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.”

09 April 2010

Wake up and smell the 21st century…please

Happy Spring Break to those of you who have taken time off for the Easter holiday (and for those of you who don’t celebrate it – go on and eat some chocolate, anyway). 


A plethora of studies cite a lack of formal / informal networking as one of the largest impediments in progressing women to leadership positions.  A plethora of OTHER studies cite technology as one of the key tools in advancing women economically (check out the ICRW’s excellent Bridging the Gender Divide for information on how technology has empowered women in developing countries). 


Women can and should use technology to cultivate their knowledge and global networks (note: minimal effort required).  Your age or occupation doesn’t matter.  And I believe those who avoid social networks are looking a gift horse in the mouth (one of my colleagues in technology took this a step further – he actually told me that refusing to participate in social networks is ‘irresponsible’ for today’s professional – like ‘refusing’ to read an HBR article on developments in your niche area).   



Here’s the thing: social networking is free.  It’s also simple and easy to use (I promise).  My colleagues and friends who refuse say that social networks are distracting, time-sucking, and too public. 


I disagree.  We anthropomorphize social media as if it’s a living breathing baby-monster screaming for our constant attention.  Wrong.  We have free will. We can CHOOSE whether to start that new novel we’ve been meaning to read or gaze at photos of our long-lost high school sweetheart on Facebook (hey, not that I’ve done that; he’s not on Facebook).


Employed with a modicum of discipline and common sense, social networks can substantially enhance and enrich our personal and professional lives.


I probably average 30 minutes on social media per day – some of this outside of working hours (Facebook mostly) and some of it within the workday (checking Twitter for diversity developments and adding connections on LinkedIn or posting PwC diversity-related content).  Here are some examples of how social networks have served me and a few of my favourite sites that I recommend you check out.


Let me start with Twitter.  Don’t despair – I too, grimaced and shook my head for a long time, swearing I would never join “that time-sucking thing” (I didn’t really even know exactly what Twitter was – if you don’t either click here for a mini-tutorial).  I was converted at a recent writers’ convention when it was suggested to me that I could try it for a week and if I didn’t like it, I could just deactivate my account.  Like the good American-bred person that I am, I succumbed to this cheap marketing ploy of a free trial with money-back guarantee (although admittedly, the only cost would be my time). 


To be honest, it took no more than five minutes to set up an account.  I immediately subscribed to a very few number of feeds related to my professional (PwC_Press, PwC_LLP, Catalyst) and personal (O_Magazine, nytimesbooks) interests.  I was shocked to find the following ‘tweet’ from Catalyst that very day:


“How do we get past talking a/b the gender gap…to action? Dennis Nally, Global Chairman, PwC”


I gasped.  I sat up straight in my chair.  Catalyst had culled a quote from the Gender Agenda CNBC panel debate and posted a tweet from…my boss.  Hmmm.  Seemed relevant.  It was my first inkling that I would be following Twitter long after my ‘trial subscription.’  By the way, the Catalyst Twitter feeds are great for those of us with an interest in gender diversity and I highly recommend subscribing.  Some other gems from their Twitter stream recently:


“Climbing the (male) corporate ladder: ‘Whatever progress I have made was because of pain I inflicted on someone else.’"


"’Pay your daughters less pocket money than your son–get them used to working life!’ -Slogan educating on gender pay gap”


“Erotic capital responsible for ‘a 25% point difference in average earnings b/t unattractive & attractive minorities.’”


Thought provoking stuff, right?  (I didn’t even know what ‘erotic capital’ meant until I clicked through to the Guardian article – worth a read; it is très disturbing).  I also watched this very short Catalyst video which they tweeted, on the harsh reality of the gender pay gap – it cuts to the bone, no sugar-coating here. 


All I’ll say about Facebook is that although it’s mostly a personal tool, businesses ARE using it.  Some of our PwC firms employ it for recruitment and on boarding, as well corporate responsibility initiatives.  Most registered users on Facebook have their employer listed as one of their primary networks.  Personally, I don’t connect with every PwC professional that I work with, but I have linked to certain individuals with whom I’ve struck up a particularly deep connection.  I find it adds texture to our professional relationship.  This blurring of the lines between work and personal life can be grey, but for those comfortable enough to do it, I think the details of what makes us who we are (our favourite books, our vacation destinations, photos of our family, our commentary on world events) deepens professional relationships, makes them more authentic, and (for me) more enjoyable, especially because I work with so many virtual teams across the world.  And here’s a thought for you, as told to me by a PwC partner when we were discussing this:  “In ten years, most CEOs will be on Facebook.” 


And finally, there is LinkedIn, which is fully dedicated to professional networking and job searches (available in multiple languages – I have an English and a French profile).  There are many things I love about LinkedIn.  I can connect with people from all facets of my life (high school, college, extended family, previous professional positions / jobs, recent conferences, etc.) and unlike a business card, when the person changes jobs or moves, the information remains current since they are updating it in real time.  The minute I come back from an event, I transfer all of my business card contacts to LinkedIn; in fact LinkedIn is making business cards almost obsolete – these days many people will say to me, “Let’s save paper and just connect on LinkedIn.”


My brother told me he was ‘too young’ for LinkedIn, and my father told me he was ‘too old’ for LinkedIn – they are both wrong.  I have contacts young and old – make-up artists, diversity professionals, journalists, lawyers, teachers, writers, retiree-aspiring-authors, etc.)  I’m a member of groups where I can control which news alerts I receive and how frequently – I learned about an excellent diversity conference through LinkedIn and connected with Dr. Elisabeth Kelan, a professor at King’s College London – who I subsequently had dinner with when she was in Brussels on a business trip, and who will in fact be guest blogging next week.


Apart from a number of professional groups I’ve joined on LinkedIn (one for PwC employees on international assignment with great tips and websites for expats; a few for global diversity & inclusion, Catalyst, etc.), I also get updates from my alma mater, where I connected with a current honors student who is doing work on gender identity in India, and a former classmate who works on CR initiatives for women around the world. 


You just never know when a connection will become mutually beneficial.  But please – if you do sign up, make the minimal effort to fill in basic profile information.  While it’s very cool and existential to have a big question mark where your photo should be and/or only your name to give us a hint as to who you are and what you may do, it sort of defeats the entire purpose.  If you’re new, here’s a quick LinkedIn tutorial.  A colleague said to me recently, “can you imagine how powerful our network would be if each employee was required to be on LinkedIn?”  I must agree.  The six degrees of separation principle dictates that if I’m looking for a very specific specialist to speak with, there is probably someone in the PwC network who knows someone…


Also – if you’re reading this, and we’re not connected on LinkedIn – let’s connect!


Here are a few more of my favorite technology tools that women (and men!) can use to expand their horizons:


TED – I like to incorporate audio / visuals into my presentations and this is a great place to mine compelling clips that will engage an audience.  You can view and download short, riveting speeches – check out this female child prodigy delivering a breathtaking 8-minute speech about what adults can learn from kids.


iTunesU Podcasts – You can download free lectures from some of the world’s most respected thinkers and academics.  I’ve heard Gloria Steinem talk at Yale about how the gender debate has changed (and not changed) in her lifetime; Muhammad Yunus discuss microfinance and women’s empowerment; and a lecture on how diversity has been the key to the rise of every major super power in history. 


Qlock – You can download an application to your desktop which shows the current time in the global cities of your choice.  Very useful if you work on a virtual global team as you can instantly determine whether it’s the right time to schedule / make a phone call or when to expect an email response (I have: Beijing, Paris, London, New York, Calcutta, San Francisco, and Sydney on my desktop).  Thanks for this one, Michelle!


Finally, below are links to more articles referencing social networking from The Glass Hammer:


Women and the Boardroom: Practice effective networking at all levels of your career to be on track for the boardroom


Networking Your Way to the Boardroom


10 Tips for Managing Gen Y


Ask-A-Recruiter: How Do Recruiters Search and Screen Resumes? 


à bientôt,



24 March 2010

On crowns, inclusion, and women in the Middle East

Grüß Gott!


I’ve just returned from Vienna, where I had the opportunity to view the thousand-year-old Imperial Crown of the Holy Roman Empire.  I’m not big on jewellery, but I AM big on military history (thus shattering every feminine stereotype – hey, I do my part) and this artefact, while recognizably a crown, is more of a map, a bible, and an edifice, so intricate is its construction, and so symbolic its meaning.




Why am I telling you this?  Stick with me for a few paragraphs while I try to extrapolate a wee bit of Diversity & Inclusion “history” to what PwC Middle East has done to empower its women.


The Holy Roman Empire is sometimes referenced as a well-balanced system which organized a multitude of independent states, languages, religious dominations, and different forms of government leading to great cultural diversification and thus, prosperity over a long period (about 1000 years).  In other words, it could be said that the HRE exemplifies Diversity & Inclusion.  The jargon may be new, but the concept is old as time. 


And at the other end of the spectrum?  Let’s take Thirteenth and Fourteenth century Florence and Venice – financial powerhouses, the London and New York of their day (today, financial relics, though aesthetic masterpieces).  The direst global financial collapse in history originated solely from a tight-knit group of bankers, clerics, kings, and emperors.  The crash caused the worst onslaught of death and depopulation in history – a worldwide decline of almost twenty-five percent.  The elite cohort that was responsible for this?  Categorically NOT a diverse set of individuals by any stretch of the imagination, and about exclusive as you can get.  (You can’t help but hear echoes of that oft-heard witticism: “if Lehman Brothers had been Lehman Brothers & Sisters….”)


At least in part, the particular financial crisis that jettisoned Florence and Venice from the global financial scene was caused by King Edward II and III of England defaulting on loans made by the Bardi, Peruzzi, and Acciaiuoli international banks (Fourteenth-century England was a “Third World country” to the Italian principalities).  So what changed? 


Let’s fast forward a few centuries.  In 1689, the English Parliament passed the Act of Toleration, making it a haven for those persecuted for their religious beliefs elsewhere.  Twenty years later, England united with Scotland and Wales.  With shocking rapidity, Jews founded the London Stock Exchange, almost singlehandedly making London the world’s new financial center.  Scots became the chief empire builders, the driving force in the industrial revolution as well as an intellectual bastion thanks to the likes of David Hume and Adam Smith.  Britain’s most powerful financial institution – The Bank of England – was conceived by a Scot and funded by Huguenots, with Jews brokering its biggest loans.  Et voila – a superpower emerged.


