while, I felt as if I could manage and juggle.  But after my son was born in 2009, the time and energy required for two children along with my commute became unbearable.  The commute was eating up more time than I wanted or expected: the logistics of getting out the door, sitting in traffic, dropping the kids off at daycare, parking the car, getting on a train, and then walking into work were becoming mind-numbing.  By the time I got into work, I felt as if I had already put in a day.  I was exhausted and unhappy, and wasn’t doing my best at work or at home.

I studied all of my options and made a change.  I gave up a salary and incredible benefits to start a business with several other partners.  Having my own business allows me to work mostly from home and provides the flexibility to set my own schedule without a lot of guilt.  We’ve had to make a number of drastic changes in our life, both financial and behavioral, but there is something to be said for feeling sane.  I work more hours and more days now but it’s from my home office.  I still have to make compromises, but there is a difference in my energy level and what I’m able to give to my career and my family.

There are plenty of men and women who have a hellish commute and continue to do what they do after they have children:  they make choices, they enlist help, they telecommute, they work part-time, or they do none of these things and suffer through it because they have no viable or immediate options and have to put food on the table or they need the employer-provided health insurance.

I think we have to keep telling young people that they can have it all with the caveat that “all” is different things to different people and it means different things in different careers and industries, and, most importantly, you cannot have it all at the same time.  If you’re working 14 hours a day in an all-consuming, high-profile job, don’t expect to have a lot of daily, quality time with your children, unless some of those hours are committed from home. That’s a whole other discussion about work-life balance.

By the time my children are thinking about “having it all”, the work environment will have changed.  But I think I still will have to offer unsolicited advice urging them not to bend to someone else’s ideal of having it all.  Not easy, but doable."

Sindhu Hirani Blume is vice president of Trinity Place Technology, Inc., an IT government contractor.  She lives in Bethesda, Maryland.

29 June 2012

How do cultural norms impact men and women at work?

Bonjour all,

This week's blog is written by guest writer and PwC Canada alum, Julie Armstrong. I asked Julie to write a blog after we caught up on the phone last month and I peppered her with questions about her research findings on prevailing cultural norms and how they manifest differently in men and women at work. Truly fascinating stuff. Enjoy!


I spent Memorial Day weekend in Washington, D.C., a fitting place for such a holiday (it was hot, making the unofficial start to summer feel quite official).  While wandering through (and cooling off in) the National Portrait Gallery, I stumbled across a small photograph of Maya Lin, the designer of the Vietnam Veteran’s Memorial.  For those of you unfamiliar with the history of the memorial, Ms. Lin’s design was selected, “blindly,” from a national competition.  Not only was the abstract, non-traditional nature of her design divisive – as an undergraduate student at Yale (read: young) and an Asian American woman, Ms. Lin herself ignited from some controversy.

Reflecting on Ms. Lin’s photo, I wondered: if the competition hadn’t been blind, would her design have been chosen? 

Washington, D.C., is the policy-making center of the United States – where acts of legislation like the Civil Rights Act and the Equal Pay Act have been passed.  While these groundbreaking acts formally disallow discrimination or bias on the basis of characteristics like race or gender, policy and practice are often two very different things.  Those who watch Mad Men may recall Peggy Olson’s rebuffed attempt at garnering a pay increase, arguing that a recently passed federal law afforded her the right to equal pay for equal work.

While policies certainly represent (and provoke) shifts in public opinion and attitudes, broad cultural change is often slow, full of twists and turns, contradictions and inconsistencies.


Likewise, in work organizations, formal policies are absolutely necessary when endeavouring to create a diverse and inclusive workplace – their impact is tremendous.  However, they are not a panacea.

Workplace culture, imparting what is rewarded, valued and truly important in an organization, is not always concordant with company policy, and it powerfully shapes our experience at work.

This is what my research has focused on: the way workplace cultural norms – informal as they may be – shape the experiences of professionals at work.

How workplace culture shapes professional experience

In 2011, I interviewed professionals, working in a variety of industries in Toronto and New York City.  I set out to understand how workplace culture shaped these professionals’ work experiences, and also to examine whether men and women responded differently to cultural norms at work.

What I found is that all professionals described a prevailing cultural norm, so pervasive and diffuse it spans across organizations and industries, defining what it means to be a success in the workplace.


The "Ideal Worker" Norm

This cultural norm – sometimes referred to as the “ideal worker norm” – defines the successful professional as, above all, being committed and dedicated to their work, willing to do whatever it takes to get the job done and reach the next level (even granting primacy to work obligations over all else in one’s life).

Not only defining what it means to be a success in the workplace, this norm submits professionals to a variety of demands and expectations that, when fulfilled, signal one’s commitment and dedication to work: long hours, a “24/7” work ethic, “face-time” expectations, accommodating a high degree of unpredictability at work, and so on - demands that have been well-documented elsewhere.

My study participants spoke of the ensuing conflict between their work and non-work spheres of life, caused by their work’s intensity.  (Respondents felt that opting to use workplace policies designed to alleviate some of the pressure and tension that erupts between one’s work and home life carried the potential for negative career consequences, bringing one’s commitment and dedication into question.)

At the outset of this study, I suspected I would find two types of responses to the ideal worker norm: professionals who reject it and those who accept it.

My findings revealed a much more nuanced response on behalf of the professionals in the study – almost all outwardly accept the ideal worker norm, practically fulfilling the demands and expectations placed upon them and communicating their commitment to work and pursuit of success.  However, inwardly, my respondents maintain attitudes of ambivalence towards the norm, revealing the contradictory nature of their thoughts, feelings and actions while juggling a fulfilling career and personal life.

Respondents spoke of their misgivings when prioritizing work over other aspects of their lives, they expressed thoughts of uncertainty as to whether they truly aspire to make it to the top (fearing the costs they may incur in their personal lives along the way), and were highly critical of the organizational culture around them.

Gender differences:"letting others down?"

This response to the ideal worker norm was true for both men and women – yet other distinct gender differences also emerged.  Among these differences, women expressed a much greater degree of internal conflict and sense of being “torn.”  Unlike male respondents, they also described emotional consequences in response to the ideal worker norm, speaking of feelings of guilt, anxiety and worries of “letting others down.”

Fascinatingly, women didn’t just express their concerns of not being able to fulfill their role as friend, partner or family-member, but they worried about letting co-workers down – falling short and not meeting the demands and expectations of others at work.

Women’s unique response to the ideal worker norm reveals the broader cultural expectations for women to be other-oriented – to be responsive to the needs of others – not just at home, but also at work, shaping not simply assumptions about the types of jobs for which women are “naturally” well-suited but also how women should perform at work, even in fields long dominated by men.  (I should note that I make no attempt here to settle the debate of whether women actually are more other-oriented then men.)

Interestingly, most of the women respondents did not have children, and as such lacked childcare responsibilities.  And yet, the sheer anticipation of having children in the future was enough to invoke cultural expectations regarding women’s role as child caregivers, shaping women’s current response to workplace cultural norms.  Thus, just as societal cultural norms can underpin those of the workplace, the two can also clash: the emotional consequences of the ideal worker norm illustrate the bind many women find themselves in as they navigate the often conflicting expectations of their personal lives and careers.  


So what does all this mean to us, in the workplaces we go to each day?

These findings demonstrate how profoundly cultural norms, not just formal policies, shape our daily lives – both in work and outside of it.  Due to the often informal and “unspoken” nature of workplace culture, I think we have to be especially conscious and intentional about practicing cultural norms that are consistent with stated policies, values and beliefs.  And, we must also be fastidious about extinguishing the cultural norms that stem our progress towards creating truly diverse organizations.  This might mean stopping yourself right before you get ready to boast of your late night at the office, or not assuming that a colleague on a flexible work arrangement isn’t able to take on a particular assignment, or not allowing the start of a performance review discussion to be led by the number of overtime hours staff have worked.  Doing so isn’t just good for women, but for everyone at work (just think about the changing cultural expectations for men at home, and how this clashes with long held cultural expectations for men at work).

I’m not sure our workplaces will ever be “blind” – and I’m not even sure this is our goal (after all, do we really want to “ignore” our differences, which make for a richer, more meaningful workplace?).  But as each of us do our part driving the cultural change that supports the policies we already champion – day by day, interaction by interaction – we will push ourselves further down the path we’re already on: creating workplaces where the best ideas and people flourish.

Workplaces where a Maya Lin design would win. 

11 June 2012

Don't miss this!


Colleagues, friends, and many of you, readers, send me pertinent articles on gender and diversity when they come across your desks.

Thanks for that - it ensures that I always have plenty of content to ponder.

Reading_PwC Brand Photo

I wanted to share these two must reads of the quarter in case you missed them. They're both brief and fascinating.

The first is an update on seminal McKinsey and Catalyst research, which provides further empirical evidence that gender diverse management creates a significant financial return.

The second looks at how personal lives might affect attitudes at work. This recent Harvard Business Review blog asked the provocative question: Are Women Held Back by Colleagues' Wives? Drawing from a recently published academic study, the author suggests that the marital status of managers could significantly impact their attitudes and management style.

Happy reading until next time...


11 April 2012

Mad Men - Why Gen Y Women Need to Tune In


I bet that many of you are fans of the award winning American television series Mad Men. I'm compelled and disturbed as I tune in each week to the 1960s-era workplace drama. The show now airs in seventy-one countries outside of the United States, which speaks to its broad appeal and enduring relevance across culture.

As the fifth and final season is currently airing, I want to share this great piece written by my colleague, Jennifer Allyn - a Managing Director in PwC's New York office. The piece (originally printed as an op-ed in Forbes) explores the show's diversity themes and suggests some surprisingly optimistic lessons for today's working women.


Mad Men, AMC's drama about the "Golden Age" of advertising, begins its fifth season this Sunday. While I love the show's outstanding acting and glamorous fashions, I also believe watching its portrayal of the "old boy's club" has a lot to teach young women today.

Senior businesswomen often complain that younger women don't appreciate how much trailblazing was accomplished by the pioneers before them. This generational tension is not easily resolved, but watching history unfold even through a television drama can help spark a richer dialogue.

The Mad Men series begins in 1960 when the major milestones of the sexual revolution, Women's Liberation and the Civil Rights movements are still years away. Our heroine, Peggy Olson, enters a glamorous new world when she's hired as a secretary by the advertising agency Sterling Cooper. It's a culture of clearly defined gender roles, where secretaries are expected to be "something in between a mother and a waitress." Creative Director Don Draper and his male copywriters spend the majority of their time smoking, drinking, having affairs and, in between those priorities, creating advertising.

A major pleasure of watching the show comes from our knowledge that the characters' lives will soon be transformed by history. We empathize with Salvatore Romano, the closeted gay art director, and want to tell him that change is around the corner. The same is true watching Peggy cautiously climb the corporate ladder. She yearns to escape the limited gender expectations of her religion and her family. And despite the limitations of the secretarial job, the world of work offers Peggy a chance at freedom, opening up the possibility of self-invention.

Although Peggy faces blatant sexism in the office, she is much more fulfilled than the wives and mistresses around her. Moreover, she is a direct contrast to office manager Joan Holloway, who's reached the top of the administrative ladder by sleeping with the boss and lying about her age. Breaking down barriers-- by standing up for her ideas, pitching to a client or even asking for an office-- is depicted as exhilarating. Peggy's struggle to find her voice and be treated as a professional is inspirational.

But too often millennial women view female pioneers from Peggy's generation as a cautionary tale, remarking, "I don't think of her as a role model." They consider Peggy's sacrifices too great--she doesn't have a family, she works too many hours, she's too intense about her career.

One might argue this is a perfectly legitimate response from women facing a very different set of workplace challenges, but I believe it's a missed opportunity for cross-generational connection. Because the workplace needs pioneers today who will advocate for more expansive definitions of flexibility, dismantle any remaining stereotypes and embrace the next level of business leadership.

Instead of just treading the long-proven paths, Gen X and Gen Y women need to break new ground, only this time around instead of leaping from the steno pool to junior copywriter as Peggy did; they need to ascend from middle management to the executive suite. Despite the success of women like Shelly Lazarus, former CEO and current chairman of Ogilvy & Mather Worldwide, just 15 out of the 500 largest companies in the U.S. have a woman CEO at the helm. 

Mad Men reminds us that profound cultural change is possible. Corporate America still has flaws, but in hindsight the progress made over the past five decades is indisputable. This season begins prior to the iconic 1968 advertising campaign whose slogan capitalized on the theme of women's liberation. While some may argue it was just a cynical ploy by Virginia Slims to sell more cigarettes, the spirit of "You've come a long way baby" still rings true.

Now the urgent question becomes: Will Generation Y women grab the baton from their mothers and grandmothers and lead us all the way to the top?

08 March 2012

Those girls from Ipanema!

Boa tarde from Brazil and happy International Women's Day!

This week I'm attending the Boston College Global Workforce Roundtable meeting in São Paulo.

The city is not at all what I expected. It rivals Manhattan for the sheer density of skyscrapers. Unmitigated traffic congestion and pervasive construction sites contrast with the vibrant building murals, the graffiti, and the abrupt foliage which appears as one turns many street corners (including a swathe of original rainforest that's been preserved in the beautiful Trianon Park).

Brazil Skyline 

Brazil Building Art

In the opening session of the meeting we learned the following facts about Brazil:

São Paulo is the sixth most populous city in the world

Brazil contains 20% of the entire world's biodiversity.

The country will host the World Cup in 2014 and the Olympic Games in 2016

Brazil is the only country to have held the world championship title for soccer five times

Did you notice that "world" occurred in all of those statements?

As one of the boom global economies, Brazil has enjoyed wide media coverage in recent years. Girls and women have been an integral part of that dialogue and not only because Brazil's 36th (and first female) President, Dilma Rousseff, assumed office last January and became the first woman ever to open a session of the UN General Assembly.

Notably, girls represent a majority at every level of education in Brazil's schools. In the last decade, females have also consistently accounted for a majority of both university enrollees and graduates.

A 2011 study by DiversityInc of multinational companies, found that in Brazil, women made up 41% of the workforce, 32% of management, and 22% of senior executives. Although these are encouraging figures when compared with global averages of women in management, the country struggles with equal pay (Brazilian women earn on average 30 percent less than their male counterparts.