Ah, Diversity & Inclusion.  It sounds – even with my admittedly active imagination – like it has a strong correlation with economic vibrancy and innovation.  Coming back to last week’s Vienna trip, where I attended the World Diversity Leadership Summit, the U.S. Ambassador to Austria told us that:

“Exclusion is a recipe for social stagnation and economic inertia.”

Yes – so history seems to tell us, both ancient and modern.  I don’t pretend that these highly complex and multi-faceted examples tell the whole story, but they DO purport a strong argument for inclusion as an economic catalyst, and exclusion as economic poison.  Whether we’re talking about the exclusion of women or any other demographic group, this is a powerful and timely message in today’s business world.


The Middle East Region is one area of the globe where exclusion – notably the gap between the rights of men and women – has been most visible and severe; it is also a place where a very high degree of improvement has been made within a very short period of time.  In 2005, women in Kuwait received the same political rights as men; Bahrain and the UAE have appointed their first female judges.  Women have gained more freedom to travel independently and to participate in public life. 


In the spirit of these very positive strides, I want to share with you how PwC Middle East celebrated International Women’s Day.  My colleagues Lynda McCalman and Zina Janabi tell us below how they’ve used IWD as a platform to launch an exciting new gender initiative to galvanize business via female empowerment. 


“March 8, 2010 marked the 99th International Women’s Day, on which women's economic, political and social achievements were celebrated around the world.  The theme for the 2010 International Women's Day was 'Equal Rights, Equal Opportunities:  Progress For All'.  In the spirit of International Women's Day, PwC Middle East announced the launch of its Women in Business (WIB) initiative.  The goal is to attract, develop and retain women in the Middle East as PwC views women as a critical talent group to enable the firm to continue its growth in the marketplace and to deliver the best in client solutions. 


PwC Partner Lynda McCalman and PwC Senior Manager Zina Janabi are co-leading this effort across the Middle East region.


Lynda  Zina_Janabi

The approach is to drive activities through connecting with the following four groups:

  1. Women to (other PwC) Women – Internal Focus;
  2. Women to (PwC) Leadership – Internal Focus;
  3. Women to Clients (current and future) – External Focus; and
  4. Women to Community – Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR).

Globally, women face a number of challenges which impact their success in the workplace. In the Middle East there is a diverse international women community facing similar challenges. The Middle East WIB initiative was established to address these challenges, some of which include:

  • Gender-based stereotyping;
  • Preconceptions of women’s roles and abilities;
  • Exclusion from informal networks;
  • Lack of role models and mentoring;
  • Commitment to personal and family responsibilities;
  • Failure of leadership to assume accountability for women’s advancement; and
  • Ethnicity issues and HR policies.

A recent report, done by PwC on behalf of the Dubai Women Establishment, stated that nothing propels women to leadership roles more than their passion, focus and sheer determination. Their passion is not just about their career path but is brought to bear in other parts of their life, including the desire to encourage the next generation of women to strive for success. In the last few years, a significant number of women in the Middle East have reached positions of influence in business, politics, civil society, academia and the media. As a result of their success, they have not only been able to impact the industries in which they work, but have also had an important impact on the Middle East region as a whole.


Today’s successful Middle East women leaders are working in government, finance, manufacturing, and some are true entrepreneurs who have started their own companies. It is a testament to their achievements that some of these women are now becoming part of the exclusive – and previously elusive – lists in prestigious publications, including Forbes International, Forbes Arabia and Arabian Business. It is clear that women leaders in the Middle East are becoming more visible and their influence is felt across many sectors of business, despite the fact that they continue to represent a small minority in society. Yet this minority increasingly punches above its weight, and these women leaders act as role models and agents for change in the Middle East. 


We look forward to PwC Middle East contributing to the network on women in business initiatives.  Please feel free to contact Lynda McCalman or Zina Janabi with any questions.”




03 March 2010

Food for thought

Bonjour from Brussels,

I’ve just returned from sunny (oh, so sunny) Barcelona.  Growing up in the U.S., I never understood why my grandparents, aunts, and uncles spoke endlessly about the weather in Scotland.  Every conversation inevitably began with a full and detailed disclosure of the climate and precipitation report in Edinburgh (Rainy.  Cloudy.  Cold.  ALWAYS.)  This obsession with the weather always seemed very banal to me, but having lived in Paris, Luxembourg, and Brussels in the past five years, I now GET IT. 


Living in Europe is fabulous.  However, the climate in (northwest) Europe is dire.  And fickle.  (I’ve seen more than my fair share of ‘sunny showers’ – and if you don’t know what that means, consider yourself lucky).  The climate generally consists of a murky cloud cover so thick and low that you feel Armageddon is upon you.  Every day.  My younger self would be devastated to know that not only am I discussing the weather, but I’m actually writing about it in a blog – I assure you that I am getting to a point.  Which is this: I’ve realized how much the weather (and presence or absence of the sun) affects attitudes and local culture.  I’ve been told by many Europeans that Americans are known for certain things, and one of those things is a certain exuberance exhibited in the workplace.  Americans are optimistic.  Americans have a ‘can do’ attitude.  Americans use exclamation points often.  Americans burst out into applause.  A lot. 

I can’t help but think – well, yes, that’s because Americans see the sun frequently.  It’s easy to be optimistic when you see the sun more than you don’t.  Which brings me back to sunny Barcelona….where I heard a story about an American CEO of a very large and well known global company who embarked on a series of road shows.  Beginning in the U.S., he literally jogged into an auditorium full of employees to upbeat music, raising his arms for the audience to applaud in order to facilitate an energetic start to his presentation.  When he reached London, he did the same thing (‘we don’t even clap at the END of a presentation, never mind about the beginning’ explained the Brit who was telling the story).  By the time the CEO reached Tokyo, the staff were – and I quote – ‘scared stiff.’  Lesson: cultural context matters.

I heard many compelling (and significantly more serious) anecdotes about the power of gender, culture, race, and background at the Diversity & Inclusion Seminar in Barcelona; I learned and shared with diversity professionals from the European Commission, ING, JP Morgan, Nike, Novartis, Sanofi Aventis, Shell, Sodexo, UBS, and PepsiCo among others.  Our conversations confirmed the sea change that’s currently taking place in the D&I space.  Below I’ve proffered a few interesting ideas, sound bytes and advice from the professionals I met and exchanged with.  I hope they’ll provoke some reflection and discussion:

What we are trying to achieve through Diversity & Inclusion is for each employee to be able to authentically say:

I am valued. 
I belong. 
I make a difference.

Your diversity policy doesn’t matter; what matters is what you do.

My male allies in the journey to a more inclusive environment all had one thing in common and it wasn’t necessarily that they all had daughters; it was that they had a profound and pronounced sense of fairness.

When it comes to maternity leave – off-ramping and on-ramping – we can’t just train the women, we have to train the managers too, on tackling those hundred small issues that sideline careers and waste talent.

Flexibility is a talent tool – jackets on the backs of chairs have never raised share prices.

Let dissent be aired.

Don’t advertise your D&I initiatives internally; let them advertise themselves via results.

You get exactly what you expect to get; unconscious bias (whether you think a person will over-deliver or under-deliver) has a huge impact on their actual performance and productivity.

Working to progress Diversity & Inclusion takes more than a strong business case; it takes resilience, courage, relentlessness…and faith.

Organizations are the new places for meaning and purpose in the 21st Century and D&I has a large role to play in creating a work culture that honours our humanity, our passion, and our authenticity.

Share D&I practices with your competitors – there are many affinities within certain industries where we can learn from each other and the advantage comes not through the idea, but in the execution.

What would happen if the world’s largest companies all did one major thing, in a very visible way, to advance this agenda at the exact same time?

In a recent study by the IRC on diversity & talent management, 90% of top-tier organisations for women discussed diversity – explicitly – in their talent reviews.

Bring in a high-profile external diversity council made up of thought leaders and clients to challenge your leadership on diversity matters.

In one company (with 37% of women in management roles), 25% of staff have childcare duties and about the same percentage have eldercare duties – many have both.  What does this mean for employers and for the D&I agenda?

In closing, I know many of you are preparing to celebrate International Women’s Day, which is coming up on Monday the 8th of March.  I wish all of you the best with your events and activities. 

In honour of IWD, our PwC firms around the world are hosting a variety of exciting events.  At global level, PricewaterhouseCoopers is sponsoring a webcast in conjunction with Working Mother Media and Diversity Best Practices, which will focus on the role of corporate responsibility in improving the lives of women all over the world.


I’m really enjoying hearing from you about what you’re doing out there to empower women both within your companies and externally – keep it coming.

à bientôt,


17 February 2010

The Turning Point



I hope some of you have had the chance to view the Gender Agenda Debate which took place in Davos and has been airing this month on CNBC.  If you haven’t caught it on television, please click here to view a short preview as well as the entire 48-minute debate (and yes – it’s definitely worth watching by yourself, with a coach, colleague, or client, with a company leader, with a class of students, with a networking group, or with your family).  Personally, I came away with a clear sense that we have reached a turning point when it comes to gender parity and corporate culture.


The debate is energetic, controversial, and abounds with practical insight and suggestions.  Our Global Chairman, Dennis Nally captured the essence of the day’s topic in his opening question:


“How do we get past the dialoguing and get to action that everybody can benefit from, to really progress this, so that we’re not here two years from now talking about the same topic?”


Denis Nally Gender Agenda Debate Photo Feb 2010


Arianna Huffington later made an apt analogy to describe the root problems that have plagued corporate efforts around gender parity:  


“It’s like the captain of the ship has said ‘we’re going in that direction,’ but the automatic pilot is set in a different direction.  How do we change that?...We can’t just pretend that we can keep going in the direction we’ve been going and achieve different results…we’re not going to.  We need to change some fundamental things.” 


Arianna Huffington Gender Agenda Debate Feb 2010

Below, I’ve summarized the key points from the debate, and picked out a few of my favorite discussion topics (and juiciest quotes).