During lunch, my colleagues from PwC Brazil - Mariza Souza and Patricia Loyola (there is a photo of the three of us below, in front of the Octávio Frias de Oliveira Bridge) updated me on all of their great diversity efforts.

Brazil PwC Team

Apart from taking action to facilitate better hiring and retention of ethnic minorities and people with disabilities, PwC Brazil recently piloted two female talent initiatives.

One - their program for part-time work aimed at new mothers - was featured recently in this Brazilian newspaper article.

The second female talent initiative is quite unique. Recognizing that new mothers were missing key "milestone" training that could potentially decelerate their development (for example mandatory line of service training for new managers), the firm implemented a policy whereby these mothers could bring their newborns and a caretaker of their choosing (i.e., a nanny, the baby's father) to the training to care for the infant. The schedule is prepared so that new mothers have requisite time to attend to nursing needs and the firm pays for the accommodation of the caretaker during the training.

Initial reactions to this program have been very positive and I look forward to hearing more from my colleagues in Brazil as they roll out these programs on a wider basis in the future.

I hope you all celebrate International Women's Day by thanking a woman who has contributed to your own development or done an exceptional job on one of your teams.

à bientôt,


22 February 2012

Does Facebook hold the answer?

I've spent most of my working life in Washington, D.C., Brussels, and London - cities dominated by the public sector and financial services industries. As a recent transplant to the San Francisco Peninsula I've experienced a huge shift in working culture. The number of technology and social networking companies here is remarkable to someone like me - almost as remarkable as the manner in which West Coast lifers casually, calmly, and professionally deal with a 3.8 earthquake. Apple, LinkedIn, Facebook, Google, YouTube, and Twitter are just a few of the highly innovative companies headquartered near my new digs.


I've always extrapolated that such relatively young companies, founded on the backbone of continuous innovation, should be more naturally diverse. First of all, many of these newer entities should theoretically lack the institutional barriers that government and financial services institutions have been working to overcome for decades as a result of their long life spans - for example the rigid career paths and much-discussed "old boy's network."

Second, a company whose product is born of research and development arguably stands to gain the most from the innovative ideas and products which diverse teams yield. Third, the younger average age of executives and employees in these companies could potentially mean they hold fewer biases about gender roles and more open approaches to work life balance than previous generations. And that's all in addition to the time Google allows its employees to set aside solely for innovation and the non-traditional, brain-twisting, glee-inspiring titles Facebook employees have - a friend of mine employed there has the following title/job description: "Product Marketing, Monetization and Secret Sauce."

And yet despite the raw potential to jettison monolithic corporate models and the opportunity to inculcate new ones, the numbers demonstrate that these companies don't yet fare much better when it comes to the representation of women in leadership positions. This morning two paradoxical news stories came across my desk that sparked this whole line of thinking. The first lauded Sheryl Sandberg (COO of Facebook) for being an outspoken advocate of women's empowerment as well as the executive instrumental in the company's recent IPO. The second, a Bloomberg Businessweek story, reported that while most (fifty-eight percent) Facebook users are women, there are none on its board of directors.


This ambivalence suggests that leadership diversification doesn't just happen organically. An argument I hear from sceptics of business gender programs is that with the influx of new generations in the workplace, the imbalance (of women being hired in greater numbers than men yet underrepresented at leadership levels) will auto-correct.

However this has not yet been the case. First of all, because incumbents (still vastly male) are inclined to appoint "mini me" successors who may look (but more importantly think) much like themselves; and second of all because if tech companies - which are flooded with the best and brightest young executives and talent - don't already model this "natural" balance then even newer businesses haven't created that level playing field that could fuel a more vibrant economy.


The good news is that concerted action is under way to progress talent of all kinds to leadership levels. I've been picking the brains of my new neighbours and classmates (most are employed by these companies) to find out what might differ in their corporate DNA (other than delightfully whimsical job titles) that I could bring to bear in my own work in the professional and financial services industries.

One very positive step I see here is the robust connection between these young businesses and local academics to foster diversity of thought in corporations through the business school and more interestingly, through the humanities. Recently Dr. Martha Nussbaum gave a lecture here at Stanford in which she said that a declining emphasis on study of the humanities could lead to a world of "useful profit makers with no imaginations."

This creative stagnation is precisely what diversity professionals are working against. My personal mission is to harness the brain power of different types of thinkers - both men and women - with myriad experiences who will create and implement remarkable, distinctive ideas and products.

I also believe Sheryl Sandberg's exemplary role at Facebook (her media coverage almost eclipses that of the company's founder, Mark Zuckerberg) will have a positive impact on business, since visible role models play such a vital part in the rise of diverse talent.

It's probably too soon to tell how these young companies will evolve from a gender perspective, but it will be exciting to watch for something yet undiscovered that we can learn from them in the diversity space.

If you're fascinated by Facebook's Sandberg (and it's difficult not to be), check out her uber fly TED talk on why we have too few women leaders as well as this previous Gender Agenda article on a CNBC and World Economic Forum panel discussion featuring Sandberg and our own PwC International Chairman, Dennis Nally.

à bientôt,


30 January 2012

Gloria Steinem on power in the workplace

Hello and happy new year to all,

I'm writing today from the PwC San Francisco office, which looks out over the bay. A thick layer of fog burns off the waves while ships and ferries bisect the aqua water with Coit Toiwer and Alcatraz rising out of the mist in the distance. Conference calls and emails flow seamlessly with such a pretty panoramic view to anchor me. Here's a shot I snapped from my desk:


You'll now be hearing from me via my new home base in California, where I continue in my role on the PwC Global Diversity & Inclusion Council and am pursuing a master's degree.

I was warned that I'd suffer from reverse culture shock returning to the States after living in Europe for six years, but on the contrary, San Francisco has been a smooth transition so far. On the commute to work in Brussels I used to hear the train announcements in French, Dutch, and German; now I hear them in English, Spanish, and Chinese. I'm just discovering the many delights of Northern California of which natural beauty and diversity are just two.

Through my studies I recently met with Dr. Shelley Correll, Director of The Clayman Institute for Gender Research at Stanford University, which focuses on women's advancement and gender equality. Dr. Correll has written extensively on how stereotypes about mathematics affect women's decisions to enter technical fields and how stereotypes about working mothers affect their experiences in the workplace (click here to read more about Correll and her research on the "motherhood penalty").


Last night I had the pleasure of seeing Gloria Steinem speak at Stanford's Graduate School of Business. Here is some of what Gloria shared about how to promote equality and advancement in the workplace:

People are generous when they're treated generously.

Listen and people will listen to you.

Give credit where credit is due.

Be kind - kindness is powerful.

Whatever is important to you, do it every day because power is in the "daily-ness" of your actions.

May your 2012 be full of power and kindness in the workplace and beyond.

à bientôt,


P.S. -  If you haven't seen them yet, do check out our PwC/CNBC videos from the 2011 Women's Forum

13 October 2011

Have your say

Bonjour from Deauville, France.

Did you know that research shows more gender equity leads to happier populations? That if a group includes more women, its collective intelligence rises? That fathers now experience more work life conflict than mothers

Over the next few days, PwC and CNBC are asking attendees of the annual Women's Forum for the Economy and Society - and you:

What will women's empowerment mean for men?


On Saturday morning, our Chairman, Dennis Nally, Dr. Sylvia Ann Hewlett (Center For Work Life Policy) and Jeremy Adam Smith (journalist and author of The Daddy Shift) will discuss the social and economic impact of women's empowerment on men here in Deauville in front of a live audience, including input that's come in from you today and Friday.

We would love to hear from you!  Visit pwc.com/women or womeninbusiness.cnbc.com for live updates from The Forum, further information - and to have your say and see what others are saying.

à bientôt,


P.S. - I'll be sharing a video with you after The Forum, which captures the highlights of this debate, including clips from the on-site panel discussion with Dennis, Sylvia, and Jeremy.

30 August 2011

High hopes in high heels


Hope all is well with you out in the reader-sphere as I post these last few pieces from Brussels, before I head away back across the Atlantic. 

I had a lovely talk with my colleagues from PwC Bermuda last month.  I was curious – as I’m sure you will be – about what life and work are like on a small Island (and one of the smallest territories in the world) with such a mix of locals, expatriates and – oh, joy of joys – the SUN! 

Below Cherie-Anne Dam and Jo Derbyshire of PwC Bermuda bring you the latest gender agenda guest piece.  Enjoy!

à bientôt,



What do you get when you put 60 women in a designer shoe store...

...the first women’s networking event sponsored by PwC Bermuda. Oh, and maybe a bit of retail therapy.

Borne out of feedback from the women of our firm, there was a strong desire to have a forum for formal networking with other professional women in Bermuda.  Now I know what you are thinking...is that really necessary in Bermuda, one of the smallest territories in the world?  Overkill surely! 
Well on the face of it you are right, on an island with a total area of 20 square miles you can’t go more than a few steps without seeing a familiar face, however, with many of us being ‘guest workers’ we have probably devoted more time to focusing on building friendships, rather than networks since we have been on the island and therefore could probably benefit from transitioning from social to strategic networking.

It took a session on “Networking Strategies for Women” hosted by our women’s networking group, known as aware (Advancing women through Attracting, Retaining and Empowering) for many of us to recognise this.  The gender dynamics of networking are fascinating.  According to a study conducted by Dr Wanda Wallace:

- women focus more on vertical rather than horizontal relationships
- men spend more time connecting with their peers
- more women have negative views of networking as too transactional and  a “waste of time”
- men view networking as critical to their business role.

For many of us in the room, this was an “a-ha!” moment. It was time for us to take action. What networking event could we hold that would have broad appeal to our female client base?  A  shopping fund-raiser, scheduled to mark the centenary of International Women’s Day seemed like the perfect choice.

The feedback from our clients was overwhelmingly positive.  They appreciated having the opportunity to grow their networks in a relaxed, fun environment.  Even for those women who would not describe themselves as ‘a natural’ the shoes were ice breakers for starting conversations.  There are certain things in a woman’s life that connect us and cross the divide: the words “Jimmy Choo” can evoke a strong reaction as well as create a bond. 

In reflecting back on this, there is definitely something to this thing they call networking.  However it is up to us as women, to actively make it work in a manner that is effective for us, that helps us to develop our business opportunities. For once, the men may just be onto something here, but it definitely needs a women’s touch. Although I am not sure our VISA cards would agree...

11 August 2011

Speak softly and carry a big broom


Brussels is unusually empty at the moment – it’s summer in the northern hemisphere and many city-dwellers have fled for the coasts.

I’m hosting family visiting from abroad.  Seeing Europe through fresh eyes is always a treat (last week my visiting mother was moved and dazzled by the history and raw beauty of the French Provence of Normandy – as many of you know, my long-time favourite place in the world – and do note that high summer in Normandy includes only the lightest of jackets). 


Of course hosting visitors means cleaning.  Cleaning quite a lot.  Probably just a tad more than one might normally clean so as to appear just slightly more civilized than one actually is.  My husband and I both work full time and travel for business on a consistent basis, which makes domestic duties a challenge, even sans children.  But I would say without hesitation that we share domestic duties – everything from finances to scrubbing the dishes.

Burdensome domestic duties have traditionally been cited as the cause for women struggling to hold down “two jobs” – one at the office, the other at home.  However, recent research shows that there is more gender parity in professional and domestic work in 2011 than ever before. 

PwC frequently works with Dr. Brad Harrington and his team at the Boston College Center for Work and Family, including their Global Workforce Roundtable.  In this short clip, Brad discusses his research, which was quoted in the cover story of Time Magazine this week, “Chore Wars”:

Work Life Wednesday: Chore Wars: MyFoxBOSTON.com

Brad suggests that in the past 20 years, men have adjusted to female partners with demanding jobs – in fact he says that men do about three times as much domestic work as they did just ten years ago.  Couples without children do the same amount of work.  Brad found that 77% of the men he interviewed wanted to spend more time with their children, while 56% also wanted to rise up to senior management at the office – statistics that promise conflicting priorities.

Hmmmm…sound familiar? 

In fact, another recent study indicated that in emerging markets, men desire (and in most cases take advantage of) flexible work options just as much or more than women do. 

Regardless of a family’s makeup – whether it’s dual-income, single-parent, domestic partners or any combination thereof, one thing is clear: in 2011, the work life issues we face as families are much less gender-specific than ever before.  Brad suggests that families can avoid conflict by discussing which percentage of paid versus unpaid work each family member will do.


This October, PwC will partner with The Women’s Forum for the Economy and Society and CNBC to gather hundreds of opinions (on-line and on-site) on what women’s empowerment means for men.  Opinions will be gleaned from global thought leaders on the issue – and you, too!  


The dialogue promises to be provocative.  Does women’s empowerment mean fewer jobs for men?  Does it mean more or different jobs for men – and women?  Does women’s empowerment mean more choices for both sexes?  A more healthy society?  Better childcare?  Better economic stability?  What are the micro and macro implications of women’s empowerment in a globalized environment?

Watch this space for more both on-line and on-site in Deauville, France (the on-site panel discussion in France will feature PwC’s Global Chairman, Dennis Nally, and thought-leaders Sylvia Ann Hewlett and Jeremy Adam Smith).

But coming up next, we have a guest blog lined up featuring some “aha” moments from our female staff at PwC Bermuda.  Stay tuned…

à bientôt,


01 July 2011

On mediocrity, meditation and mothers


Last week, I attended PwC’s Diversity Leadership Forum in Washington, D.C.  It was, as the French would say, a spectacle – hundreds of clients and subject matter experts flooded the audience as one by one, renowned speakers took to the stage (which had two runways) to share their insights on flexibility in a hyper-connected world. 



Fareed Zakaria opened with a speech on navigating mobility and culture in a global economy.  As someone born in Scotland, raised in America, and who has lived abroad for some years now in various francophone countries, Zakaria’s comment that “moving is not just a physical thing – it’s a mental thing,” really resonated with me. 

“Americans clap a lot,” I found myself thinking – as I clapped along with them and wondered when I’d started thinking of myself as semi-American or not-American.  And anyway, my passport says I’m Scottish as does the dishtowel in my kitchen, which lists everything the Scots invented (there are very few things they did not invent – just ask my mom if you have any questions about that).  The point is this: transplant culture for long enough, and you really do look at the world through a very different lens.

Dr. Zakaria shared that out of the SNP 500, fifty-percent of revenue comes from outside the western world, while only 7% of those companies’ leadership is foreign.  This reminded me of the often-heard statistic about women in leadership – 80% of consumer decisions are made by your average women while only 3% hold leadership positions in the corporations that are allegedly making the products these women buy (or as my friend once said, “if women were on corporate boards, the most successful automobile manufacturer in the world would be the one that finally figures out how to design a car interior with a place for my purse – duh.”)  Oh – and speaking of cars – a Scot invented tires.

Dr. Zakaria used no PowerPoint in his compelling and often humorous presentation as he thinks people who use PowerPoint have “no power and no point.”

Duly noted.  And – may I have that in writing?

He insisted that Americans form their opinion of whether a country has “progressed” by the litmus test of “whether they have become more like us.”  [Cue raucous laughter from the audience]. The sheer volume of people in India and China will change the world and - as he pointed out - the same goes for women, who are for the first time as a global cohort educated in greater numbers than men.


He compared the size and population of the U.S. to that of China, India, and then to Europe, where - as he pointed out - you can drive for a mile and be speaking a different language.  (Sidenote: I know this for a fact as I used to live in Luxembourg and when I was learning to drive stick-shift there I once took a wrong turn and ended up in France, Germany AND Belgium before returning to Luxembourg in a drive that took about half an hour – true story.)

I raised my hand and asked Dr. Zakaria how we can help American children become better at cultural dexterity than previous generations, and he suggested changing the proportion of government spending so that a larger fraction is spent on youth, education, and day care and a lesser fraction spent on eldercare and prisons – which cost the same to build as a school.  Zakaria pulled compelling statistics out of his head like some sort of economic Houdini. 

My favourite takeaway was his criticism of F. Scott Fitzgerald’s The Great Gatsby (whenever a business speaker mentions a great literary work, I swoon).  Zakaria said that nothing in literature had ever struck him as so inherently wrong as Fitzgerald’s idea that there are no second acts in American lives.

Of course there are second acts. 

And third acts and fourth acts. 

If you don’t believe me, just ask your average twenty-something, who may have already had two whole careers already.  And this ultimately was Zakaria’s optimistic message: the world’s transformation – largely due to technology – is recent and profound.  We have the power to adapt – and inclusion will be an integral part of that transformation. 

Daniel Pink, of Drive fame later reminded us that they keys to effective communication are:



Pink told us about a five-minute intervention that can double productivity – showing an employee “why” they are doing something instead of “how” to do it (management is a modern invention,” he said, “it came about in the 1850s”.)  We all scratched our heads and thought about the theoretical models that we are trapped in – there was a time when management simply didn’t exist?  Huh.  Pink implored managers in the audience to “have one fewer conversation about how to do the work and one more conversation about why the work matters.”

Here’s a rundown of my other fave quotes of the day:

Bob Moritz, PwC US Chairman: “We need to ‘legitimize’ our work / life programmes so that there or no repercussions – perceived or otherwise, and we must acknowledge that one size does not fit all.”

John Strangfeld, Chairman and CEO of Prudential Financial: “We must avoid the gravitational pull of mediocrity so that diversity is not a ‘seasonal exercise’….leaders must have high engagement in all diversity decisions.”

Linda Stone, Writer and former Apple Executive: “Begin a meeting with five minutes of silence.  You will find this essential to better performance. It creates openness and fosters innovation.  Check in with your head, your heart and your body and I promise you that the quality of conversation in that meeting will improve.”

Imagine it: you’re sitting in the room with the CEO and a few others, and you suggest five minutes of meditation.  How would individuals react to that?  Would they be willing to try it?  It certainly defies common corporate practice.  But in the end, I think these sessions were exactly about that – how to challenge common practice and thus evolve business.

Lucky for me, two good friends from PwC attended the conference – Sindhu and Michelle.  I don’t see them frequently now that I’m on the other side of the Atlantic, but they reminded me of how important it is to connect with people we love.  The three of us began in PwC’s D.C. office together. 

Since I first met Sindhu, a lot of changes have happened in her life.  She got promoted, married, started her own company, and had two superhero-like children (not necessarily in that order).  Most important, she introduced me to Indian food at her wedding, which I’ve been obsessed with ever since.  She is a great writer and lover of literature.  She grew up internationally (in Libya, among other places) and is a foodie.  She is also one of the coolest working moms I know.  And finally, she is probably the best networker I’ve ever met.

Networking is not something I am naturally good at – it is a competency I’ve built up because I know that it’s critical to personal and professional success.  Left to my own devices, I’d be curled up in a corner deconstructing Kafka or writing a Darwinist interpretation of Pride & Prejudice.  True story.

Sindhu, however?  A pro at networking.  A natural.  She (literally) grabbed me in the hall to introduce me to panellist Jeremy Adam Smith, author of The Daddy Shift and a Journalism Fellow at Stanford University, where I’ll be starting a master’s program this fall. 

Et voila – a few minutes later Jeremy and I had agreed to discuss his possible input into a global diversity event that PwC will sponsor in October on the subject of where men fit into women’s empowerment.  He didn’t have his business card on him, nor did I (Sindhu gave me a disapproving glance) so the two of us agreed to connect on LinkedIn, which as Jeremy pointed out “will be up to date when I move house next month.” 

Could this conversation possibly have taken place ten years ago? 

Do people still have rolodexes?  Thank you, LinkedIn.  Thank you.


After Sindhu’s networking magnum opus, we settled in for lunch with our friend Michelle who’d come down from the PwC New York office where she now works for PwC’s Human Capital Leader.  Michelle recently returned from a secondment in India herself – I think the three of us were all feeling rather smug about our international-ness in light of the conference’s theme – which is the absolute opposite of what makes you really good at cultural dexterity – humility.  (That was my attempt at levity – how’d I do?)

I asked Sindhu what makes her such an amazing businesswoman, mother, and friend – these seem like difficult qualities to combine.  Sindhu considered this as she chewed and swallowed her crab cake (which she pronounced “delicious”). 

Then she said, “I knew I wanted to be the kind of mother who still read The New Yorker.”

à bientôt,


31 May 2011

Weißwurst and Karma


Today’s guest blog comes from Arundhati Pandeya, a Consultant in PwC’s Munich, Germany office.  She called me a few months ago when she had just started her career with PwC and was relatively newly graduated.  We discussed her new joiner and multi-cultural experiences in Munich (one of my favourite cities in Europe, though I will spare you photos of me and the famed Rathaus-Glockenspiel).  Arundhati was eager to get involved in the Gender Agenda at PwC.  Impressed by her initiative, articulateness and energy I asked her to write a guest blog.   Here’s Arundhati’s story – I’m sure you’ll find it as wundervoll (couldn’t resist) as I did.

à bientôt,


As I sit down to write this, it strikes me that it's been a year since I moved to Germany; Munich to be precise; from Singapore. A year ago, there I was... newly married, freshly graduated, proud of having earned my second masters degree with flying colours (vanity unintended) and looking forward to immersing myself into Munich life, art, culture et al. 


I am married to a German, who I must say fits the bill of 'the perfect Indian Son-in-law' so well that it makes my mother jump for joy - literally. That should lift the cloud as to why I decided to move to Munich in the first place. I thought - why not Germany?  I was 23 at the time, I thought myself to be amply qualified to get a good job anywhere and held my cultural sensibilities to be developed enough to ease into a new life in a new country, all in all, the idea seemed very exciting at the time. So I decided to take the plunge.

After I landed here, I took the first three months off to 1) learn German 2) get to know the city and 3) to find a job. I must say the whole phase started with much aplomb, with family and friends telling me that I had great credentials, an international background and everything going for me. Optimism galore.


The optimism, the energy and the adrenaline held up for three months. Long enough, I’d say. And then slowly the hope started to dwindle as the count of unanswered applications began to rise. And then one day, in the middle of all the job search and German learning, and disheartening conversations with a few established professionals - it hit me. I sat thinking about a class I took at graduate school - European Union and Regional Economic Integration - and of the professors who taught us. Klaus Regling (a celebrated German economist who after retiring as CEO of the European Financial Stability Facility, came to the National University of Singapore to teach us a few things about the European Union) and Viktor Mayer Schönberger (a name well known in the circles of Public Policy, Governance and Information Technology), and their lectures on 'Fortress Europe', EU immigration policy and the politically-charged opinions of the European populations against immigrants. A concept that seemed so far away then - seemed dangerously close now. I was always taught to believe that talent and hard work find appreciation no matter where you go, yet there I was thinking of the European 'immigration' issue and whether it applied to me.

It is hard to be the poster child of success (good schools, great grades, a fantastic extracurricular record, and internships with eminent people) and then be suddenly faced with realties of the job market. It doesn’t take much to burst your bubble. 


And so I am thankful to those who told me in a very frank manner that it would next to impossible to aspire to get a great 'English - speaking' job here, in the heartland of Germany where the 'Mittelstand' – a central force in German-speaking business – thrives.  I am thankful to those who told me that few would truly understand my qualifications since they were not traditional German qualifications.  These people gave me perspective, and perhaps also the power to prove them wrong. I often think, from where I stand now,  that the (often unfairly 'clichéd') strong independent woman in me took over and just refused to give up... refused to give up on a chance to build a career, refused to step back from my personal commitment to my husband. But it is also important to know that I had support, in more ways than one - support of family, of friends, of German teachers who told me that I would be fluent before I knew it, and of those secretaries who decided to forward my resume to their bosses. It was six months of toil, disappointments, testing of the nerves but then again, don't all of us struggle at some point in our lives and careers?


In the end, it all worked out.  PricewaterhouseCoopers happened. It's been six months, and these six months have been enriching. I have found a niche, I have found encouragement and above all I have found acceptance.

In my team, I believe we defy Fortress Europe, we embrace talent. Outside my team I do feel there is much left to be desired. 'International' is often both an extremely overrated and an underrated word.  There are perhaps some of us who don't truly grasp the need or the advantage of diversity, but more often than not, people do come around. Have I conquered the Fortress? I do not think so. Am I on a good way to doing it? I would like to believe so.  And in the end the Hindu in me rises and tells me it is all about Karma, the success, the failure, the struggle and the support and perhaps the ability in the end to be a true-to-the-core Indian and yet learn to love and be loved by the Weisswurst. (For those readers who are not familiar with the Weisswurst, it is a beloved Bavarian Sausage, literally translated - white sausage).

18 May 2011

The whole world is watching you


I’ve just returned from facilitating PwC’s “Emerging Arab Women Leaders – the voice of the future” Forum, held in conjunction with The Arab International Women’s Forum (AIWF) in London.  Both events sought to ensure that younger generations of women in the Arab world succeed – the audience was largely comprised of Middle Eastern women early in their careers.


The charismatic Dr. Shaikha Al Maskari, a leading Arab businesswoman opened the Forum with a galvanizing message:

“The whole world is watching you [young Arab women] – you must excel, no matter what your job is.” 


Dr. Al Maskari acknowledged the challenges of attendees – the trans-national nature and Diaspora of Arabs, the cultural complexity, the pervasive world media coverage.  “You have a legitimate reason to be unhappy,” she said, “but you don’t have the right to let down the United Arab Emirates.  My message to you is to foster compassion, dignity, leadership, and civility to lead us into a new, emerging world.

May Salameh, Executive Director at INJAZ of Yeman confronted the socio-economic realities of education systems where girls are taught that they are less than boys – and explained that by finding a role model who skilled her up, she was able to ultimately start her own NGO.

How are younger generations different?
Sarah Churchman, PwC UK’s Head of Diversity & Engagement pointed out some key differentiators of Generation Y or so-called “millennials”:

  • will make up 85% of the global workforce by 2018
  • show loyalty to charismatic leaders who inspire and motivate (while not necessarily to organizations)
  • don’t want hands-on management but do want to keep their skills fresh and relevant – and have the agility to do so
  • “work to learn” rather than “work to live”

The family unit and negotiation
One key output of the plenary group discussion was that the younger Arab generation – a cohort that is in many cases more educated than its parents – must help change the mindset of these older generations.  Negotiation emerged as a key skill for young female Arab leaders – engaging with families to navigate parental expectations and retaining a deep sense of culture, while also having the courage to identify personal values and to pursue chosen professional paths.  In fact, an audience member suggested that families should be invited to these events next year to witness first hand the dynamic issues their daughters experience in the business world.

Resilience and empathy
And speaking of families, PwC Middle East Senior Partner Warwick Hunt shared that his own family (he has two daughters!) has played a central role in teaching him leadership skills. 


He stressed the dangers of stereotyping, suggesting we should always focus on what joins rather than divides us.  “We must develop self-awareness,” he said, “and following from that – empathy – in order to be good leaders.”

Warwick believes that in order to foster innovation and create a sustainable future for our communities, our families, and ourselves we must also develop resilience – mental toughness that enables us to handle difficult situations – as well as a sense of gratitude and hope (personally, I just loved that message).  He also reminded the audience to write down their goals and hold themselves accountable.

The emerging female Arab leader perspective
Rima Chammas, Senior Marketing Director for the Eastern Mediterranean and African Market at PepsiCo, and one of the youngest speakers, shared her recipe for success: get out of your comfort zone – “fear helps us survive at the biological level,” she said, pointing out that “trying something scary – at least once,” has helped her grow as a leader (as has volunteering). 

Rima encouraged the audience to develop awareness of their professional gaps but cautioned that these gaps should only be filled if they are career derailers – otherwise we should be focusing on developing our strengths.

And by the way, for all you white men out there…
We’ve talked about white men and diversity on this blog before.  PwC Middle East Managing Partner Warwick Hunt and event sponsor (and London-based PwC Partner) David Grace were as engaged leaders as I’ve seen, both participating fully in the entire event. 