Team One asserted that female talent must be accessed and liberated.  “It’s about communication, education, equal opportunities from a very young age,” said Sir Martin Sorrell, CEO of WPP, “the key action companies could take would be encouraging women to return to the workforce after having a family.”  The team advocated the following:

  • The business case for gender parity must be created within your specific industry
  • Lead by example – there must be absolute alignment between talk and action
  • The basic processes of the company – hiring, appraisal, promotion – must take into account the need for gender parity
  • Create objectives around gender parity in your organization and measure them
  • Flexibility will only work if companies structure their promotion processes so that women are not penalized for taking time off

Team Two, led by Arianna Huffington, pointed out the role of company culture and social conditioning in preventing women from progressing.  “For a man to be called ruthless he has to be Joe McCarthy,” she said, “for a woman to be called ruthless, she just has to put someone on hold.”  The team shared the following insights:

  • Corporate culture produces stress and sickness that drive women away; we’ve created too many employees with heart attacks and ulcers in their 40s and 50s; this does not behoove a successful environment or culture
  • A sense of urgency is needed to bring accelerated action
  • Women have internalized feminine stereotypes. They are reluctant to be assertive and express ambition; we must educate women so that they’re not afraid to fail; there is no success without failure – it’s inevitable, it’s a part of taking risks
  • The rigidity of corporate career paths must be smashed to allow both sexes to succeed, and to reap the economic and innovation benefits of gender parity

Muhtar Kent, Chairman and CEO of Coca-Cola pointed out how important international experience is in our increasingly-globalized world for future leaders and asserted that women must have access to these opportunities.  He said:


“Mobility is a big issue – women don’t move as easily as men.  We had a European president that couldn’t move to the headquarters of our European operations, so she stayed where she was – we broke away the rigidity of the processes.  Old career paths are no longer valid if you want to get to a 50% ratio which is where we want to get to with our senior women in leadership.” 


Challenger Laura Tyson, Professor of Business at UC Berkeley, expanded on these points, alluding to research that shows women don’t offer themselves up for promotion or negotiate for higher compensation nearly to the extent that men do.  Nick Kristof, Columnist at the New York Times (and author of Half the Sky) underlined the gender stereotypes that women face in the workplace citing research that shows while men can appear to be competent, authoritative, and also nice, if women come across as competent and authoritative, it undermines the extent to which they’re perceived as nice.


Kristof also pointed out that the stage was designed (with high stools) in a manner that put the women (in skirts or dresses) at a disadvantage.  Indeed.  Try debating on international television, while also carefully maintaining your balance and posture to keep your modesty in tact (good thing women are also known for being excellent multi-taskers).  Here are a few more of the ideas, facts, and quotes that most resonated with me:




“My classmates at business school were all very talented,” said Sheryl Sandberg, COO at Facebook.  “Fifteen years later, all the men are working full time and almost none of the women are.  The women left because they had two jobs and their husbands had one.  Research shows that when a man and woman are working full time, the woman does 3.5 times more housework and childcare than the man.  And these women also left because their husbands were making more money.  Due to choices they’d made, their husbands had higher earnings, so it made more economic sense for the women to step back.” (For more on this, see theglasshammer.com article Debating the Motherhood Penalty)




Arianna Huffington said: “We’re still running businesses as if we’re in the beginning of the twentieth century…the way we’ve been doing things has basically created an incredibly sleep-deprived, stressed population at the top that’s making a lot of wrong decisions.  Look at what the international economy has gone through.  If we had more people that were less stressed, got more sleep, and had more work life balance, we might have not been on the verge of a financial meltdown…leadership is ultimately about questioning conventional wisdom.  If you’re all going in the same direction and nobody says ‘wait a minute what are we doing here?’ [then disaster results]…that’s the kind of leadership we need, especially as we move into unchartered waters.”




Carlos Ghosn, Chairman and CEO of Renault and Nissan, said: “I think we’re talking here about an environment where everybody agrees on equal opportunity and how we’re going to bring it.  And that’s not true.  There are a lot of areas in the world where it’s not obvious.  You go to Japan, to the Arab world, to areas where this basic assumption doesn’t exist…there are a lot of environments where people think you’re making this [argument for gender parity] because you’re a foreigner…or for your convictions rather than because there’s a business case.” 




Sir Martin Sorrell told the audience that he polled the senior women of WPP and found they did not want an indiscriminate quota instituted, however admitted that if progress is too slow that may be the way to go.  Muhtar Kent of Coca-Cola stressed that it is only through cultural change and not quotas that companies will achieve sustainability – by getting enough women into leadership roles now to ensure companies are better matching their expectations when the half billion new women come into the workforce in the next 10-20 years.  Sheryl Sandberg of Facebook was quite clear about how she feels:  “I never want to get a job because they have to have me; I want to get a job because I earn it.” 


Carolos Ghosn had a different take on the issue.  He pointed out that you can institute recruitment and succession quotas that don’t compromise quality – you simply refuse to close a recruitment remit or succession plan until there are equal numbers of men and women on the list – not because you’ve lowered the bar, but because you insist on searching out qualified internal candidates of both genders – or look externally if necessary.  “It takes more time,” agreed Laura Tyson, “but you can find them…and everyone benefits.”




Throughout the debate, a host of studies, polls, and reports were referenced…here are a few highlights:

  • 85% of consumer purchases are made or influenced by women, yet only 3% of advertising directors are women
  • 79% of men and 87% of women believe in the benefits of gender parity, while only 59% of men and 19% of women believe their company is actually doing something about it
  • 3 times as many women as men have taken a career ‘detour’ for their family
  • The more educated and financially independent a woman is, the more likely she is to stay married – which discounts the argument that working wives are bad for families.
  • 44% of women said they’d prefer to be the higher earner in their relationship; only 17% of women said they would



Personally, as I watched the two teams present and volley back and forth, I was most engaged by Facebook COO Sheryl Sandberg.  I bring this up because I’ve been reminded lately that one of the barriers to women progressing is their lack of ‘public profile.’  In other words, they are not enough exposed in front of audiences (whether internal company presentations, or high-profile media talking engagements) – either because they’re not asked, don’t volunteer, or lack confidence. 


Sheryl Sandberg Gender Agenda Debate Feb 2010

Sheryl was so compelling to me because of all the presenters, she seemed the most prepared.  The most succinct.  She provided personal anecdotes that gave texture to her assertions.  And she had a very strong point-of-view.  Good public speaking can do wonders for the profile of future leaders – it gets them noticed, and I believe women aiming for the top, should take heed.  For more on public speaking, I recommend John Zimmer’s blog, Manner of Speaking, which provides everything from tips on good public speaking and critiques of speeches, to fun and inspirational quotes.  I also recommend theglasshammer.com’s recent article, 5 Ways to Increase Your Employability (hint: public speaking is one of them).


I’ll leave you with a quote from Sheryl that particularly resonated with me:


“Because [women leave the workforce] we all lose.  We lose because our companies aren’t as profitable, because we waste talent.  Most important we limit women’s ability to contribute in the workforce, and even more important we limit men’s ability to contribute at home.  I think it’s too late for my generation…but it’s not too late for my goddaughter who’s a freshman in college, and for my [young] son and daughter.  I want more choices for my children, both at home and at work.”


à bientôt,



28 January 2010

On sex and matters of the heart

2010 is here.  And the gender debate percolates… 

The Economist opened the year with its Rosie the Riveter cover, boldly announcing: We Did It!  If you read the series of articles, make sure to also check out Nicki Gilmour’s discerning commentary: Gender Equality is Here and Other Media Myths that Keep Unconscious Bias Alive on theglasshammer.com (summary: Ahem.  With women running 2-5% of large companies, gender equality ain’t quite here, folks). 

Well, gender equality may not be here – yet – but it’s certainly on the mind of world leaders this week.


On Wednesday, French President Nicolas Sarkozy opened The World Economic Forum’s Annual Meeting in Davos (following Norway’s lead, Sarkozy’s party currently has gender parity ‘quota’ legislation on the table that would turn the Paris Stock Exchange 50% female by 2015).

The Forum’s Women Leaders and Gender Parity Programme promotes women’s leadership and the closing of global gender gaps.  One session will focus on how business, government and civil society can set the stage for The Girl Effect to materialize in economies around the globe (a recent study in Kenya estimates that adolescent pregnancy alone costs the economy US $500 million per year, while investing in girls would potentially add US $3.2 billion to the economy).

PwC will play a key role at two of these gender-focused sessions.  Our Global Chairman, Dennis Nally, will act as a challenger on a CNBC panel debate that PwC is sponsoring, entitled:

The Gender Agenda: Why Sex Matters

The debate will center around the question:  With men at the helm of most large companies, could the key to gender equality lie in convincing male CEOs their companies will perform better with more women at the top?


Along with Dennis Nally, Nick Kristof, Columnist at the New York Times (and author of Half the Sky), and Laura Tyson, Professor of Business at UC Berkeley will also act as challengers.  They will engage single gender and mixed-gender teams comprised of senior executives (Bain & Company, The Coca-Cola Company, Facebook, Renault-Nissan Alliance, WPP) and thought leaders (Arianna Huffington) in discussion; each team will present groundbreaking ideas around two topics:

1. How can corporate leaders change their company's DNA to achieve more gender equality?

2. Why should corporate leaders make gender equality a top priority?

Click here to find out when the debate will air in your region – of course I’ll be filling you in on a future blog post as well (another great resource for engaging men in the gender debate is Catalyst’s report – Engaging Men in Gender Initiatives: What change agents need to know.

In addition to this debate, Bob Moritz, Chairman of PwC U.S. is one of five presenters at a complimentary session entitled: Achieving Gender Parity: What works?  The session explores five solutions for closing gender gaps and audience members then deliberate on how these can be replicated, scaled up, and enhanced to have a transformational impact.  Bob will present PwC U.K.'s Women's Leadership Program which helped increase new female partner admissions in the Advisory practice from zero to twenty percent in just one year.  I’ll be filling you in on the output of that session as well (Click here for last year’s summary).

Judging by current conversations, events, and news stories on gender parity, the prevailing message seems to be: Okay.  We’ve been talking about this for years now.  We’ve implemented programs.  We’ve communicated the business case.  And progress has been TOO SLOW – what’s next?  I’m hopeful this means the global community is entering a paradigm shift where we’ll see exponential change via sweeping positive actions.  Maybe I’m naïve, but to paraphrase Will Smith quoting Confucius: “She who says she can and she who says she can’t are both usually right.”

Personally, I think the gender conversation is now about getting the message from head to heart.  I’m encouraged that our own Chairman is engaged in the gender debate (both literally and figuratively).  But how do we get that ‘heart change’ from stakeholders who understand the business case, but have NOT embraced it in their actions and behaviors?  We hear often change comes from an ‘aha’ moment – an experience when senior leaders see the ‘magic’ of diversity in action.  For Daniel Gill, former CEO of Bausch & Lomb that moment came when his own daughter experienced difficulties in her career related to her gender; he became passionate about the issue and began taking action at the company.  How can we engender ‘aha’ moments for people that still don’t get it?  I was talking about this on a phone conversation recently with Liz Cornish, Leadership Coach and Author, and she posed the question to me:

“when did YOU have a change of heart about something important, and what CAUSED it?”