It’s easy to understand that senior executives must often dart in and out of such events, providing an inspiring speech and then hurrying off to their next engagement.  Not Warwick and David.  They were not only wholly present for the event, but active participants – listening carefully to the discussions, making comments from the floor, and of course, networking.  To see this level of commitment from PwC’s senior leadership to progressing talented women in such a critical market as the Middle East bodes well for the work we’re doing here at PwC on the gender agenda.

Finally, on a personal note this was not only a great learning experience for me about professional women’s perspectives in the Middle East, but an opportunity to see PwC friends Rita and Zina (check out Zina’s guest blog from last year if you haven’t already)!

à bientôt,


10 May 2011

Who’s your sponsor?


I’ve just returned from San Francisco where my colleague Monica Banting (PwC Canada’s Women in Leadership Manager) and I participated in the Boston College Global Workforce Roundtable annual meeting.


We saw hot-off-the-press research from around the globe, as well as leader perspectives on talent and diversity from Sodexo, Intel, and Kraft. 


Here are some nuggets that struck me:

Globally, 17% of graduating talent is white and male; the rest is female and / or multicultural.

The number one concern of workers around the world right now is financial wellness.

After a delicious networking Dim Sum lunch in Chinatown (we worked off the calories with a steep uphill walk back to the meeting venue), Sylvia Ann Hewlett expanded upon her research on women in emerging markets (initially shared in this Harvard Business Review article).

Hewlett reminded us that half (7 out of 14) of the world’s female self-made billionaires are from China while 15% of CEOs of large Indian companies are female (compare that to 3% in the US). 

Her research in India and China indicates a high degree of ambition coming from women in the east, which she believes successful and truly globalized companies of the future will have capitalized upon.

Despite decades of effort in the public and private sector women have largely failed to permeate top leadership ranks. 

What’s going so incredibly wrong?

According to Hewlett, it’s lack of sufficient sponsorship.  She advocates that women secure not just a mentor but a sponsor – someone in the organization with the political capital and savvy to ensure talented women don’t languish in middle management, their ambition dampened by slow upward progress compared to equally tenured male peers.

Hewlett’s parting advice to female leaders was this: “don’t wear ambivalence on your sleeve – lead with a yes.”

I couldn’t help but think this contradicted other advice from experts.  Shouldn’t women in business in fact be saying “no” more often, to avoid over-subscription and a tendency towards people-pleasing? 

I suppose it’s about delivering a strong, unwavering “yes” to the right opportunities.  Women will identify those opportunities through a combination of gut reaction, reflection, and consultation with their professional and personal support networks.  Asking for advice can be tricky and it’s easy to agonize over a major career decision.  Whom should you ask? 

Well, in my opinion – ask EVERYONE.

In my experience, getting diverse perspectives on major decisions provides the multifaceted insight needed to make a good choice.  Not necessarily the “right” or “wrong” choice, but simply the next good choice.  Your mom may say vehemently “no,” while your mentor/coach says vehemently “yes,” and your best friend says, “maybe” – and it’s likely that in those layered discussions, you’ll hear some nugget of wisdom that steers you (also – always, always, always “sleep on it” for a few nights).  Finally, if you do lead with a “yes,” there’s always the possibility that you can decline later – after said discussions.

Acquiring the right mentor to consult with is key, but I left the Boston College annual meeting reminded that women aspiring to top management must secure a powerful internal advocate who is willing to speak out for them in performance and talent reviews – to ultimately influence the organization in a way that actively draws female talent upwards. 


à bientôt,


17 March 2011

Making it happen - an EPIC journey


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!

à bientôt,



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.”


03 March 2011

On Peru, purple, and impossible causes

Rimaykullayki (that’s Quechua – an Andean dialect - for “hello”) from Peru,

I’m meeting this week with members of the World Bank’s Private Sector Leaders Forum in Lima, but squeezed in a visit to the breathtaking Inca masterpiece of Machu Picchu, located a bus and train ride away from the city of Cuzco.


On the flight back to Lima, I was randomly seated next to Shelly Porges, Senior Advisor for the Global Women’s Business Initiative at the U.S. Department of State.  Thrilled with the serendipitous seating arrangement, I peppered Shelly with questions about her experience with female entrepreneurs and asked her what distinguishes the good from the great.   She summarized a few key components of success:

1. Declaring a goal publicly – public goals are more visible, tangible, and thus fundamental to success.

2. Coaching, coupled with accountability.  While coaches provide useful guidance on key business issues, possibly the greater benefit they deliver is forcing a certain degree of accountability for business owners who otherwise have no board or oversight – this helps catalyze progress.

3. Peer mentoring – a supportive community of women entrepreneurs is key to building confidence in that it demonstrates to each person that she is not alone and gives her access to knowledge and resources she wouldn’t otherwise have.  Successful female entrepreneurs both actively seek favors, and do favors for women in their network. 

Shelly stressed that it’s not necessarily true that men have better business networks than women - something we often hear - but it is true that women are less likely to ask for favors from their network.

And another thing: Shelly believes the one trait that makes male business owners more successful is their confidence.  “Women,” she explained to me, “have great intelligence, drive and resilience – but they need confidence building.”

Confidence.  This is a word I hear over and over and over again with respect to women and work, whether the discussion centers around female entrepreneurs or corporate businesswomen.

In Lima, the World Bank PSLF group was hosted by Belcorp, whose executives took us on site visits to witness local women creating financial security for themselves through their selling of Belcorp’s products. 

030311_2  030311_3

Belcorp trains these women to have a financial goal that is intrinsically important to them (sending their kids to a good school, taking the vacation of their dreams, etc.).  It turns out that when the women put these goals on paper, their sales rise.  It was powerful to bear witness to so many women who had transformed their lives in this way, bringing independence and security to themselves, fulfilling their personal goals and contributing to the economy.  Our Belcorp hosts also explained that purple is their company color because it represents transformation. 


To purple, it is!

As our group was shepherded through the streets of Lima, our guide advised us to note the proliferation of female police staff.  As soon as she said it, I did notice.  Everywhere, policewomen were directing traffic, escorting public officials across the palm-tree lined, Plaza de Armas, a lovely public square flanked by canary-yellow buildings with Palladian windows.  “It’s because the female police officers are more honest,” she said. 

I thought my jet lag had impaired my hearing, but sure enough, when later I asked her if she’d been joking, she told me that the government hopes Peruvians’ perception that women are more honest than men will help clean up the previously corrupt police force, as they believe policewomen are less likely to take bribes.  Later, our guide showed us the inside of a monastery where we viewed a statue of St. Judas Tadeo – the Patron Saint of Impossible Causes.  I turned to my neighbor and we smiled wryly at each other.  Global gender equity at all levels an impossible cause?  We don’t think so.  But I have to admit, the mystical part of me felt inspired that somewhere out there is an entity looking out for lost causes.


I had the pleasure of dining with my colleagues from PwC Peru (Gianfranco and Fernando of our Sustainability practice) that evening and then was off to Paris to meet with our global Chairman Dennis Nally about our next steps with respect to PwC’s Diversity & Inclusion efforts. 

And the color purple has been dancing in my mind all week.

à bientôt,


P.S. Alice Walker’s The Color Purple is one of my favorite novels of all time and I’m a voracious reader, so that’s saying a lot.  If you haven’t read it – please do to see what she has to say about the color purple.

15 February 2011

Leadership…twenty-first century style

Bonjour  from Brussels! 

One of the perks of my job is meeting a lot of talented people from all over the world.  Alexandra Moraru, is PwC’s AIESEC Coordinator and sits in our Brussels office.  AIESEC is present in over 107 territories with over 50,000 members.  It is the world’s largest student-run organisation, focused on providing a platform for youth leadership and giving young people the opportunity to be global citizens. 

I’ve asked Alexandra to write a guest blog to share her views on her leadership journey so far.  This is the first in a series of guest blogs I’ve been planning to bring you the stories, views, and experiences of PwC women (and some men too – you just wait) from around the network – many of them who may be newer to the firm – but have already inspired me with their spirit and passion for what they do.  I hope they’ll inspire you, too.  Enjoy! 

Alexandra writes:

AIESEC and personal leadership
I was born and raised in a former communist country and started moving around the world when I was 19, experiencing life in the USA, Norway and, later on, Belgium. In the meantime, I’ve had the opportunity to learn about leadership from different perspectives: cultural, social, economical, entrepreneurial and personal.

There are many types of leadership, but I believe without personal leadership, none of the other types make sense. I guess it’s a question of how I was raised. And when I say raised, I mean by my mentors and coaches, not just my family. What is personal leadership, in the end? It’s just you leading yourself, you having your own personal vision and defining the best possible way to achieve it, it’s you striving to reach that vision.

And that is how all leaders start their journey, really. Only afterwards may followers adhere to your vision. I learned this in the organization that has shaped me in the last 5 years: AIESEC – a youth organization that develops leadership abilities in their members.

I believe that when we’re young, we need platforms to play around with personal concepts of leadership, to dissect them, to try them on, even to fail and learn some valuable lessons.  My dream is to one day venture into politics.  I know I can’t move mountains yet, but I do have the power to shape them – and this is not arrogance, but ambition.


Personal ambitions: a girl in Romanian politics

I am a 24 year old who was born in Romania and has lived in 4 different countries.  I’m passionate about communication and Public Relations and come at everything with a “can do” attitude.  I don’t believe that my gender limits me.  For me, success means having a career that will fight corruption and ignorance in social spheres and leadership means having people with the same values helping me achieve this.


Women’s role in different societies, as experienced first hand

I’ve had the opportunity to observe gender roles in very different countries.  In Norway it was very normal for a  woman to ask her husband to take paternity leave while she went back to work.  I’ve also seen that politics in Norway is “gender-less” – people have learnt to get past stereotypes and vote for the best candidate – this is why feminism is important to me – because the talent bar is raised.  In my travels I have visited countries where I did feel a difference between men and women, where I saw discrimination, and when you see that it can make you feel angry and powerless.  It’s something that luckily I’ve never experienced in school or at any of the jobs I’ve ever had.


Why don’t we women try harder?

I am a girl who grew up in a communist country – so it may be surprising to hear that the only barriers I’ve experienced are ... well…the ones I put up for myself. So, in Belgium, where I know society is facing gender gaps, I don’t feel disadvantaged because I’m a woman. Even in Romania, I always feel equally treated by everyone, from the public authorities, to the merchants, to the health system or educational one.  

And yet, I know there are few women in leadership positions, both in the public and the private sector.  But at the same time, I see very few women actually trying. And I can’t help but wonder: is it us, women that create those barriers or do they actually exist? I really think the fault is shared, but I also know that women in my generation have the amazing ability to just step over any discriminatory obstacle, because we were raised to believe in ourselves, without even thinking about our gender.  I think women in my generation have this gift of not believing that being a woman could ever be a disadvantage, thanks to the efforts previous women generations have put into striving for an equal world. Nowadays, women of my generation are happy to be female because we were thought that this is a strength of ours and we know that all we need to do is use it.


19 January 2011

If you let me play…I just might be CEO one day

Bonjour et bonne année from Brussels!

It’s the time of new beginnings and new year’s resolutions.  One of mine is to make my writing pithier -- Mark Twain famously said, “If I’d had more time, I’d have written a shorter letter.”  Indeed. 

Since this is my first blog of 2011, I’m going to make it a little bit more personal than usual. A popular new year’s resolution is to hit the gym in the interest of health and strength.  As a child, I was shy and introverted, always the last to be picked for team sports.  In fact, I thought that running (we were expected to run one mile in physical education class each year) was an acute form of torture imposed on us by misanthropic teachers.

Around the age of 11, I got drafted on to a softball team by my best friend, Janine.  Softball (or Rounders as it’s called outside the U.S.) is pretty similar to baseball.  Also the ball is NOT soft as many bruises on my body would later attest to.  On the field we were allowed to get aggressive and dirty.  I took to this surprisingly well.  Long story short, I excelled at softball.  I began to play on travelling squads and made the varsity team as a freshman in high school; I became captain as a senior and then cleanup hitter – I was even offered sport scholarships. 


Playing a team sport fundamentally changed me and has enriched my professional life. 

My teammates and coaches – I had many through the years, but especially Coach Tracy and Langley – taught me how to have fun in the midst of work, and that I was more talented than I believed I was.  They taught me how to be strong – in fact that I was already strong and just had to access that strength.  They constantly made me perform plays that I didn’t think I was capable of.  Off the field my teammates came from different backgrounds, different strata in the mysterious social pyramid that inevitably is high school.  But on the field we were together.  A unit.  We encouraged each other, we comforted each other after losses, celebrated our wins, came up with team cheers that galvanized us and made us into a tribe of sorts.  Here’s me and my teammates on the Yorktown Patriots and The Virginians.



The confidence that I drew from that experience can’t be understated.  I wholeheartedly believe it was the foundation of my courage to apply to the university that I had my heart set on, and eventually to interview for the job I wanted.  I’ve always seen my experience playing sports as profound to my development as an adult, and especially as a professional.   

At a conference last year I met Ty, a Diversity & Inclusion practitioner with Nike.  Over lunch I told him that I remembered an ad Nike had run in the mid-nineties called “If you let me play,” that had inspired me; he recalled it as well.  The ad suggests that girls who play sports grow up with more confidence and self-esteem, are less likely to get breast cancer and suffer from depression, are more likely to leave men who abuse them.  Fascinating, no?  Take a look:

As I was revisiting the ad campaign to write this entry, I came across a Nike blog written on the subject, and connected with its author Ashley, on LinkedIn (you already know how much I believe in the power of networking in business for women – whether it be playing on a team, or connecting through virtual networks).

The Power of Team,” centred on Nike’s “If you let me play” campaign, extrapolating those benefits to the business world.  She says, “I believe that girls who played sports while young and continue to be involved in athletics throughout their life carry themselves with that extra “it factor” – confidence, charisma, charm and intelligence.”

Ashley goes on to say that throughout her career she’s recognized that women who played sports as girls tend to reach leadership positions, to glean respect, to have poise as well as excellent presentation, negotiating and communication skills.  And she would know – because she asked them whether they played sports and most of them had.  Ashley shares a line from Billie Jean King: “when surveys of successful women in Fortune 500 business’ are conducted, 80% of these women say they were in sports as a young woman.”

Now, that isn’t to say that girls who don’t play sports won’t develop these skills – but there’s certainly a case to be made for the solidarity, camaraderie, and strength that girls tend to draw from athletic teams.  I believe that it’s just one more example of women’s networks (formal or informal) shepherding talented women up the ladder, instilling them with critical skills and confidence (since we know women lag men in confidence and networking (which lead to 80% of jobs after all).

So – to paraphrase Marie-Antoinette: Let them play sports!

I’m excited about some guest bloggers I’ve lined up for the next few months to cover a number of different topics, and in the meantime, wishing you all success in 2011.

à bientôt,


P.S. – I now LOVE running.  I’ve even run a marathon.  It was an empowering experience.  And one that I will never, ever repeat. 

07 December 2010

White men and diversity

Bonjour from snow-dusted Brussels,

Okay.  Let me start by saying I admire and even love many white men.  Charles Dickens, Jack Kerouac, my father, my husband, and Richard Branson to name a few off the top of my head (yeah, you knew that last one was coming). 

But how often do we address white men in our diversity conversations (taken from a U.S. to global stage, this could be extrapolated to any large demographic group that has been historically advantaged)?  By its very definition, diversity is about all of us - not about everyone EXCEPT white males (or the historically advantaged demographic, whatever that might be in a given region).

I recently returned from a conference on diversity and engagement in D.C. where I saw friends and colleagues from the U.S. Firm.  Chris Brassell (pictured below), National Director in PwC’s U.S. Office of Diversity has shared with me the work he’s doing to include the perspective of white men in the diversity conversation.


Many white men in the U.S. have grown or remain quiet about diversity because it doesn’t seem to include them.  Their role often goes unexamined, which can impede the effectiveness of diversity & inclusion efforts.

Our firm in the US has acknowledged that actively bringing the unique perspective and experiences of white men into the conversation is critical to advancing meaningful cultural change; the firm has rolled out a learning program which features concrete strategies to listen to and educate white males about diversity issues.  “The best way to maintain an inclusive, high performing culture,” Chris explained to me, “is to include all perspectives and experiences - this includes exploring the unique and critical role that white men play in diversity and inclusion efforts.”

One study -- Catalyst's report Engaging Men in Gender Initiatives: What Change Agents Need to Know -- found that male diversity champions have a strong sense of fair play and are able to translate that belief into action. On the flip side, the study found that fear of making mistakes was a significant barrier to men's involvement in diversity efforts (for an interesting article about how this effects sponsorship between male bosses and female subordinates, see this recent article from the Financial Times). 

Everyone has implicit or unintentional filters and these are natural and normal in human beings.  The goal is not to ask people to not have filters but to make them aware of them.  These filters are malleable and can be modified through clear actions and behaviors.  Leveraging off the Catalyst report (and a follow-up one: Stacking the Deck for Success), the US Office of Diversity is addressing both minority and majority populations through a learning session which is part of a larger series of “candid conversations” about diversity. 

In the White Men and Diversity DVD, PwC US convened a panel of renowned external authors and experts to openly discuss their point of views on the complex issues surrounding the role white men play in diversity and inclusion efforts.  The discussion, moderated by Chris, centers around personal benefits to white men who get involved, and the consequences when they are not actively engaged.  PwC partners watch the video and then share their reactions and personal experiences in a facilitated discussion.  The course focuses on awareness, learning, teaming between white men and other groups, taking action, and skill-building opportunities for white men in diversity.


Diversity is about a better bottom line.  About creating an inclusive culture.  But as far as “white men” go, it’s equally about self-interest.  When I speak to our network leaders, from Mumbai to Moscow to Minneapolis, there is one thing I always hear – that agility is the most critical leadership skill now and in the foreseeable future.  So, while diversity is a laudable ethos and smart business, by engaging in diversity dialogue and action, white men can enhance their personal development and build critical leadership skills, like agility.  As one panelist in the DVD put it: “This will make me a more courageous leader, I can tolerate confusion, ambiguity get better at having tough conversations think more systemically – a lot of leadership skills are crucial for business, not just diversity – but diversity is a great place to hone these skills.”

I found the DVD itself compelling and provocative.  With sections such as “Whiteness means you never have to think about it” and “Getting comfortable being uncomfortable” the panelists don’t mince words, but rather tackle these issues with courage and integrity.  Of course these aren’t simple discussions. 

Chris spoke to me about the difficulty in managing the paradoxes of the facilitated discussions he holds after PwCers watch the DVD:   "One must be gender-blind AND gender-conscious; the golden rule is to treat everyone as you would like to be treated but the platinum rule is to treat everyone as they would like to be treated.”  As Julian Bond noted, "To be blind to gender is to be blind to the consequences of gender.”  Chris adds "When you treat people the same, you are really expecting others to be like you and refuse to accept the realities of their daily experiences which limits your ability to build trust."

What’s come out of the discussions primarily is a reminder that white males themselves aren’t a monolithic group – there’s much diversity in the “white male” category itself (ethnic, socioeconomic, schooling, experience, etc.) which shouldn’t get lost in the larger diversity issues as those elements make us who we are.  When diversity comes up, white males often feel like “the bad guys” – while history hasn’t been fair to certain groups, white males want to be held accountable for their individual actions today – and if they make a mistake, unintentionally say something insensitive, they want to be educated about that.

Below I’ve paraphrased some of my ‘aha’ moments from the external panelists who shared their experiences on the DVD:

I came from a lower-middle class and worked hard to get where I am in today…so I don’t like the world “privilege”…[it was a while before I realized that] there is a systemic advantage to being white, male, heterosexual…if you went to the right institution…we [white males] have been running with the wind at our backs – we have been running, but we’ve been pushed along – that’s an uncomfortable, unsettling thing to realize.

If 57% of college grads are women and [your organization] can’t adapt to retain women in the top ranks, you’re doomed.

My view of the world [as a white male] is incomplete.  Diversity brings the broader perspective.

This stuff is invisible to us.  We are the center and the center never knows itself – it’s the margins that know it. 

When I started feeling guilty [about privilege] it was a form of self-absorption, it became a way for me to get back to my comfort zone…even today after all the opportunities to evolve, I am tripping over this stuff every single day. 

We need to “come outside our tribe” by serving and socializing with groups that we’re not a part of – and it must be deliberate, purposeful, enjoyable.  For example, who do you go to lunch with every day?  Then you start learning…

I need to turn to other men and women to ask…what’s the stuff I don’t know and that I don’t know I don’t know?  Where are the blank spots on my map that impact how I interact and lead?

I need a support network, knowing that I’m going to make mistakes…then I can start to speak up and say what my reality is, see what others’ reality is…I need to stumble, fall, and have someone help me up, and say “nice try.”  I need someone to talk me through this – take an active role.  It’s a long haul.  At least if I’m making mistakes, I’m in learning mode. 

Indeed – as writer Samuel Beckett said: “Try again.  Fail again.  Fail better.”

A huge thanks to Chris for sharing this great initiative with us in the blog. 

à bientôt,


22 November 2010

What women want in China

Ni Hao from Beijing!

Impressions of the city from a newcomer: cloudy (always – though the sun is sometimes visible like a glowing red ball through the thick grey cloud cover).  During rush hour the mighty army of cars weave around each other in a baffling sort of ordered chaos.  Narrow alleys bulging with local grocers and bikers give way to wide boulevards flanked with gleaming Chinese and multinational office buildings, and global brand names.  And then there’s the truly awesome Forbidden City – the largest palace grounds in the world.


I’ve spent an illuminating week with my colleagues Michele Lee, a Director with PwC China,and Jennifer Allyn, a Director in the PwC U.S. Office of Diversity.  We’ve been participating in Working Mother Magazine’s Global Advancement of Women in China conference.


This week senior female executives from multinational companies gathered in Beijing to share their experiences, stories, and challenges – which, despite cultural differences, began to sound similar to challenges working women face everywhere else in the world: not enough time to accomplish everything; competing priorities; ambition to go far and fast professionally while maintaining a strong family life. 

Education is a cornerstone of Chinese culture and as I mentioned in my last blog, it has clearly empowered women - and been the backbone of China’s meteoric economic rise in the past decade.  To give you some perspective on China’s growth, consider this statistic, shared by one presenter:

The American financial market took 100 years to build and is currently worth 2 trillion USD; the Chinese financial market took 30 years to build, and is now worth the same amount.

This figure provides some insight into the dizzying pace of change in China.  The one constant here has indeed been change: today’s Chinese are uniquely adaptable, agile people - and agility is certainly one of the most critical skills in today’s world.  The Chinese women I met showed a remarkable interest in mobility - many had either worked or lived in other Chinese cities (or foreign countries), or were eager to do so in order to enrich their personal and professional lives.

Since the mid-nineteenth century, when many of China’s archaic laws around foot-binding and marriage were jettisoned, Chinese women have had equal access to education and work.  Mao Tse-Tung famously said that “women hold up half the sky;” today, they constitute half of China’s six million annual university graduates and half of its formal workforce.  PwC’s China, Hong Kong, and Singapore Firms have the highest percentage of female partners in the world - 28% of partners are female, with a high number of women also occupying senior leadership roles.

One Chinese businesswoman at the conference shared research on the top three reasons women in China give for wanting to work:

1. Achieving financial independence
2. Doing something they like
3. Having a sense of accomplishment

The top three elements Chinese women believe are important in an employer are:

1. Competitive pay
2. Work-life balance
3. International exposure at work

70% of women in China choose to work even if their partner makes enough money to support the family.  However, 70% also believe that men have better career opportunities, advancement, and salaries - a statistic which correlates with the poor showing of women on boards in China (only 7% are board members).

Trust is important in Chinese business - in fact until trust is firmly established between two individuals (a process which can take a long time), business may not be conducted, or be conducted with limited effectiveness.  Women, it was pointed out at the conference, are especially skilled at building relationships – and perhaps this is one reason why there are more female billionaires in China than anywhere else in the world, and in fact the three richest women are indeed Chinese (yes – you heard it here – they’re even richer than Oprah). 

One conference speaker explained that being a mother has taught her to be a better executive:  “I am leader in the family,” she said, “and a leader at work.  I teach values to my children and to my staff, I help both figure out their goals, let them make mistakes, let them hit walls and learn; and in turn, they help me look at things from a fresh perspective.”

The country’s One-child policy has created an interesting dynamic for working women - in some ways there is less pressure than there may be in other countries, since many women do only have one child – and a child who is, in many cases, cared for by a network of doting grandparents.  However, with the first generation of children since the policy was enacted now having their own children, professionals in their thirties may also be supporting or caring for aging parents in the near future and thus dealing with more financial and familial obligations than before. 

And in many cases this phenomenon may come into play in a female’s 30s or 40s – the age at which they’re most ripe in their career for leadership development and leadership roles.  A few conference attendees pointed out that while the offspring of the one-child policy are extremely ambitious and high-achieving (they’ve had the expectations of excellence solely placed on them after all), this generation may also struggle to support large, extended families after being the focal point of the extended family for much of their lives.

What’s clear is that businesswomen in China have come a long way – fast.  I’ll leave the country tomorrow with a deep appreciation for their achievement, passion, and vision.  I’ll also leave with the gratitude and awe of having seen the breathtaking Great Wall – its magnificence and grace seem to echo the spirit of the passionate women I met this week.


à bientôt,


19 October 2010

Women’s Lib 2.0 in Deauville


Merci beaucoup to the Australians (including Jillian Segal, a director of the Australian Stock Exchange and PwC’s own Christine Stasi), who brought the sunshine with them to Paris last week - though even their Down Under effervescence couldn’t keep the rain from stormy, blustery, seaside Normandy. 

No matter as we were inside the Centre International de Deauville most of the week at the fabulous 2010 Women’s Forum for the Economy and Society. PwC and The Women’s Forum hosted an Australian gender-themed lunch in Paris earlier in the week - but that was compelling enough to deserve its very own blog entry (stay tuned).  

1 Deauville Sponsors 

PwC has been a partner of The Women’s Forum since its inception.  This year PwC was represented by attendees from Australia, Belgium, France, Lebanon, Switzerland, and the UK.

2 Deauville PwC Team 

Deauville Agnes Wanda 

Paris-based PwC Partner Thierry Raes hosted the “Sustainability in Action” corner with P&G, Cegos, Groupe La Poste, and DiversityInc (showcasing specific actions being carried out to create sustainable development) and shared key findings from a report on sustainable solutions in China during a session dedicated to the business world’s role in environmental change.

As usual, the Women’s Forum was packed with thousands of executives, government officials, entrepreneurs, and other movers and shakers (over 20 CEOs were present including the fabulous Carlos Ghosn, CEO of Renault-Nissan, below, who is committed to creating accessible electric cars in the near future, working closely with environmentalists).

3 Deauville Carlos Ghosn 

Inspiring speakers, brainstorming sessions, and discovery corners abounded - here’s a taste of some of the topics:

Do women board members change the board/management relationship?
Risk management: Is there a female factor?
Women’s Lib 2.0
BBC World Debate: Feed the World Better?
Women in Business in 2025
The art of Personal Branding or how to manage your reputation
The birth of a car: Love, family, work…and cars

The French did not fail to impress with the incredible aesthetics of the conference which I’ll let you experience through some of the photos here.

4 Deauville Brainstorming 2025 
5 Deauville Brainstorming Area 
6 Deauville Brainstorming women 

For a summary of what happened at this “Davos for females,” I recommend this New York Times article.  Below are some of the most thought-provoking ideas that I heard:

When you open a school, you close a jail (borrowed from Victor Hugo).

The beginning of education is questioning all of your certainties.

Change can only happen if we dance through the process.

“Babies and bosses” are still competing for the talent of women.

We must build a whole ecosystem for gender diversity.

We must shift our elitist values and institutions to become more inclusive, and ultimately, we must shift what we value as a global society.

From the brand new McKinsey Women Matter Study 2010 - Women at the top of corporations: Making it happen. Leaders are convinced more women are needed at senior levels; but implementation remains low.  What made the difference between those companies that have achieved critical mass of women at the top and those which have not?