What a simple, magnificent question to ask ourselves as we champion women’s economic empowerment in the corporate world and beyond; let’s use our answers to that question to forge ahead.

à bientôt,


P.S. – don’t forget that International Women’s Day is coming up on Monday, 8th of March.  Got plans?  I’d love to hear what you and your companies are doing to celebrate.  I’d also love to hear about your own gender diversity ‘aha’ moments or those of your leaders. 

01 December 2009

From Australia to Chad…on moments that take your breath away

Hello again.  This week I’ve asked a colleague based in Australia – Kathryn Wightman-Beaven – to guest blog.  I speak with Kathryn regularly as part of our efforts to both formally and informally connect PwC’s diversity and inclusion efforts with our corporate responsibility work.  I’ve never felt more proud to be an employee of PwC than the day I found out that via our 10-year anniversary celebration (The Power of 10 campaign) our firms and people had donated US$4 million to a collaborative project to educate the children of Darfur – the largest corporate cash donation in the history of the United Nations Refugee Agency.  Below is Kathryn’s moving description about her recent visit to Chad to view the progress of this project, including reflections about shifting gender roles in the camp and the moment that took her breath away. 

“The world of technology I often think has passed me by.  People talk about tweeting, blogging, widgets, facebook – I see the lips move but not sure if I hear what they are saying, so when I was asked to be a ‘guest blogger’ on the gender agenda blog, I had this strange sense that I would be opening my thoughts to the wider world that I could not see – yet they would be getting a glimpse of me.  And as I thought about this in more detail, I realized that this wasn’t so bad - the experiences I have had over the past month or two or indeed past few years should be shared.  After all, you never know what chain reactions may occur…..

In my role as Director for Global Corporate Responsibility and as the project lead for our flagship project Educating the Children of Darfur, I was fortunate to travel to Chad with Rick Millen, to visit the refugee camps and see first hand the difference the collective impact of PwC and the funds raised during the Power of 10 campaign.

I’ve been fortunate in my life and career to date.  I’ve worked with disadvantaged, disillusioned young people, alcoholics, constant re-offenders, people with long term drug addictions, young women with advanced stages of ovarian cancer.  All these interactions didn’t just give me a sense of perspective, but also grounding and in all my roles I try to use this to effect change inside out.  My path has crossed with many others; a special few have left a mark.  I might add that most have been women; women that have demonstrated an immense amount of courage, determination, humour and vision.

So I thought I was prepared to go to Chad.  I couldn’t have been more wrong!  I’m sure everyone has images of refugee camps in their minds. Nothing quite prepares you.  I had heard many stories from the UNHCR about the women in the camps, their roles, marriage, children and I was keen to explore this further.


I was struck by the stark and barren nature of the camps; on the border with Sudan and in the middle of the desert reside 20,000 refugees.  There are 12 camps along the border.  Each refugee starts their new life with a plastic shelter and the basic rations – from there they build their lives.  As most refugees have been in the camps since 2004, when you walk into the camps we were greeted not by a sea of blue UNHCR plastic sheets but mud houses – built bottom up from the ground.  On the whole of it, the women have built the houses. Each house is a home to a family that might comprise immediate children and the extended family.   The houses are immaculate.  It was interesting to see the stark contrast between the mud houses and the concrete built new schools with corrugated iron roofs.   The schools had been built by the men and the homes by the women.

On many occasions we heard that in Darfur the men would be the head of the household, so as they fled the conflict, they left behind their livelihood and their jobs and arriving in Chad the men felt disempowered. The women on the other hand took a more leading role – building the home (literally) looking after the children, maybe becoming a teacher, collecting firewood and water.  The social hierarchy started to change but with that brings unrest as the men struggled to come to terms with their reduced role and in some cases it might lead to domestic violence.  I compare that with my own circumstances where my husband runs his own business from home and looks after our 20 month old daughter and I work full time – this arrangement gives us flexibility and balances work and home without compromise.  We take a joint approach to the responsibilities we have.  This is not the case in the camps.  So it was interesting to learn that some of the girls are now starting to see life differently – they don’t all want to marry young and have many children.  In fact, one young lady told us that she may not marry until she is in her 20’s!  Can you imagine their horror when I told them that I was in my late (ish) 30’s when I had my daughter, Charity, and that she was at home with her dad whilst I was in Chad!  A role reversal that some found hard to comprehend!  For me it seemed quite normal – in fact a necessity.  For me to explain and talk to Charity about the roles we play in society, our global obligations, the importance of social change and the role that women play in taking change forward meant I have to do this with integrity and that meant being away from her for two and a half weeks to visit the camps and see the project PwC is supporting.

“Life is not measured by the number of breaths you take but by the moments that take your breath away”

Whilst in the camp, I spent a lot of the time talking (as much as I could in English and very poor French) to the women and the children.  Actually, the children just wanted to play with me, touch my hands and laugh!  The women were more reserved – often they would sit at the back of the room and say very little.  On one occasion, after a meeting with the community leaders had finished, I wandered down to the back of the classroom to chat with the women –as we sat and laughed at my awful French and non existent Arabic, one of the ladies asked me as she waved her hands towards me, to take her baby back to Australia to lead a better life.  This was a moment that took my breath away.  I have reflected on that moment many times since then – what must have gone through her mind to ask me that and how bleak she must have felt abut the future to consider such a sacrifice.  We often talk about the PwC Experience and I have many times tried to put myself in her shoes to understand why she asked me this question.  When I think about the role of women in our organisation, society at large and our communities – this experience and this woman in particular has given me a different perspective.  We talk many times about the business imperative of a diverse workforce, role models and the emotional intelligence diversity brings – this experience brings a different perspective to diversity and reminds me not to lose sight of some of the fundamental issues.

“To accomplish great things, we must not only act, but also dream; not only plan, but also believe.”

19 November 2009

Feelings are facts and perceptions are reality…

Hello, bonjour, and goedemorgen!

I’ve just returned from Holland, where I had the pleasure of attending an International Women of Excellence event with professionals from IBM, American Express, Shell, TNT, BAE Systems, and Philips (some of the panellists are pictured below).  It was a day full of revelations for me, but before I get to that I must tell you that Amsterdam is one of my favourite European cities (and not just because I saw The Killers play a rousing set at the Heineken Music Hall in May).

There are few pleasures I enjoy more than strolling the city’s canals on a mild night and peering into the milk-bottle shaped houses that line the water.  Many inhabitants keep their curtains open (I’ve been told this is a remnant of Calvinist tradition – a gesture to show they’ve nothing to hide, literally or figuratively) and you can frequently see the gorgeous interiors of the canal houses – some modern, some traditional – often with quirky nooks and crannies including enormous floor-to-ceiling built-in bookshelves, heaving with books.  Incidentally, the same friend explained that Amsterdam has more books in more languages per capita than any other city in the world – it’s definitely my kind of town.

So – now that that’s out of the way, let me share with you the significant wisdom of Peter Korsten, Global Leader of the IBM Institute of Business Value (and, I’m pleased to say, a PricewaterhouseCoopers’ alumni!)  Peter began by distributing a recent article in de Volkskrant, one of The Netherlands’ leading newspapers.  The article summarized research done on “why the flow of women to the top falters.”  831 of the most influential business executives at top companies in The Netherlands were polled.  Here are a few quotes from these executives as printed in the article:

“Women are not ready [to be top executives].”

“Men choose men [for leadership positions].”

“Women cannot handle the pressure [of leadership coupled] with the private sphere.”

“The rise of ‘female-friendly behaviour’ [i.e., quotas] means concessions to quality.”

“In selecting the really senior executives, the rules are different.  And those [rules] are rarely public.”

“Female directors…have negative experiences with other women at the top.”

So.  What to do with this information, besides sigh forlornly and shake our heads?

Well, one of the researchers is quoted as saying: “The [leadership] summit has been designed by men for centuries.  They feel naturally at home there.  Women think they have to adapt themselves to that profile, which creates a self-reinforcing system.  And that is unfortunate, because by giving women the space [to be themselves], they can tap into their own unique power, which is what provides added value [to business].  The only way forward is thus, to achieve re-development of the summit.”

“Re-development of the summit” is a phrase that really resonated with me.  It’s consistent with what I’ve been hearing from other thought leaders lately – that we need to stop trying to change women and start rethinking entire business models – not just to accommodate women, but to accommodate all of our best talent and to tap into different skill sets.

Peter Korsten also gave us some hope.  He used the newspaper article to launch a discussion, pointing out that although some of the comments made by these top executives may not be palatable, “feelings are facts – perceptions are reality,” and women should therefore seek to know and understand how they are perceived by men in the workplace.  Peter also shared some of IBM’s history to demonstrate the critical role of company culture in creating an inclusive environment that capitalizes on the diverse strengths of its employees to achieve innovation.  Did you know that IBM hired its first female and black employees in 1899 and its first handicapped employees in 1914?  That their first FEMALE Vice President was appointed in 1943?  Did you know that in 1953 IBM instituted an equal opportunity policy for everyone regardless of background and/or sexual orientation?  I didn’t. 

In the context of the social and political milieu of the U.S. at that time, these figures are quite astonishing and go a long way towards explaining why IBM is a role model company for global diversity and inclusion today.  As Peter pointed out, the culture was set by top management at a very early stage; diversity is not, therefore, just about quotas or numbers, “but about asking ourselves whether we have included everyone in our way of working.” 

When asked by a participant how he practices inclusion on his own team, Peter gave an interesting example: he asks a female team member to review every communication he sends to the CEO or other senior level executives.  He explained that women “read with different eyes” and that they always have an opinion, a question, or suggestion that causes him to edit the message for higher impact and clarity.

Here are Peter’s tips for success that he shared with us:

  1. Always say YES when asked to do something (then go back later to the person who asked in order to set parameters and contingencies – such as personnel and financial resources that you will need to deliver).
  2. Position yourself with self-confidence and strength – BE WHO YOU ARE.
  3. Network with a goal and then be the “spider” in the web – KNOW what you want to be famous for.
  4. Use questions to gain perspective from the other and to help others think.
  5. Know what needs to be done and do it with conviction and perfection.

I actually find that “perfectionism” is something I have to overcome – an inhibitor of progress that snags me from time to time, but I think I get Peter’s last point which speaks more to excellence and commitment.  In any case, I found his tips useful and will try to practice them in my daily work so they become habit.  When I can apply such principles with discipline, I do see a marked change in my work. 