  • Visible monitoring of gender statistics by the CEO and executive team
  • CEO making gender diversity a strategic priority
  • Skill-building programs (mentoring, women and ambition)
  • Mentoring of junior women
  • Gender-neutral performance evaluation systems

7 Deauville Christine Lagarde 

Christine Lagarde, Minister of Economic Affairs, Industry and Employment in France delivered a rousing speech (with no notes - what an amazing skill to be able to speak so fluently and powerfully from the heart), in which she shared the following:

  • Change is in our hands, barriers are in our heads – we each have the power to individually change something.
  • We need more women building the rules that govern international bodies.
  • (On the French legislation, which has passed the House and is now being debated by the Senate – and which would require listed companies to have 40% female Board members by 2016 – or the Boards won’t get paid): Better diversity in the senior ranks is badly needed and quotas are just simply a must – we need quotas now – but not forever.
  • We (women) must serve as role models to our daughters – we must show them that jumping over these obstacles involves some suffering – but is also fulfilling and ultimately makes us happy.  
  • At the next G20 meeting, there will be a number of women around the table – and I assure you that we are not shy.

Dr. Yasheng Huang of MIT’s Sloan School of Management shared his views on why China is currently outperforming India on the world economic stage – he believes the role of women in these two countries gives China its edge:

  • Communism introduced social, economic, and educational equality in China – one of the first legal reforms was the banning of arranged marriage – the introduction as it were (this said tongue in cheek) of “the legal concept of love.”
  • China’s illiteracy rate in adult women is 10% (the definition of literacy in China is the ability to write over 1500 Chinese characters); India’s illiteracy rate in adult women is 45% (the definition of literacy in India is the ability to write one’s own name in one’s own language).
  • The key to unlocking India’s economic potential, is unlocking the power of its women via education.

Valerie Toranian, Editor-in-Chief of ELLE believes “women have entered the world of men, but men have not yet entered the world of women.”  This made a lot of sense to me based on statistics around men’s participation in the domestic sphere and “traditionally feminine” professions such as teaching, nursing, etc.

Maurice Levy, CEO of advertising giant Publicis reminded the audience that women are the most important audience for many large corporations, since women purchase or influence the purchasing of 70-85% of the world’s goods (medicine, cars, clothing, food…) and encouraged attendees to wield this enormous source of power in the economic landscape.  Mr. Maheu also shared wisdom from his long corporate career (which reminded me a little bit of one of my heroes, Richard Branson):

  • If you don’t have fun doing your job, then do something else.
  • If you believe in what you’re doing then DO IT – all the way.
  • You have the right to be wrong and fail within reason – so take some risks.

I made some dear new friends at the conference (comment ça va, Rita?) and even bravely tried out the Sephora Makeover Corner, which encouraged us to “advance our beauty.” 

8 Deauville Sephora 

I’m not big on clothes or makeup, so I was shocked at the result of my makeover, which my lovely makeup artist described as, très dramatique, non? 


There’s another word I would’ve used to describe my bold “new look,” but I don’t think it’s appropriate for this blog.  It’s worth noting that Nordic delegate Nita Bhan, owner of Emerging Futures Lab, called into question the focus on fashion/beauty at a conference dedicated to women, the economy, and society – but that’s a question perhaps debated elsewhere…

à bientôt,


20 September 2010

Inspiration from the east

Konnichiwa from Tokyo!

I’ve had an amazing time in Tokyo, where PwC Japan hosted its second annual Women’s Network Conference, connecting its women to PwC leadership, peers, and exploring career strategies.

Tokyo 021 

I have a special place in my heart for Japan.  At university I roomed with Mariko (whose mother is Japanese) for four years, and thus know some basic Japanese phrases and how to roll sushi.  Against all odds, in my college town of Williamsburg, Virginia, I also once performed with Mariko (and two other Japanese friends) a traditional Japanese Fan Dance, decked out in full costume and mask (an event which Mariko vehemently urged me not to share with my colleagues in our Japanese firm when I told her I was coming to Tokyo and thought this nugget of information might ingratiate me). 

Coincidentally, Mariko now works for The Wall Street Journal in Tokyo and has recently covered gender dynamics in corporate Japan.  Her articles explore a surge of “girl power” sweeping the nation amidst a slow pace of change in the global context.  Despite its 101st ranking on the World Economic Forum’s Corporate Gender Gap Index, the Bank of Japan recently appointed its first female branch manager in history; and Japan Airlines Corp. announced its first female pilot captain.  Renho, Japan’s most powerful female politician has said that female talent in Japan is not yet fully utilized - to remedy this, the country’s possible future-prime minister advocates better childcare support from policy-makers as well as a mindset-shift by men and older generations.

Japan has the World’s third-largest economy, recently losing its second-place slot to China (only five years ago China’s economy was half as big as Japan’s).  An article in The Economist suggests this slip has resulted in large part due to Japan’s relative inability to capitalize on its female population (only 8% of managers in the country are female compared with 40% in the U.S.).  Some employers, however, are working to change this trend.  Japanese brewer Kirin, for example, seeks to double the number of its female managers by 2015, and cosmetic giant Shiseido Co. aims to achieve a 30% ratio of female leaders by 2013 (its current ratio is 19% - quite high considering that women make up 1.2% of senior executives in Japan).

PwC Japan also promises to be at the vanguard of change. 

I was energized by what I found at the PwC Japan Women’s Network Conference: a large cohort of enthusiastic women buttressed by the strong support of leadership.  Koji Hatsukawa, PwC Japan’s CEO used levity in his opening remarks, admitting he was daunted as one of the few men in the room addressing hundreds of women. 

Tokyo 006 

Hatsukawa-san stressed that while networking between females is important, the issue of progressing more women to leadership must be a goal shared by men and by leadership.  Clearly the issue is front-of-mind for PwC Japan’s leaders - Hatsukawa-san and PwC Japan’s Board actively participated in the conference.  Some of leadership’s key messages to the audience:

The participation and advancement of women is a talent issue at the heart of PwC Japan’s business agenda.

There must be deep, thoughtful discussion about how to retain and advance more women as it is a complex, multi-faceted issue.

Leading Japanese businesswoman Claire Chino, Corporate Counsel at Itochu Corporation, World Economic Forum Global Leader, and classically trained pianist to boot, delivered a rousing keynote speech to the audience.  “Gender parity is a tool to enhance competition and innovation,” she said, noting that to become a truly global company in today’s world, “change is necessary.”  Chino-san supports new business models in Japan and shared strategies (both personal and corporate-wide) to achieve gender parity, including:

Better communication of positive role models

Creating a personal career vision (supported by clear annual development plan goals)

Recruiting more women into business directly from university

Two-way (or “reverse”) mentoring in which women learn from (mostly male) managers and vice versa

External networking

After I took the stage to share PwC’s global diversity initiatives with the audience, participants brainstormed in breakout groups focusing on three themes: creating an ideal world (what would an ideal working environment look like?); effective self-expression; and business relationship development.

Tokyo 019 Tokyo 014

Results from the breakouts were then fed back directly to management - PwC Japan Board members engaged in a conversation with the audience around the ideas that had been generated.  The Board expressed full commitment to enhancing external networking for PwC women, exploring ideas around flexible working, getting women more international experience, and using women’s strengths (relationship-building and courage were given as examples) to enhance and grow the business. 

Board member Shiro Uchida made the conversation personal, expressing his wish for a better working environment for his daughters, who participate in Japan’s professional workforce (working hours in the country are amongst the highest in the world) as he’s witnessed their own challenges from a father’s point-of-view.  Uchida-san assured attendees that they have leadership’s full backing as PwC works to provide an even more supportive working environment and stronger networks for all of PwC’s talented people so that it becomes a role model firm in Japan. 

In closing, Hatsukawa-san assured participants that while retaining and advancing more women within Japan’s socioeconomic framework is not a simple task, leadership is determined to transform PwC’s culture in a realistic, yet swift manner. PwC Japan’s CEO also announced that the firm will work towards tangible targets of women in leadership and expanded the diversity conversation, sharing his own vision for the working environment of the future: a place where different viewpoints, cultures, and thinking styles are leveraged even more than they are today.  Hatsukawa-san suggested that next year’s conference include male invitees (stay tuned for my next blog which will focus on engaging men in diversity conversations).

It’s difficult to describe how special it has been for me to participate in the Women’s Network Conference and experience the bustling, spotless, and incredibly organized city of Tokyo.  As I walked to the office, beautiful Japanese characters - Nihongo - bracketed each street like vertical artwork; the meticulously pruned, bright-green Hamarikyu Gardens sprung out vibrantly amidst Shiodome’s mammoth gray skyscrapers; the sharp odour of fresh seafood wafted temptingly from the streets of Tsukiji Fish Market – the largest of its kind in the world; the staccato meter of the Japanese language permeated the air; and my taste buds were tantalized by the freshest sushi I’ve ever eaten. 

Tokyo 028 

Mostly, I was moved by the hospitality and energy of my colleagues.  Rimi Goto, a female associate with PwC Japan told me she aspires to an international career someday and that she was inspired to see what PwC women are achieving globally.  There was a palpable hunger from Rimi and many other women I spoke with to pursue a rich career.  And by the way – as an added personal bonus, we had an impromptu dinner reunion of The Fan Dance quartet from my sophomore year in university – all four members were in Tokyo at the same time!  Semi-embarrassing photos were taken in Fan Dance regalia (masks and fans) in public places such as Shiodome Station.

Gambatte!  And arigato gozaimasu to my Japanese colleagues and friends.

à bientôt,


P.S. – weather in Japan was warm and balmy!

31 August 2010

Be here now


Here in Brussels, we’re gearing up for la rentrée – the period where all the city-dwellers who’ve been enjoying their August holidays on the Riviera, Normandy, Provence, and the like, return en masse in a bustle of car horns and exhaust fumes for the re-entry to work and school (you could’ve heard a pin drop here in August, though, I kid you not).

It’s been quiet here in the blogsphere, too, as I’ve had a busy summer working with a talented, multi-cultural Genesis Park team on PwC’s next generation of Global Diversity & Inclusion, as well as preparing for a leadership session on diversity and talent management in Rome this week, led by our Chairman Dennis Nally

I’m pleased to say that the Gender Agenda Blog got a shout out in The Washington Post this month from one of our guest writers, Selena Rezvani – check out her piece on Getting Women’s Networks Right.

I promised in my last entry that inspired by the smallest house in Amsterdam and the smallest house in Paris, I’d bring you my smallest blog ever, but I already find myself digressing because I can’t resist telling you that this homage to all things small seems quaintly European.  In Brussels there’s even an entire Mini-Europe, which is, I assure you, exactly what you think it is.  Here, without so much as boarding a Eurostar or a TGV, you can see the eruption of Vesuvius, the fall of the Berlin Wall, Big Ben, Versailles, the famous windmills of Holland…you get the idea. 

However…let’s get back to gender!  Let me take this final summer pause to give you a short preview of the shape of things to come.

In the coming months watch this space for news from the PwC Japan Women’s Conference and from PwC US relating to white men and diversity.  I’ll also be bringing you news from the Central Cluster Women in PwC Meeting in Madrid, featuring PwC UK Chairman and Central Cluster Leader Ian Powell.  Finally, the Women’s Forum for the Economy and Society is just round the corner and promises an exciting discussion of political, social, and environmental issues anchored in the role of women. 

As many of us prepare to go into a bustling autumn season, I’ll leave you with this wisdom I picked up at June’s Boston College Global Workforce Roundtable, hosted by GlaxoSmithKline in their London office.  This large poster hung on the wall in the conference room where we sat -- to remind all attendees how we can best harness our energy in the messy, exuberant whirlwind of work and life.   


à bientôt,


12 July 2010

Great Expectations


Those of us suffering through the eighteen days of summer heat in Brussels tip our hats to those of you in the wintery
(a mild winter, I’ve been assured) Southern Hemisphere, where World Cup fever (congrats to Spain!), has proliferated from South Africa and where Australia recently swore in a new female Prime Minister

The Australian Stock Exchange’s Corporate Governance Council also just released the final version of its Principles and Recommendations, which will prompt companies to report their gender statistics, diversity policies, and measurable objectives for achieving gender parity in the upper ranks. 


Like many states in Europe, Australian policy makers are taking bold steps to address low levels of female representation at senior company levels.  Indeed, a recent McKinsey survey found that companies who’d made efforts to empower women in emerging markets reported increased profits as a direct result of those efforts.

1207_02 1207_03 

In an age when gender equality is supported in most parts of the world, where females are outperforming males academically, where data has proven that gender parity brings economic and social benefits, where indeed female presidents are becoming less uncommon, the question people always ask me is:  Then – why aren’t more women making it to the top?

Many experts say it’s because of the little things – that we should, in fact be Sweating the Small Stuff

This “Small Stuff” includes micro-inequities and stereotype threat, which many experts believe affect learning and performance.  You may be familiar with Harvard research on the Pygmalion effect.  Simply put, when a teacher expects a student to do well, the student does well; when a teacher has low expectations of a student, performance and growth are hampered in that student.  Extrapolate this to the business world and implications are far-reaching for engagement and productivity.

Micro-inequities are small events, resulting from inherent biases manifested in gestures, words, treatment, and tone of voice – pervasive forms of subtle discrimination that affect performance.  Our filters (unconscious stereotypes picked up from the environment, media, experiences growing up, etc.), shape our individual responses.  An example of this might be when one person in a meeting (say, a female) speaks, and other attendees start checking their Blackberries, fail to make eye contact, stop paying attention.  Experts believe that these subtle slights, compounded over days, months, years – a career –can have a profound and deleterious effect on ambition and performance. 

In March I was in Washington, D.C. for a conference, where Dr. Claude Steele, Provost of Columbia University, showed us a schematic of the Math department building at Stanford University.  There was only one female toilet in the large, multi-floor building – and it was located in the basement.  For twenty years, Dr. Steele has researched stereotype threat, or how negative stereotypes can have an influence on performance (for more, see his recently released book, Whistling Vivaldi: And Other Clues to How Stereotypes Affect Us). 


The vignette that Dr. Steele shared with us was staggering: women and men comprised of top math students in the U.S. were given a math test.  In the control group, the women scored lower than the men on the test.  In the experimental group, only one thing was changed prior to the students taking the test – the women were told that for this particular math test, women score higher than men (this of course, was not at all true).  When the ‘stereotype threat’ was removed by this lie, however, the female scores skyrocketed.