For example, something we as employees are encouraged to do at PwC is to put ourselves in each others’ shoes.  I’ve been making a concerted effort to do that for some time now, and it has proven to be an amazing enabler of collaboration and relationships.  The pace of the modern world can make it difficult to stop and take a moment to consider where another person is coming from (both literally and figuratively), but when I’m able to do so (and I am – with increasing frequency), it changes the entire dynamic of my conversations.

In my first blog post, I promised postings on France, Foreigners and Four-letter words.  I’ve covered France with the fabulous 2009 Women’s Forum in Deauville, but will be coming to you soon on the latter two topics, as well as sharing some insight about PwC’s diversity & inclusion efforts in 2010.  Stay tuned…

à bientôt,





06 November 2009

Who will we choose to be?

Greetings from an autumn-infused New York City! 

I managed to take a detour on my walk from a conference in Times Square to our PwC office on Madison Avenue the other day and can report that the trees in Central Park are awash in breathtaking hues of orange, yellow, and red, the air crisp and surprisingly fresh for the city that never sleeps.  What a fortunate time to be visiting my US Office of Diversity colleagues.  The PwC US Firm was honoured last week and this week with two different awards.  For the sixth year in a row, they clinched a spot on The Top 10 Best Company for Working Mothers list.  This was also the 15th year that PwC US has been listed in the Top 100, earning them a place on Working Mother’s “100 Best” Hall of fame list.

DiversityInc also recognized the US Firm as number 5 in their Top 50 Companies for Diversity list (DiversityInc has also recognized PricewaterhouseCoopers as the Number One Company for Global Diversity in both 2008 and 2009).

This week I watched our Global Chairman, Dennis Nally, accept the DiversityInc award for the Top Company for Working Families.  In his remarks to the audience, he noted that:

“retaining talented women is a business imperative that will outlast the financial crisis…bad times don’t last, but good people do.” 

Earlier in the evening, I spoke with Dennis about his personal vision for our global diversity agenda during his tenure as Chairman, and I look forward to sharing some outcomes of that conversation in future blog posts.  This latter award ceremony took place in tandem with DiversityInc’s How Leadership Expresses Diversity Commitment event, in which we had the privilege of hearing not only Dennis, but a number of leading CEOs, government officials and academics discuss the topic.  What amazed me about these speakers was how they shared their passion for diversity in such personal ways – the authenticity in their words was palpable.  One CEO talked about how he had to make a difficult decision for the company that detracted from his church’s views because “it was the right thing to do.”  Another described how, when facing a pivotal question about which Employee Resource Groups to create, he asked his children for their input (and encouraged his executive team to do the same) to ensure he was creating a company that would be not just acceptable, but inspiring to future generations of workers.  I found it encouraging that when put to the test these leaders made tough personal choices and demonstrated a willingness to be open to new ideas and ways of thinking to create a more inclusive workplace. 

On a personal note, I experienced three firsts at this conference: I heard speeches from Diego Sanchez, the first transgender person to work on Capitol Hill, and Judith E. Heumann, a polio survivor and disability-rights activist who is the director of the D.C. Department of Disability.  The stories of both individuals reminded me of how important it is to put ourselves in each others’ shoes, and in fact another speaker, Dr. Ella Bell of Dartmouth University, summed up the importance of this principle to business as she pointed out that only when we bring our WHOLE selves to our work can we “walk into our brilliance.”  She encouraged all of us to “think bigger and more creatively” about diversity and to connect our leadership styles with our personal stories, or what she called, “Myography” (I’d love to hear from you about how your personal stories inspire your own work.)  The final “first” for me was the realization that I myself was one of the “leaders” in the room.  Multiple speakers throughout the event reminded me that you don’t have to have a fancy title on your business card to be a leader.  After all, aren’t we all leaders of some sort?  Leaders of people, teams, projects, families, and other groups?  Aren’t we all, every day, behaving in ways that may be emulated by the people we’re interacting with, whether they be our colleagues, our friends, or our families?

Dr. Cornel West of Princeton University delivered one of the most stirring speeches I’ve heard in a long time (he’s one of those people who can employ words in a way that makes your hair stand up on end).  After making the case for the connection between diversity and quality in the corporate world (and indeed, in the world in general – “diversity is good for business,” he said, “and it’s good for the soul”), Dr. West posed a question to all of the leaders in the room: 

“In the middle of womb and tomb, who will we choose to be?”

He went on to remind us that so many people have become preoccupied by the Glass ceiling, that they forget about “people in the basement and on the seventh floor” – in other words he feels America is still not tapping into the incredible talent of its diverse population.  Dr. West warned against arrogance, urging leaders to be “unsettled, uncomfortable and unnerved” in order to grow (indeed, living in Europe for the past four years has taught me that the times when I feel most out of my comfort zone are the times that I stretch most as a human being and a business professional). 

“Diversity as a business imperative,” said Dr. West, “is not rhetoric; it’s indispensible for business flourishing here and around the world.”  He urged the audience to “lift your voices AND your ears” – a sentiment which underlined the theme of an earlier session on Emotional Intelligence in which we learned the importance of the art of listening when leading teams.  He encouraged us to have role models; not celebrities or people in the spotlight, but people that touch our lives regularly, people who we can actually see and hear – in person – on a regular basis (“Oprah is not a role model,” he explained – which did produce a sigh from me, as I’m a rather devoted reader of her magazine, which regularly features inspiring women entrepreneurs from around the globe).  The expression of diversity is about “being myself…in a respectful way,” he said.  He pointed out that if our goal is innovation, we can’t have one corporate model which everyone must imitate, but rather we must create an environment in which employees can “find their voices, not just their echoes.”  This, I think, is a concept that has become critical to businesses as it relates to products and services, but also to sustainability.  When asked about how he feels about the disillusionment of the young generation in light of the financial crisis and the obstacles that still remain, Dr. West replied:  “I am a prisoner of hope.”  That’s a sentiment that I’ll definitely embrace as we move forward with our own diversity agenda, and one that resonated with me after my conversation with Dennis and diversity practitioners I’ve met this week.

I’m leaving the US shortly to fly back to Belgium, but will return with many thought-provoking ideas and input for our global journey from diversity leaders at large companies and from my US colleagues.   Speaking of which, if you’re a fan of the television show Mad Men, I encourage you to check out Jennifer Allyn’s Forbes’ article called, “Why Gen Y Women Need to Tune In”.  I also highly recommend her recent piece, “Reclaiming Mommy Tracks” which addresses the question: What if all women returning from maternity leave were given several transition options instead of having to negotiate ad hoc arrangements?  Finally, if you have (literally) a few minutes, do check out the excellent “10 Minutes on Managing Diversity”, which is a very short, very powerful, and very practical read on diversity and competitive business advantage.

à bientôt,


26 October 2009

“Men love war and women love warriors”…and other dead clichés

“Men love war and women love warriors,” quoted Gassan Salamé, Professor of International Relations at the Institut d’Etudes Politiques in France at last week’s Women’s Forum for the Economy & Society.  Needless to say, this got QUITE a reaction from the audience; of course the reading of the quote was intentionally provocative – Salamé was illustrating how such clichés have lost their meaning.  In fact, much of this year’s Forum focused on the need to completely rethink our most basic societal institutions: government, healthcare, schools, and – of course – business in order not only to thrive, but to survive.

PricewaterhouseCoopers has been has been a corporate partner of the Forum since its inception in 2005.  This “Davos for Women” was astonishing for a first-timer like myself.  I found it fitting that the Forum takes place in Deauville, a seaside town in the Normandy region of France.  Apart from being my personal favourite place in Europe, Normandy is a rather poignant location for a women’s business conference.  In 1944, hundreds of thousands of men landed on its beaches, a feat that would eventually help end World War II.  An ancillary effect of this was that back in the allies’ homelands, MILLIONS of women went to work outside the home for the first time ever to support the war effort and fill vacant jobs.  In America alone, “Rosie the Riveter” increased the number of working women to about 20 million.

And here I was in Normandy, seeing the legacy of that string of events…six decades later.

To give you an idea of the scope of the conference, I have to share how it FELT.  Imagine being in the midst of one thousand (mostly) female leaders of every age and race, from 70 countries.  Imagine women dressed in suits, head scarves, and boldly coloured African robes.  Imagine hearing women’s voices – French and English (spoken in a melodic range of accents).  Imagine the pervasive sillage (an apt French word, roughly meaning “the scent trail left by perfume”).  Imagine being in the enormous Centre International de Deauville, where typical French elegance suffused every last detail, from the omnipresent purple logo, to the young women staffing the event, in matching black tailored dresses, pressed ribbons circling their waists.  Being surrounded by this many diverse women at a business event was inspiring…and comfortable.

Around the corner from the plenary room, participants could peruse the “Discovery Hall.”  Among the places to visit in this area: the Cartier’s Women’s Initiative Awards corner; the Capgemini Brainstorming Corner (containing a huge mural with key phrases and drawings summarizing each session as they happened); Elle magazine’s “Women for Education” wall; L’Oréal’s Writer’s Corner, featuring an exhibit on “The Origins of Beauty.”  My colleagues from PwC’s Paris office were hosting our own “Sustainability Club,” calculating and offsetting the greenhouse gas emissions of participants’ travel to finance an electricity and heat biomass project in Karnataka, India.  As my colleagues described their daily work in PwC’s Sustainability practice, I was struck by how the competencies of business have changed so dramatically, even during my ten years in the work force. 

More than anything, the conference woke me up to new information and ideas that inspired me, and I’d like to share some of those with you.


What does this have to do with business?  Well, a lot, it turns out. Janine Benyus, President of the Biomimicry Institute in the U.S. explained that scientists are now working with architects and businesses to construct environment-friendly products and office buildings.  Benyus stressed that we are living in a time when “all of our certainties have crumbled,” and spoke of the “quieting of human arrogance” (what a beautiful and resonant phrase for 2009).  She urged us to look outside our species for the solutions to our social, environmental and business problems, citing how organisms have used CO2 as a building block, rather than a poison; how ocean creatures transform salt-water into fresh water.  In other words, she urged us to look to the natural world for innovation.  Benyus countered the business-as-usual assumption that short-term profit is paramount, explaining that the definition of success in the natural world is about ensuring life 10,000 years from now.  She also exploded the myth that the natural world is a purely competitive place, describing two coral reefs that had been devastated by a tsunami – the one that regenerated itself was an ecosystem that thrived on cooperation, which led to its resilience (when I shared this with my husband, he told me that economists have also looked at ecosystems to understand financial markets and how they might work better.  Who knew?  Not me!)  Indeed, business can learn innovation from the natural world.