Is it possible that one tiny sentence about a test, while changing nothing material about the test, could have such an impact on the self-belief of the test-takers?  In short, yes, according to Dr. Steele.  He believes that when a math task is important to women, their performance is affected by the stereotype that all women are poor at math.

Being reduced to a stereotype is disturbing and all human beings can suffer from this on a cognitive level.  Dr. Steele told us that when we’re worried about being stereotyped (and this could be about our gender, culture, sexual orientation, race, etc.) it preoccupies us, and therefore both our learning and our performance are impaired.  That’s because we ruminate, we worry, we spend precious mental capital fighting it, which takes cognitive abilities away from the task and undermines our performance. 

Research shows that micro-inequities and stereotyping could be much more pervasive and harmful than any of the “bigger stuff” such as overt sexual harassment (at that same conference in D.C., I heard Dr. Sylvia Ann Hewlett aptly describe this as “death by a thousand cuts”).  So how do we overcome it? 

Awareness is a good starting point.  PwC’s Reggie Butler helps teach our U.S. employees about ‘filters’ that may affect their treatment of others.  Studies by Catalyst both in the U.S. and in Europe provide strategies to overcome such threats.  Catalyst also released a gender stereotype risk assessment toolkit last year and discussed the topic on a recent Catalyzing Blog.  Check out this article from Pink Magazine for tips to empower yourself to overcome the “small stuff.”

I was recently telling my husband about my summer league softball coach – I was the shortstop, and during practice Coach L. made me stand a few yards away while he slammed balls at me as hard as he could with a metal bat – I had nothing but my softball glove between me and either a concussion or a really nasty bruise.  Initially, it was terrifying – I believe I said something to the effect of: “Why are you DOING this to me??!!”  with all the aplomb of a righteously indignant teenager.  He was teaching me of course to have nerves of steel, but more importantly, not to flinch when the ball came flying at my body via the other team’s batter. 

Coach L. said he wouldn’t be whacking softballs at me if he didn’t think I had the reflexes and agility to field those balls.  He expected a lot of me.  “And you should expect a lot of yourself too,” he said, “because if you expect nothing, you’ll get nothing.”

à bientôt,


P.S. – Inspired by the smallest house in Amsterdam and the smallest house in Paris, I’ll soon be bringing you my smallest blog ever. 

18 June 2010

Live your best life

Bonjour all,

Vous allez bien?  I know summer has officially arrived in Belgium as I only had to wear a light trench coat yesterday.

Below are a few nuggets I gleaned from Oprah’s Live Your Best Life Weekend, which took place in New York City recently. I’ve tried to cull the content that links to women and career. 

For those of you outside the U.S. and South Africa, let me clarify why I admire Oprah.  Her magazine is one of the few periodicals mass marketed to women that does not insult our intelligence.  It covers politics, spirituality, careers, food, health, volunteering, literature, and culture with both an international and female lens.  Fashion and celebrities are footnotes, not focal.  It’s a magazine that expects more of us (watch this space for a blog on how expectations shape self-belief and performance).

I first read interviews with two of my own role models – Nelson Mandela and Richard Branson – in O Magazine (side note on Richard Branson – I also read his hilarious and informative book of life lessons, Screw it, Let’s Do It after watching him on a BBC segment last year.  He was leaping around the camera frame with great alacrity as he discussed Virgin’s development of environmentally-friendly airplanes.  In other words, he was fired up about the work he was doing.  That is one man that I would definitely follow into battle – but that’s a whole other blog on inspirational leadership).


Back to LYBL.  Not since the Women’s Forum have I seen so many women in one aesthetically sumptuous place.  No detail was overlooked.  The stages were illuminated in neon pinks and purples; luscious murals abounded.  Regular columnists for O Magazine held both plenary and informal sessions in which they shared wisdom and engaged us in Q&A; there was a discovery hall featuring interactive booths where you could be filmed sharing your point-of-view (on anything) for Oprah’s Network, join a live Wii Fit training session, get made over by L’Oreal cosmetic experts, or do some book shopping (I bought Ken Follett’sThe Pillars of the Earth for my summer beach read).

The LYBL weekend focused on empowerment and authenticity.  Here are a few morsels to chew on.

Oprah on work, passion, and vision

“Let passion drive your profession.”

Oprah shared a childhood story with us about her grandmother teaching her to do the laundry in rural Mississippi (for me, the vignette invoked my favorite short story, Girl by Jamaica Kincaid).  Oprah says she remembers even at that young age, thinking: No, grandma, this isn’t going to be my life.

Elizabeth Gilbert on women, choices, and self-forgiveness

“Every day, women live their lives as if it’s a final exam for their entire grade.”

Gilbert, author of Eat, Pray, Love, framed the conundrum of modern day females by pointing out that:

we are the first generation of women who have had an education, freedom, autonomy.  We have more choices than the women who came before us.  That’s why we live in the age of memoirs.  We’re trying to seek role models, see how other women have ‘solved it’. 

Gilbert’s grandmother lived through the U.S. depression.  She had an absence of choices, was a ‘pioneer of continuing on’ – she was in a constant struggle for survival.  “But,” Gilbert pointed out, “she wasn’t neurotic like me.”

According to Gilbert, these neuroses come from an embarrass de richesses of sorts.  Gilbert believes these abundant choices can lead to women harshly beating themselves up in the manner of: I should have [taken that promotion/not taken that promotion; married Bob/not married Bob; spellchecked the email before I sent it; gotten my PhD in Shakespeare; learned to speak Spanish; bought the red not the blue; moved to the country instead of the city….]  You get the idea.

“I am not often kind to myself when I fall short,” Gilbert said.  She encouraged us to mitigate our high aspirations with a little self-forgiveness. 

I can get on board with that.  I’ve discussed women and perfectionism in this space before.  It’s something that I struggle with.  This blog is one antidote to my own perfectionism.  Sometimes, you’ll see grammatical errors and inconsistent British / American English spelling because…wait for it…I’m not perfect.  Sadly, writing this blog is just one small and fun part of my job, so I can’t spend hours perfecting it.  I have to let go.  I practice self-forgiveness.

Gilbert closed by saying that there are four types of women in modern society:

Those who choose career over family
Those who choose family over career
Those who choose both
The Mystics – those who listen to a deeply resonant inner voice and follow it wherever it takes them


Suze Orman on women and money

Money isn’t the most important thing in life.  “Oh, yes it is,” said Suze Orman (after marching on stage to Bon Jovi’s “It’s My Life”).  When mothers show her photos of their children (the most important thing in their lives), she reminds those women that they must nourish, clothe, and house those children.  With money. 

Research shows that (despite making up 50% of America’s workforce and 40% of its primary earners) one of the reasons women still make less money than men is because women don’t ask for what they’re worth in salary negotiations (check out this toolkit for women seeking a raise). 

Orman said, “You undervalue who you are, so the world undervalues who you are.”

Donna Brazile on taking risks

“I’m from New Orleans where Santa Claus rides an alligator, and we cook with grease and spices.”

Brazile told us to “cook with spice” – to take some risks.  “Your attitude determines your altitude, “ she said.  “Don’t let anyone put you in a little box…and never take NO for an answer.  When people say it won’t be done, I say: It shall be done.  And done well.”

Martha Beck on the voice within

“Whatever you’re supposed to learn, your soul will latch on to.”

(Love that.  It rings true, n’est-ce pas?)

Beck also had wisdom to share on decision-making.  “Are the animal and the angel inside of you leaning towards the decision or against it?  Your body gets stronger as you move towards your inner truth.”

She had us do an exercise where we laced our fingers together and tried to pull our hands apart.  We had to state a lie about ourselves (this made pulling our hands apart very easy) and then a truth about ourselves (this made pulling our hands apart very difficult – our muscles and joints ostensibly cooperating with our inner truth).

The “animal and angel” in me were FULLY in favour of me throwing caution to the wind, taking a vacation day, and flying across the Atlantic for LYBL and a visit with my best friend (see Carolina and I with our “O Glow” and SWAG bags, below).  And yes – it was worth it. 


à bientôt,


P.S. – Have you been watching the World Cup in South Africa?  Europeans take football/soccer very seriously (“Football, Vacation, God – in that order,” a European once told me).  Whether or not I watch the game, I always know who won by the large, impromptu mob that congregates outside the Brussels Bourse, afterwards, which I can see (and sadly, hear) from my living room.  So far, the Brazilians have been the most coordinated – they had a marching band AND a choreographed fan dance.  Very impressive, indeed.

11 June 2010

Can Men Innovate Alone?



Many of the cutting-edge research papers and corporate gender initiatives that abound these days are based on the assumption that men and women think and behave differently as a result of a combination of nature and nurture.  Whether or not you subscribe to this theory, there’s enough credible research out there to (at the very minimum) entertain the notion and to spur a healthy amount of debate among proponents and detractors. 


Bench_meeting At last year’s Women’s Forum for the Economy and Society, for example, quite a few speakers noted that in general, women have a better long-term view; that they’re better empathizers; that they see the “big picture” better than men – all so-called “right brain” functions.  If this has any truth to it, what are the implications for the corporate world? 


I came across this week’s guest writer while reading our PwC Innovation Blog.  The entry, entitled “Innovator of the Century: Renaissance Man,” particularly caught my attention as it noted how critical “heterogeneous educational and cultural backgrounds and thinking” (a.k.a. diversity) are to innovation.  The author of the piece – my PwC colleague, Sarah Firisen – astutely noted that this is NOT a new concept at all, but one which we must rediscover in the 21st Century.  “Companies,” Sarah wrote, “which view creative thought and empathy skills with equal criticality to those of technical skills, be it for recruitment or advancement, will be at the forefront in the coming century.”


I wasted no time in emailing Sarah to establish a connection.  I said something to the effect of “Yes, yes, yes!  This is our elemental business case for diversity!  Let’s share and be friends!”  Happily, she agreed.  Even better, she agreed to write a piece on gender and innovation.  If this piques your curiosity, be sure to check out Daniel Pink’s short essay, The Revenge of the Right Brain,” which was adapted from the book Sarah mentions below.  And coming soon in this space…what Oprah’s inner circle had to say in May about women in the workplace…


à bientôt,




Sarah Firisen is a social media and innovations strategist as well as an IT systems architect and software developer.  Currently she works in PwC’s Thought Leadership group.  I encourage you to check out her regular contributions on 3 Quarks Daily and the PwC Innovation blog.



“When Hollywood portrays an eccentric inventor, the character is almost always a man; a wild haired, absent-minded and bumbling man. Off the top of my head, I can’t think of one single, popular culture image of a female counterpart. While invention is not innovation, there is no doubt that they are first cousins; when we think of inventing, we usually think of products, and while by no means are all innovations product innovations, certainly many of them are. An invention becomes an innovation as it creates value and has an impact on the world in some form or other. I believe that this linkage, and often confusion, between invention and innovation, and the indelible image of the male, eccentric inventor can have a tendency to lead corporations to a male bias when they consider how to become more innovative.


As someone who was a software developer for over 13 years, I can personally attest to the overwhelming preponderance of men in that field, and certainly as you expand the view to engineering in general, the picture, if anything, gets worse. However, there is much evidence to suggest that what takes a product from the realms of a really good idea, or a clever piece of engineering, to a true innovation that creates value for a firm, are elements that women may be better at than men.


Daniel Pink, writing in A Whole New Mind: Why Right-Brainers Will Rule The Future, posits that right-brained “senses”, as he calls them, will be essential to the kinds of creativity and innovation that are going to be increasingly necessary moving forward into the 21st century. These senses are: design, story, play, meaning, symphony and empathy. Certainly, it seems to be intuitively correct that invention and innovation both involve a combination of left-brained and right-brained skills; while a factual understanding of the concepts involved is usually necessary, it is almost never sufficient, there is always an element of pure creativity involved. When we think about some of the companies and products that we consider innovative, they almost always go far beyond just good engineering. They usually combine great design and a deep understanding of the needs of the end user.


Simon Baron-Cohen, a Cambridge University Professor of Developmental Psychopathology, has done extensive research that he believes shows that, “the female brain is predominantly hard-wired for empathy, and that the male brain is predominantly hard-wired for understanding and building systems.” He doesn’t claim that only women are empathetic, rather that there is a female brain type in which empathizing is stronger than systemizing, and that, on average, more women have this brain type than men, and vice versa. 


It certainly is true that empathy, the ability to put ourselves in someone else’s shoes, is part of the essence of what makes us human. Companies that have embraced the notion of empathy and have integrated it fully into their business processes, companies where customer service representatives, for example, are allowed, actually encouraged, to go above and beyond - both in time and effort - in order to empathize with customers, these are companies that are increasingly being lauded as innovative, trendsetting companies for the 21st century. If Professor Baron-Cohen is correct, and at least anecdotally there is something very believable and familiar about his claims, then it would seem that women will become increasingly strategically important to Corporate America’s efforts to drive innovation, in all its aspects.”

25 May 2010

A lot of little things…and some bold steps


It’s been a whirlwind few weeks, starting with a fly-by-the-night personal trip to New York to see my best friend (and Oprah – more on that later) and ending with PwC’s Global Leadership Summit in Paris – a truly galvanizing experience. 

Ga_250510_a1 Our Chairman Dennis Nally has been adamant that where diversity is concerned, he's going to model the behavior he expects from our partners.  That’s why he made diversity a key theme of this year’s Summit, which brought together PwC’s network leadership teams and local territory senior partners from around the world.  As our presiding leaders discussed a host of key business issues (diversity being one), Dennis was candid about his intent to move even more swiftly in our gender journey (currently 15% of PwC partners are female).  He kicked off the Summit diversity discussion by saying:

“This is a business issue – and it is not somebody else’s issue, it is my issue, it is our issue, and we must cascade it down so it becomes everybody’s issue.  Diversity is a leadership issue and must be front and center of our leadership agenda –  we must set the tone, we must raise the bar, and we must hold ourselves accountable. 

A panel discussion on diversity ensued, featuring Chris Clark, CEO of PwC Canada, and Robert Swaak, CEO of PwC in The Netherlands.