PwC Partner Sonja Barendregt-Roojers spoke at a roundtable panel on Business Innovation, expressing the need to reward innovation and create an environment where staff feels comfortable bringing creative ideas to the table.  Another panellist pointed out that certain companies allow 30% of their employees’ time to be dedicated purely to brainstorming activities – getting outside the office, away from daily monotonous tasks – to simply reflect.  I asked myself whether I bring that kind of creative energy to my own work; do you?


The Millennial generation values their contribution to society as much as (often more than) their paychecks.  Anne Lauvergeon, Chair of AREVA, France pointed out that young employees and recruits want to see the “human project” at the centre of things…including business; they want to be useful in a broad sense.  To engage future leaders, businesses must adapt.  While recognizing the economic crisis as critical, she pointed out that it’s only one of many crises we’re facing today.  She asked us to consider the climate change crisis.  The demographic crisis.  The food and water crisis.  The energy crisis.  The healthcare crisis.  The poverty crisis.  The education crisis. 

You could’ve heard a pin drop as we all took a proverbial step back to reflect on the profundity of this statement.  After all, what will business be without educated people?  Without healthy people?  Without…people, full stop?

Lauvergeon noted that the world has changed dramatically, but that institutions have not.  I can’t help but mention that she cited life-expectancy as an example – raising her eyebrow as she noted that “the average marriage lasted ten years; now it lasts fifty years.”  Humour aside, I couldn’t help but think how accurately this describes the business world – an inflexible and in many ways arcane institution largely built by men, for men, assuming a wife at home to handle the domestic work.  We all know that this in no way reflects the reality of our lives today, with families often comprised of single parents or dual-earners.  Lauvergeon urged us to go back to the basics, revolutionizing our institutions and jettisoning the idea that short-term profits are paramount.  “Women are not better,” she said, “but they have a better sense for long-term things.” 


If evidence shows that companies with diversity in top management are around 30% more profitable, why do we still only have a handful of women in management? 

According to one speaker, the reason is that even male leaders intellectually understand the business case, they haven’t internalized it (a friend of mine often says “it’s a long way from head to heart”).  The argument goes that because top male leaders continue to surround themselves with people that look, act, and think like them, they’ve never actually experienced the power of diversity in action, even while knowing that diverse teams outperform homogonous ones.  What's encouraging, according to the panellists, is that leaders (both men and women) often become staunch supporters of diversity when they see the "magic" of it on teams.


The way forward is cooperation – collective movement fostered by personal action and sharing success stories.  Eleanor Roosevelt began holding press conferences where only female journalists were allowed, thus forcing newspapers to hire women reporters.  We may not all have the executive authority of Roosevelt, but as Karen Kornbluh, U.S. Ambassador to the OECD reminded us, we all have a personal responsibility to make ourselves into agents of change.  “When we turn on our laptop,” she said, “we’re as powerful as anybody.”  Personally, I do see my female friends and colleagues making use of new tools – such as social media and educational podcasts – to help themselves and others, to network and share information faster than ever before.  I try to do my part by telling anyone and everyone who will listen to me about the business case for diversity; I also share the REAL numbers regarding women leaders around the world in business, politics and other positions of power (I find that very few individuals know that although women make up half the world's workforce, we make up only a tiny percentage of leadership – people assume that’s a thing of the past; many also aren't aware of the significant business advantages that diversity brings to the table).  I ask my friends about their own experiences with diversity in their professions as doctors, lawyers, teachers, and journalists (and I’d love to hear from you about the big and little things you do, or are doing around empowering and educating women and men to use diversity as a change agent.)
“Leadership is not a position,” said Ndidi Nwuneli, Founder and Director of LEAP Africa, “leadership is an action.”  She also shared a beautiful and pertinent African proverb: “Go fast, go alone; go far, go with others.”

In her opening remarks, Forum founder Aude Zieseniss de Thuin stated that it is our personal responsibility to create change; that the financial crisis brings a new opportunity to build a “new deal” between generations and countries to create a “more balanced and respectful world.”  She said that women will be the “pillars” of such renewal. 

Over the course of the conference many speakers were asked what women (or said differently, a “feminine leadership style”) bring to the table.  The answers varied: Results.  A long-term view.  Diversity of thought.  Less selfishness.  A pragmatic approach to business.  More persistence.  More courage.  Better cooperation.  Long-term planning.

These seem to me the very attributes that will address the issues – financial and other – that were at the heart of this conference. 

My Dutch colleague turned to me after a one of the sessions and said, “Isn’t it great to get inspired once in a while?”

Yes.  Yes, it is indeed great to get inspired once in a while. 

à bientôt,


Deauville Capgem Mural2

Deauville Capgem Mural3

Deauville Capgem Mural

Deauville Elle Education2

Deauville Elle Education


14 October 2009

Bonjour from Brussels

Bonjour from Brussels!

I’m thrilled to be writing you my first blog entry, having been passed the proverbial torch from my friend and former colleague, Cleo Thompson.  Cleo’s passion for diversity took our global effort from its inception in 2006 to what it is today – a dynamic, prolific, and award winning initiative (take a stroll around the website to see what the Gender Advisory Council has accomplished with Cleo at the helm).  Thanks to Cleo’s commitment to my development (she was my coach!) I’ve had the opportunity to contribute to a number of GAC projects over the years (she’s also been instrumental in growing my reading list significantly – and YES, I have seen the bookcase in her home, and YES, it is Something to Behold.)

Having told people about my new role as Global Gender Advisory Council Programme Office Leader, their reactions can be summed up in the following ways:

“Wow!  Your title is almost as long as your company name!”


“Wow!  What an amazing role!  How did you get it?”

The truth is, I’ve been reflecting a lot lately on how I got here (for more on my background, you can check out my bio – to make a long story short, I was born in Scotland, raised mostly in the U.S., and live in Europe).  With hindsight, I think the single most important element in my career trajectory was the first PwC Partner I worked for in Washington, D.C.  At the time I wouldn’t have called Jim my “mentor” but in retrospect that’s exactly what he was.  From him I learned practical skills that I realized recently have become firmly embedded in the way I work.

From my day one with the firm, he taught me to run his office like a small business; I learned time management, efficiency, relationship-building, professionalism, and (most important!) resourcefulness.  He taught me that details not only matter, but are in fact what separate the Very Good from the Best.  In other words, he taught me what client service really means.  He also showed me the importance of courage and risk-taking; at a time when the internet was still relatively new (I can see Millennials fainting off their chairs left and right), we drove our business on-line via an innovative communication tool.  This exercise also taught me how to achieve credibility and consensus with stakeholders, as well as how to put together a strong fact-based business case (something that’s central to our diversity efforts).

I learned relationship-building skills through role modelling; Jim demonstrated trust by inviting me to sit on conference calls and meetings with Partners, client executives, and in some cases, Congressmen – at first as an observer and eventually, when I gained enough experience, as an active contributor.  I believe this trust grew my confidence as I gradually learned to interact and articulate myself in a professional environment.  Jim palpably demonstrated transparency in our projects and communications which is something that’s served me well in my own career.  He staffed me on high profile projects that gave me exposure to senior PwC Partners.  This visibility and the resulting networking were key factors in me clinching a secondment to Europe in 2005. 

Finally, Jim definitely taught me the Art of Not Taking Yourself Too Seriously – we laughed a lot on our team.  A lot.  I’ve always found that the times when I’m having the most fun at work coincide with my most productive and creative spells (and with my HR background, I know that this bears out in research – having fun is good for business).

I guess you could say I was lucky in working for a boss very early in my career who accelerated my growth as a professional; but in my experience, even if we’re not working on the “ideal” project or in the “ideal” environment, there are always little things we can be doing to get closer to where we want to be.  We can actively seek out mentors, aligning ourselves with experienced colleagues who have the specific skills and competencies that we admire and aspire to; we can volunteer for interesting or high-profile assignments.  As a famous football (the American kind) coach once said “inches make champions.”

And speaking of “champions,” I’m pleased to tell you that Dennis Nally will be personally championing diversity at PwC during his tenure as Chairman of our global network.  As a result of Dennis’s engagement, some compelling new things are coming down the pipeline – stay tuned as I’ll be sharing those developments with you here in future posts.  We also have a few exciting diversity events coming up this month and I’ve been in conversations with a series of businesswomen who’ve given me great ideas for topics (coming soon to the blog: France, Foreigners, and Four-letter words…)

à bientôt,
(that’s roughly French for ‘until next time’)


Oh and –

P.S. – thanks, Jim!

01 September 2009

From here to maternity

Hello again; I hope that, wherever you are, you’ve had a great summer/winter, delete as appropriate.  Here in London, I’ve spotted some thought provoking messaging out there at the moment about being a mother and the impact it can have on your career.  Were I planning or hoping to have a baby in the near future, I think I’d be pretty dismayed to have read the following over the last few weeks.

  • Women are being urged to test their fertility at the age of 30 –
  • But those who do become pregnant and take maternity leave face bullying; a situation blamed, as is so much at the moment, on the recession;
  • The Fawcett Society’s most recent report (available as a free download) carries the title “Not Having It All” - and the more chilling sub-title “How motherhood reduces women’s pay and employment prospects” and tells us that, in a nutshell, pregnancy and motherhood makes women vulnerable to discrimination, pay disparities and an enhanced risk of unemployment.
  • So it’s hardly surprising that the always-on-the-case Glass Hammer website has picked up on this and run an interesting and highly relevant story on professional women choosing to remain childless. As the article points out: “Based on what we know, why would successful women continue choosing to have children if the detriments to their career are so unavoidable and widespread?” 

With my global hat on, I can’t help thinking that if the situation is this bad in the UK and the USA, two countries which do at least have some level of protective legislation in place, then what must it be like elsewhere?  The Fawcett Society is calling for new policy responses to reduce the impact of motherhood on a woman’s earnings. Four priority areas emerge from their report and, whilst the recommendations are primarily aimed at governments, I also think that organisations could make substantive interventions around at least two of these four points – what do you think?

  1. Provide mothers with the support they need to return to jobs at their previous skills levels
  2. Enforce and extend the law to protect pregnant women and women on maternity leave
  3. Create substantially more part-time work in higher paid occupations
  4. Tackle the low pay that exists in sectors primarily employing women.

Nicholas Kristof of the New York Times and the man who shared the phrase “Lehman Sisters” with the world via his “Mistresses of the universe” op-ed column earlier this year has a new co-authored book entitled ““Half the Sky: Turning Oppression Into Opportunity for Women Worldwide” out in a few weeks’ time, in which he states that:

“The world is awakening to a powerful truth: Women and girls aren’t the problem; they’re the solution.”