Here’s what Chris had to say:

“We must bring a gender lens to everything we do – recruitment, talent development, promotions; we must set goals and ensure training is available.  That means recognizing differences in how our men and women think, that women don’t always like to self-promote, that many women disdain putting themselves forward for promotions, whereas a lot of our men will put themselves forward as being the ‘best person for that next job.’  It’s knowing how to coach and mentor our women on these issues, and also recognizing that they may not have always the same informal networks that our men have.”


Chris went on to say that there is no ‘silver bullet’ for achieving better gender parity.  “It takes a lot of little things executed on a daily basis,” he said, “as well as some bold steps to make progress over a number of years.” 

Chris’s PwC Canada colleague (and PwC Global Board and Gender Advisory Council member) Susan Allen was at the leadership summit, and I highly recommend her recent interview on theglasshammer.com – she shares some excellent advice rooted in her own rich career experiences.

The Dutch Firm of PwC has been very active in the diversity sphere.  On the Summit panel, Dutch Senior Partner Robert Swaak had some inspiring words – and challenges – for our leaders:

“Diversity is essential to understanding and interacting with our environment and our clients.  This cannot just be done by the ‘male species’ of the kind.  We need to use our masculine and feminine traits – and we all have elements of these traits…The good news is that we’ve already done the research so we know why this is happening.  We know that it’s human nature to select people that look, think, and act like us – ‘mini-me syndrome’ – and that when you perpetuate this, you don’t get to diverse leadership teams.  When we understand this, and then make ourselves accountable for change, that’s when talented women begin to rise through the ranks – and we’ve found [in the Dutch Firm] that once they get there, they’re able to exert their influence.”

Ga_250510_cRobert then challenged the room of leaders to embrace this through action: “Let’s each one of us pick two outstanding females in our territory to coach and mentor, to track and trace,” he said, “and let’s ensure that for every leadership opening, we’ve got women on that list of candidates.”

As the Summit was taking place, there was a live twitter-like feed out to global alumni of PwC’s Genesis Park program which brings together our less experienced, up-and-coming leaders for special projects.  The Genesis Park alums provided real-time input, perspectives, and queries directly to our leadership (pretty cool, eh?  I thought so).  One alum noted that we should be talking about how diversity enhances our daily work and share key learning with each other.  Another said: “If we encourage our less-tenured females to envision partnership at a much earlier level, we’d be surprised at how many would consider it.” 

Having seen so much research about the lack of long-term career vision that plagues many professional women, this made a lot of sense to me – because as Yogi Berra once said: “If you don’t know where you’re going, you might not get there.”  (As I was confirming the spelling of “Yogi Berra” another quote from Lewis Carroll popped up: “If you don't know where you are going, any road will get you there.”  That’ll have your mind spinning in no time…)

One female Genesis Park Alumni shared the following perspective:

“I’ve seen [a lack of confidence in females and lack of networks] and experienced it myself, but have been fortunate to have an excellent coach who made me aware of this comparable "shortcoming" when I was a Manager and helped push me in the right direction.  Women more than men feel they need to be fully prepared and up to a task rather than focusing on what they can bring to the table - this makes it much more difficult for women to step out of their comfort zones and take risks.  It's difficult for women to be successful at the higher levels if they don't recognize the gender difference and implement behavioral changes.  On this point, and with other differences due to age, gender, etc., I believe change is a two-way street.  Certainly we all need to be more aware of different backgrounds and motivations of a diverse work group.  However, those that are in the minority need to do the same.  It takes much longer for a large group of people to truly implement change; it is much easier for a single individual…both sides taking steps in the right direction.”

I couldn’t have put it better myself.

Panel Moderator Reggie Butler encouraged each leader to have a personal vision of what diversity means: “As leaders,” he said, “we must all be able to answer one fundamental question for ourselves: why is this important?”

After sharing from the floor about diversity experiences and success from the territory leaders (many of which you can read about here), Dennis closed the Summit diversity session by stressing that we must acknowledge that there are different ways to progress and achieve goals…and that we must allow and encourage all of our people to grow and thrive by creating an environment that’s conducive to different ways of doing things. 

By the way, for those of you (a surprisingly large number) who’ve made comments to me directly on my obsession with the weather: it was rainy and chilly all week in Paris, la ville la plus belle dans le monde, not that I’m complaining but, ah, Spring/Summer in Europe – time to break out the fake tan lotion.  I did manage to have outdoor breakfast on the (covered and artificially heated) terrace of my favourite café in my old neighbourhood of Montmartre.  If you’re visiting Paris, do try Le Sancerre on Rue des Abbesses for breakfast, beverages and people-watching.  I miss living in Paris – I think anyone lucky enough to live there (and then move away) will always be extremely grateful and a little bit heartbroken.


Next week I’ll be writing a brief blog entry on what I gleaned from Oprah’s Live Your Best Life Conference – although I was there on a personal trip, I took away some great food for thought related to women in business and my own career. 

à bientôt,


04 May 2010

Everything a Woman Graduate Needs to Know (But No One is Telling Her)

Bonjour everyone,


I’m heading to Amsterdam tomorrow to meet with our Dutch diversity team and New York later this week on a (somewhat impetuous) personal trip to visit my best friend and see one of my idols (hint: her name starts with an “O” and ends with a “prah.”)  If I have any gender agenda “Aha! moments,” you’ll hear about them right here. 


 In the meantime, Selena Rezvani (yet another social networking connection) has contributed a guest piece aimed at the slew of women preparing to graduate from universities around the world.  As I told Selena, I believe that much of this advice is germane not only for soon-to-be grads, but all working women early in their careers.  I think you’ll find it to be very practical and encourage you to share it with an upcoming grad or working-world “newbie” in your office or in your life. 


 And to the global graduating class of 2010 around the world – a huge congratulations on your academic achievements.  Welcome to the working world – come help us make it even better…



Selena Selena Rezvani is the author of The Next Generation of Women Leaders: What You Need to Lead but Won’t Learn in Business School.”  Selena is on a mission to propel more women into top leadership roles, a goal she achieves through the consulting and coaching practices of her firm, NextGenWomen, LLC.  She holds an MBA from Johns Hopkins University and an MSW from New York University.  I follow Selena on Twitter @NextGenWomen. 


“When I hear that women are graduating with the majority of bachelors and advanced degrees, I get butterflies.  Surely, the advantage of educational credentials will give the next generation of women leaders a running start, right?  Top degrees are important and needed, but not enough.  In order to truly move from newcomer to leader, there are a number of practices we need to engage in on the job.  What’s more, if you ask nearly any professional woman, she has a list of things she wishes she’d learned sooner about the work world. 


Here are the top 6 lessons intended for the newcomer, shared by the women I interviewed for my book: 



1. Proactively Learn the Culture
So many people passively ignore the culture of their organizations and then wonder why their ideas aren’t embraced.  Pay attention to how people at your firm liked to be communicated with, where and how people get information, how successes and failures are handled—even the formality of dress.  Doing so will help you package your message in a way that people can readily accept, thereby improving your chances of winning support.

2. Don’t Qualify Your Ideas
When offering an opinion, give it affirmatively—knowing your ideas won’t be accepted every single time.  Never, ever qualify your ideas with phrases like, “This might be a silly question…,” “I’m sorry if this is off-topic…” or “Someone may have already said this…”  In business, be prepared for people to take you at your word; if you tell people your ideas are silly, that’s exactly how they’ll see them.  A hallmark of a leader is standing confidently behind her opinions, rather than voicing her comments as questions or stirring up doubt…about herself.

3. Learn to Negotiate Now, Not Later
A budding leader will need to negotiate on the job often: for a vendor to come down on their prices, for an important stakeholder group to see value in a new initiative, and certainly for promotions and raises.  Seek out trainings, books, advisors, and coaching on this art now and you will refer back to it over the length of your career. 

4. Show your Entrepreneurial Side
One leader I interviewed advised, “We’re all put in boxes within our jobs….  Make sure the lines on your box aren’t too defined.”  Meaning, if you want to be considered for an incredible opportunity 2 departments over, don’t promote the message that your boundaries are rigidly defined.  Participate in cross-functional projects, volunteer to spearhead a corporate taskforce, and take advantage of rotational programs.  Become known by those other than just your boss, showing that you’re open to growth opportunities in other areas.

5. Don’t Underestimate Mentoring
While Gen Y is famous for not wanting undue oversight, mentors can collapse your learning curve, helping you quickly get where you want and need to go.  Look for people with outstanding reputations and whom you have an organic connection with.  Most of all--don’t fall into the trap of looking to one person to fulfill all of your needs.   Assemble a personal “board of directors” to advise you on all aspects of your career including image, technical skills, presentation, and contacts.

6. If You Can’t, You Must
Unless you’re in the business of building bridges or performing heart surgery, go ahead and take risks!  In fact, the women executives I interviewed in my book said that they continually took risks before they felt ready for them.  Consider what the organization could do to facilitate your success, if a training could boost your confidence, or if your board of directors could support you.  The important kernel is to take risks and accept stretch opportunities, not that you go it alone.  Re-evaluate what you’ve been talking yourself out of pursuing on the job, and take a baby step toward it.”

15 April 2010

Do women’s networks speak to younger women?

Bonjour all!


As mentioned in last week’s blog, I first connected with today’s guest writer, Dr. Elisabeth Kelan on LinkedIn due to our shared groups on the site and mutual interest in gender diversity.  I then saw her speak at the World Diversity Leadership Summit in Vienna on a panel which discussed age diversity in the workplace and managing young talent.  Elisabeth was in Brussels recently for a meeting and we had dinner together while she was in town. 


Our introduction to each other was punctuated by the usual ambiguity of working in an international environment.  How do you say hello?  Do you kiss once, twice, or three times?  Do you shake hands?  Whose cultural ‘norm’ takes precedence?  Does it matter that I come from an American background where kissing in any professional environment is at best odd and at worst illegal?  Well, as it turned out we did a sort of one-and-a-half cheek-kiss greeting and then laughingly discussed the fact that in a globalized world, you just have to…play it by ear.  Elisabeth and I had an enthusiastic conversation over dinner about how the gender debate has progressed and what the future holds.


One of the issues I have been keenly intrigued by is the lack of focus on younger women in corporate gender initiatives and dearth of research in the field.  After all, the pipeline starts with new joiners – this is the population we must focus on in order to develop the right skills and experiences so that they are primed for leadership roles later in their career.  Due to demographic changes, young professionals make up an enormous cohort of our workforce and young men as well as young women have very different world views and expectations than those of previous generations. 


In many cases, some of the roadblocks that women experience later in their career – for example the ability to travel frequently, or participate in a time-intensive leadership program, or even a secondment – don’t exist for younger women, who are often unhampered by the considerations that having one’s own family can understandably create (although this is slowly changing, the bulk of domestic labour still falls upon women).  And I wonder too whether young women – who have come from a university environment where they comprise more than half of the population, are even aware of the fact that women still constitute a vast minority of leaders in the corporate sphere and earn less than their male counterparts in every country in the world. 


Could women’s networks play a role in educating younger women – early – on the Unwritten Rules that will help prepare them for success in the longer-term?  Or do shifting social realities and perceptions mean that it’s time for the conversation to change altogether?


This enlightening piece of research from The London Business School (written by Elisabeth and her colleagues), entitled: The Reflexive Generation: Young Professionals’ Perspectives on Work, Career and Gender probes the intersection of gender and generation at work; if you have an interest in gender, generational issues, human capital, employee engagement, or talent management, I would highly recommend reading it for insight and strategy tips.    


Below, Dr. Elisabeth Kelan discusses findings from her research about what women’s networks and gender diversity mean to younger women.  And indeed, how their voices may change the game.


à bientôt,




Dr Elisabeth Kelan is lecturer (assistant professor) in the Department of Management at King’s College London. She was Senior Research Fellow in the Centre for Women in Business at London Business School. She also worked at the London School of Economics and Political Science and the University of Zurich. Elisabeth is a leading scholar on gender and generational relations in organizations. Her specialism is in the use of qualitative and ethnographic methods. She has presented her research internationally, published widely, and has received various awards for her research.



“When conducting research on Generation Y, those latest entrants into organizations who are below 30, we often heard from young women that they did not feel at home in women’s networks. Women’s networks were seen as a place where women from their mother’s generation met to discuss work and private life. However these younger women felt that these networks were not for them.


Women’s networks have played a key role in showing women that their experiences are not their individual problems but rather shared by many other women, too. Women’s networks have traditionally been used to make these commonalities in experiences visible and to find strategies for overcoming them. Women’s networks also had very negative press and are regularly portrayed as places for whinging and whining. Women’s networks are today often seen as talking shops that do not really help women to advance in corporations.


For young women of Generation Y these women’s networks were no longer seen as timely. They seemed like a relict from 1970s feminism which no longer speaks to the younger generation. Young women often felt that women-only groups were separatist. Their experiences of women’s networks was that they were told how to be and behave to have a corporate career. Instead they wanted to be seen as competent workers who have to do certain things to have a career but there is no ‘special training’ needed.


This view is interesting from two perspectives. First of all, gender was no longer seen as an issue for women. This in itself can be a very positive sign. Generation Y assumes that issues such as work-life balance and flexibility are relevant for women as well as men. If that is the assumption such topics should be discussed among all employees and not just women.


Second, and more worryingly perhaps, this same sentiment might also lead to a situation in which a whole generation might lack a language to talk about gender equality. If gender equality is seen as achieved, any movement to bring it back on the agenda, such as through women’s networks, will be met with resistance. However if this generation loses the ability to talk about gender equality, the subtle and less subtle forms of inequalities that continue to exist in the workplace will go unnoticed and will remain unaddressed.


But maybe this generation gives its own answer to these challenges: integrating gender and diversity into wider debates within organizations. Rather than making gender an issue for women only, this generation might want to see that gender and diversity become an issue for everyone. Only if men and women realize the power of gender diversity will it be possible to see true gender change in organizations. That doesn’t mean getting rid off women’s networks. They certainly have a role to play to have sustained focused on gender and they provide a lot of support for women. However they will only speak to some women. It is therefore important to include more mainstream debates that include women as well as men from different generations.”