By the mere fact of your reading this blog entry, you are likely to agree with his words; let’s hope that the increasing pressure of voices like Mr Kristof’s starts to create some momentum for women everywhere, be they our corporate sisters in New York and London or our sisters working to change their live via micro-credit in Pakistan.

This is my last Gender Agenda entry, as I am, after eight years with PwC and three with the Gender Advisory Council, moving on at the end of my secondment to the GAC.  I am not quite sure as yet what my future holds, other than that I know that I will continue to work in some kind of global gender diversity related capacity; once you’ve found your passion, it’s hard to let go!  I have very much appreciated the last three years with the Council and I hope that my successor will enjoy the people and the challenges as much as I have.  You’ll be meeting her on a future blog entry and I know she’s looking forward to continuing sharing, via the Gender Agenda, the details of PwC’s award winning and ground breaking work to support our women.

Thanks for being a great audience and for sharing the journey with me –


30 June 2009

Survival in uncertain times

Hello again. As mentioned last week, here is a guest entry from Pauline Crawford of Gender Dynamics, in which she asks us to consider that men and women bring different qualities to provide the answer - but do we know the question?  Do we need to re-shape the playing field?

“In today’s economic crisis, is it possible that the answer can be right in front of our eyes? While we are now faced with a serious financial situation, political misdemeanors and banking chaos, there is much talk about ensuring that we engage the ‘right’ people at the top to sort out a different future scenario.  Women can bring the change to the boardroom that is needed - but are both sides ready and willing to change together?

If we are to co-create the future together, men and women have an opportunity now to start the conversation about business again, rather than keep trying to fit people into the old playing field and try making it level.  It’s time to actually dig it up and design a new one.  This blueprint needs to acknowledge the life factors that affect both genders in business, and to not throw out all the old elements.  However, it must take a serious look at the player’s natural abilities, acquired technical skills, professional contributions and life requirements.  Men and women bring different perspectives in terms of personal and professional contributions to the business mix; they also require different things naturally.  Half of the workforce is female and yet the business blueprint and the majority of rules and regulations are still decided by ‘male’ influence. There is still inequality in pay, a gender gap and limited opportunities within the corporate world for women to rise to the top.  There are still too few women in the boardroom even though there is a renewed desire for more women to move into the top positions and the evidence is growing that a mixed top team creates the most innovative and sustainable output. Women opt out, get blocked, or go off to run their own business.

For many years I have seriously wondered why there are so many barriers to women at the top - and have concluded from my study, life observations and gathering of evidence, that the mystery lies not in the attributes of women but in the ‘playing field’ of business being unchanged for over two centuries.  If we lay out a new business blueprint that encompasses economic, societal and life requirements, and the natural differentials that we observe in men and women, we might embrace more accurately the lifestyle necessities as well as the business imperatives that men and women have.  

For women this would take account of their career as well as regarding their family desires and possible dependant relatives in a new way. For men, a new view might release them from their conditioned position as the breadwinner and enable them to co-parent where desired.

If we take away the problems that have besieged women on the way to the top and allowed a playing field that draws on natural strengths of the ‘masculine’ and ‘feminine’, I believe we can grow ‘green shoots’ for new business fast.  The new blueprint includes masculine and feminine characteristics to be fulfilled in appropriate balance, and all roles and functions aligned efficiently.

We need to qualify gender differentials at a deeper level.  This is not just about men and women; it’s about masculine and feminine elements in us all, it’s about our biology, neurology, emotional patterns, experiences, stereotypes and perceptions; it’s about our sexuality, our culture and our personalities. 

It has long been known that men, biologically, have a laterally organised brain, more focused on task, logic and thinking processes as natural business strengths; but some men do bring their intuitive ‘emotional feminine’ energy to work as their best natural strength. It is commonly understood that women are more relationship-focused, and with their bilateral, more networked brain bring a natural multi-tasking ability to the boardroom. Women tend to be nurturing, emotional and intuitive at heart, yet many women have a natural robust ‘masculine’ sense of business and bring that to the table. The confusion has occurred where women have changed their whole behaviour to match their ‘masculine’ brain and gone into business as a ‘man’, or when a man feels he cannot utilise his intuitive nature in conflict with an expectation of male business behaviour.

Creating the new blueprint ‘together’ means bringing both parties into one conversation - not one into the other. Like two computers, a PC and a MAC®, men and women speak the same language from a different hard drive, and are built differently.   As we work and study the joys of masculine (M) and feminine (F) traits in business and in human nature - in both men and in women – we discover that the overall picture of gender dynamics is a more complex matrix than the usual male -female view.  We can indeed observe and define six 'dynamics' in physicality (mapping body-types) and mind functions (profiling natural mind set and motivations). Exploring gender dynamics, at this deeper level within each gender, can both explain and open up communications and relationships in mixed teams that leverages more than the sum of the parts. Once understood, a wise leader can know what each man and woman brings to their ‘playing field’ and hone the best team to win.

If business potential comes from honing new resources aligned to market needs, we have all we need – it’s the configuration that needs attention.  With a return to our natural strengths, and by taking a willing step forward together, men and women can bring an inspired scenario of the future into view. 

Creating the future together needs to start with a new blueprint and a new inspiration.

President Obama is a fine example of a balanced masculine man who has a truly inspiring ‘feminine’ sense of emotion and who values relationships and mutuality in all he does. When he calls for mutual trust, people of all gender types listen.  We too can combine these masculine and feminine attributes in business by valuing our gender dynamics as a fundamental principle of survival and eventual new growth.  We have all we need born within us, let’s take a good look!”

Pauline’s personal story: I am a masculine-minded woman and I have mis-understood my gender dynamic myself over the years.  I enjoy having a logical mathematical mind set, use rational thinking more than emotional response; however I also have the multi-tasking and natural relationship skills that many women have innately, and I now have a growing sense of intuition. The latter has been something I have developed over the last five years as I recognised I was not being true to my 'female' core nature. In the past I would have easily played the ‘male’ part in business and ignored my feminine emotional strengths. Now I can fulfill the balance required.

26 June 2009

The power of connections

Hello again.  Following on from my recent thoughts on networking, I’ve also been thinking about how powerful it can be to keep an open mind and have an inquisitive spirit when you’re out and about and meet new people.  In the last few weeks and months, the following chain of events has happened to me.

In March, I spoke at the PwCWomen event for International Women’s Day, as described here.  After the event, I got chatting with Christine, who is the chair of Women in Banking and Finance.  A few days later, she emailed me and asked if we could catch up over coffee sometime, as she wanted to bounce around a few ideas with me. I’m always happy to meet for coffee, so we did, got along very well and exchanged some interesting thoughts and suggestions.

Fast forward to the end of May and Christine invited me to attend the Women in Banking and Finance annual lunch at the Dorchester in central London (for non-UK readers: lovely hotel. Lovely.  Stay there when or if you win the lottery. Say no more.) So along I went, wondering who, if anyone, I would know – to which the answer was, aside from Christine, not a soul!  But that was OK – because sometimes, when at these events, it can be all too easy to stick chatting to the people who you do know and not emerge from your comfort zone in order to meet new acquaintances. 

But I was forced out of my fur lined rut, and so I chatted and mingled and went through to the lunch – where I had the huge good fortune to be seated adjacent to two absorbing women. They both run their own very different gender diversity consulting firms, and are so well connected that I have Address Book Envy.

As if a wonderful venue, delightful lunch companions, and a spirited speech (in which she called for quotas for women in leadership roles) from keynote speaker Baroness Denise Kingsmill (reported here in the Guardian) wasn’t enough, I also won a prize in the raffle, thus continuing the recent winning streak with which I’ve been blessed.  But the luck didn’t end there, as Pauline, my neighbour at the table, also won a prize, as did one of the other guests at table 16.  I won a designer silk dress, Pauline won dinner for 6 at a top London restaurant and the other lady (another Pauline, #2) won a huge bouquet of flowers.

Then Pauline #1,  who runs a fascinating company called Gender Dynamics, and I discovered that we are actually neighbours in the same suburb of London, so we agreed to meet for, yes, coffee and learn more about each other’s roles and interests.  And when we did so, Pauline mentioned that, in her experience, women tend to be very open to the idea of just getting together to bounce ideas around without there being a clear agenda or a defined objective or gain, whereas some men would only go ahead with a similar meeting if there was a very clear idea of what was in it for them at the outset.

Over skinny lattes, Pauline and I discussed our ideas and interests, and I asked her to write me a guest piece for the Gender Agenda, which she has now done – so watch this space, as that will be our next article.  She also asked me if I would like to learn more about the Downing Street Project (DSP); to which my response was: “Is that similar to the White House Project? I blogged about that last year …”

And yes, it is indeed a UK version of the successful and high profile White House Project – check out the website link on the right for more details but, in a nutshell, it’s a UK based, cross party political supported initiative aimed at promoting and enabling “balanced leadership between men and women at every level of society, up to and including 10 Downing Street.”

Pauline then threw open her famed address book even more widely and introduced me to Lee Chalmers,  the director and founder of the DSP, and I am now scheduled to attend the DSP’s launch event at the House of Commons next week.

And all of this has come from chatting to Christine back in March…

Finally, here’s a brief update from my colleague Lynn, who wrote a piece for us in January, prior to starting her new role running PwC South Africa’s programmes to support women and the corporate and social responsibility agenda.  I hadn’t heard from her for a while, so I gave her a nudge and back came this reply, in response to me saying – “So, what are you up to, these days?”:

“All is well this side, just incredibly busy. Over the last five Saturdays we have been building a house in Orange Farm (which used to be an informal settlement/squatter camp). The PwC volunteers do so much – mixing concrete, laying bricks, painting, etc. I have attached a photo from last week - the house is in the background. I'm not in the photo as I am taking it.

I also have an orphanage with which I'm working closely. I was there yesterday. They had sent in an urgent appeal for some money, as their car had broken down, and out of the 40 orphans (all AIDS orphans), five of them have special needs and have to go to a special school - so without the car, they were unable to go to school. So to cut a long story short, we had a golf day and raised funds for the charity. I went around to go and do a site visit to see the extent of their problems, and I saw that their boiler had burst, which meant they had no hot water and the ceilings had come down from the damage it caused. They had only onions, carrots and one cabbage for dinner that night. Yet all the kids were happy. They were all playing outside and just looked loved. So yesterday we went back with two car loads full of food and the cheque. They were over the moon.


I'm also working on a number of projects on the gender front - first up is piloting 'My Mentor' - which we’ll be starting in July. I'm also working on a local version of a booklet to help and support our working parents, organising a networking event called 'Hot Tables' - similar to speed dating, except one PwC Partner stays on a table, 8 people join it and then you start a business discussion for 8 minutes before you move tables onto the next Partner.

And I have also become an assistant assessor on our Khula Nathi programme (which is a course aimed at our high fliers, trying to help them to partner level) – in order to start monitoring our female intake on the programme.”

Did anyone else feel exhausted just reading that? I certainly did.  Way to go, Lynn!

Until next time –

03 June 2009

When will this segment of the glass ceiling ride off into the sunset?

Hello again. 

For our first article in June, here is a wonderfully thought provoking piece from my colleague, published author and virtual friend Beverly Barna, based in Tampa, Florida. In her article, Bev jumps into a time machine and goes back to 1998 to remember a time when… and considers the extent to which things for women in the workplace and the attitudes encountered have now changed.  Or have they?

According to a recent news story and an interview, Sir Stuart Rose, Chair of retailer Marks & Spencer, believes that there are now “…really no glass ceilings, despite the fact that some of you moan about it all the time.”  The Observer newspaper’s article referenced here refutes this statement with some useful reminders of numbers (a gender pay gap of 17% in 2008, anyone?) and the reality for many women, courtesy of the Fawcett Society.

Sir Stuart’s stance put me in mind of the wise words on bias issued at our book launch event last month, when Binna Kandola suggested that, “if you’re comfortable in your environment, you’re unlikely to question if where you are is a meritocracy.”

Here is Bev’s article, which reminds us that some things are both universal and untouched by the hand of time.

“A lot can change in a decade. Eleven years ago, I was two years away from having my daughter, four years away from publishing my first book, and two moves away from my job with PwC in Tampa’s Knowledge Services Organization (KSO). September 11 was just a gleam in Osama bin Laden’s eye. GM topped the Fortune 500 list. And folks were still frantic about a certain White House intern and a besotted blue dress.

I had been out of Corporate America for six years by then, having left a top financial services company and the sooty streets of urban New Jersey for the warmth and havoc of post-Hurricane Andrew South Florida. I took classes, wrote articles, ran a marketing department for a large Palm Beach non-profit, basked in Florida’s special flakiness, felt in many ways, liberated.

I was able to look back on my six years in the corporate arena with fresh understanding and clarity. I started writing a weekly humor column for American Cities’ South Florida Business Journal : 700- to-1,000 words summing up a corporate quirk or exorcizing some lingering political poltergeist.

My topics, my way. It was, as they say these days: Sweet!

Last week, I was doing something that would not have been a verb back in 1998. I was Googling around the web, in search of knowledge and inspiration. And I came upon a particular article that was one of my favorites from my “Business Journal” days: a rumination on the differences in the way men and women are viewed in the workplace and how the rules vary by gender.

I like it because it’s a spot-on observation of a phenomenon that is rarely discussed. I love it because it was a collaboration with a dear friend. Here was the part she inspired from the Friday, March 13, 1998 piece, ”Men could get hosed by an incredible set of dynamics," South Florida Business Journal, with an assist from my pal, then a Human Resources vice president in Washington, DC:

So I go into this meeting today, she reported, and there are three guys in there, and me. We're all basically at the same level in the management scheme. But the difference is, I have to be on my best behavior at all times, while they're sitting around like it's Super Bowl Sunday.

This one has got his feet up on the credenza, the other one's scratching himself, and the third one has his arms flung over his head like a baboon and he has these huge sweat stains under his arm pits. All I could think was,” imagine if I did any one of those things during a meeting, I would be out of there so fast.”

The other night, I asked my perfectly poised friend if she had a fresh example for our dear readers. We will call him the Marlboro Manager. He comes to his executive office in dress shirt, dress pants. And high-heeled cowboy boots. But it’s not the boots alone that earn him mention here. It’s his body language: knees as far apart as Obama and Cheney. And an overall attitude that blares: You are all just squatters in this world that is really all mine, all about me.

Now. Imagine a woman sporting that gear and that ‘tude. Picture a middle-aged woman in a decent yet unremarkable blouse and slacks. Wearing Texas-large high-heeled boots with leather as thick as a Deep South (US) accent. See her straddling a conference room chair as if it were a palomino. There is: No way she would be able to carry on in that mode and retain her authority (such as it might be) and her peace of mind (such as that might be, especially these days).

She would be talked about, spoken to, spoken down to, and generally made a pariah until she found some way to compromise between who she is and how she is perceived. And she most likely would have to scurry about, trying to repair the perceptual damage. Or decide to go elsewhere, perhaps working somewhere behind a counter, where the offending footwear and riding posture remained out of sight. She would be, as Barbara Bush famously said, known as that word that "rhymes with ‘rich’.”

As it happens, I once wore to the office at a former job a Carole Little jacket. It was classically cut, perfectly fitted, black, with small silver and turquoise studs dotting the lapels and a little fringe across the collarbone. Not for the Boardroom. But not for the dude ranch, either. A colleague passed my desk. And under his breath, but not my radar, he breathed, in a derisive, dismissive tone one would think reserved for someone who had pilfered his sheep: “Cowgirl”. I could hear his eyes roll. 

My friend and I, and no doubt others in our story, have moved on.

Yes. Lots can change in eleven years. But not everything. 

As I was writing this, my 8-year-old daughter was watching one of her favorite TV shows; it features two pre-teen girls, host and co-host of a web-based comedy show for kids. In tonight's episode, a commercial network was looking to add them to its line up. But they wanted to oust the feisty sidekick. Seems they deemed her too aggressive. (I have found her to be pretty amusing, as these things go.) The girls stuck together and declined the deal, the better to sustain their relationship. Would that such would happen more often. But that’s another topic for another day. 

Oh, the hu-woman-ity.”

Thank you, Bev.  And remember that, if you too have a story to share with the Gender Agenda, I have a copy of “The Value of Difference – Eliminating Bias in Organisations”, signed by Binna Kandola and dedicated to “A Gender Agenda blog reader!” to give away.  Normal blog rules apply: please write me an article, of c. 500-600 words, describing how bias has impacted your life or career in some way, and what actions you took to overcome it.  Feel free to change names and identifying details in order to respect your privacy, but do share your story, which we will publish in a future edition of the Gender Agenda.  I look forward to receiving your entries – the closing date for receipt of them is later this month, on Friday 19th June.  Thank you.

21 May 2009

On bias and the value of difference

Is it possible for an Asian man to be prejudiced against Asian people?  For a woman to show bias against other women?  Well, according to Professor Binna Kandola, it is.  And, in his new book, “The Value of Difference”, which he wrote as a way of re-energising the diversity debate and providing some practical solutions and actions, he explains not only how we can learn to recognise and acknowledge that we are all, in different ways, guilty of bias but also how we can work to overcome it.

Earlier this week, I attended the PwC UK hosted launch of the book (sub-titled: “eliminating bias in organisations”) – and I managed to score not one but TWO signed copies – more on that later.

(Regular readers will know how much I appreciate a free book – and I love two free books quite possibly more than life itself, so it was a highly successful evening from my point of view.  I am definitely biased in favour of events which give away books).

The occasion began with a description of PwC UK’s work to date in the area of bias awareness, some of which I’ve previously written about and showcased elsewhere on the website. This approach begins by acknowledging that practical changes don’t always make as large an impact or change the culture of an organisation in the way that we imagine they would or should – and this is true for society as a whole,  as evidenced by the continuing need for rafts of anti-discrimination legislation in countries around the world.  We always hope, rely on and assume that each new generation coming through will evoke change – but yet, in spite of ourselves, people are the issue, not the solution. 

And, if we acknowledge that positive change will not just happen on its own, then designing and running some positive “bias awareness” training, as PwC UK do, is one approach to taking charge of a situation and creating progress via people.

Binna told the audience that, in spite of ourselves, when we meet people for the first time, we register their colour - followed by other visual “clues” about them, such as their age, gender, hair colour, disability status and so on.  And these behaviours and “registrations” may be unconscious, and even benign, but are not random; they happen to us all because of our backgrounds and influences.  Remember my blog post from my trip to India last year?  In that article, I wrote how I felt very self-conscious being a tall, white woman in “western” dress whilst in Delhi.  I don’t believe that I was showing negative bias but I know that I was very aware of my status and height – but then again, according to Prof. Kandola, nobody ever believes that they personally are displaying bias…

“The Value of Difference” has been endorsed by Trevor Phillips, Chair of the Equality and Human Rights Commission, who managed to extricate himself from the extremely high profile (in the UK, at least) discussions currently happening in our political world with regard to MPs’ expenses in order to join us  (declaring that “It’s frankly mayhem out there!”) and describe why he was supporting what he described as “an important book, and one which people may find controversial.”

He continued by noting that “there is a sense that we, as a country are changing…” and shared a story in which he recollected a recent event at which he was the only person of colour amongst a crowd of 200 people.  He was not uncomfortable (although he was obviously aware) in this environment, but it prompted him to observe that:

“… many more of us are much more comfortable with differences than ever before – and yet we rarely see people from minorities in positions of influence and power.  And we still haven’t managed to crack the cultural, social and behavioural issues which impede progress.”

Paraphrasing Rahm Emanuel’s edict of “never letting a good crisis go to waste”, he asked the audience to consider how we can create social and organisational benefits from “this enforced shake out” and suggested that we now need a new framework for cultural change: how do we take advantage of all of the talent – and not just work with the people who resemble ourselves?  Bias awareness is one of the keys to creating this new framework, and Binna’s book:

“… brings science into diversity and equality, providing us with a new tool to help us deal with tackling bias.”

Trevor handed over to PwC UK Advisory Partner Paul Cleal, who talked a little about his own dual-heritage background and shared the story of being one of the first Black partners in the UK firm and how he has been working with the leadership team to ensure that they really do understand the nature of bias.  Returning to Trevor’s description of the book as “controversial”, Paul suggested that the most contentious idea comes from the statement that bias “… isn’t just about the bad guys – it’s about you and me.” 

And Binna confirmed this, adding that he didn’t:

“… blame people for being biased; but I do blame them for not taking action.”

Paul wrapped up the event by suggesting that one of the most influential mechanisms of change within an organisation can come about when you combine the power of the story with the strength of facts and data. He described PwC UK as being “by no means the finished article – but we’re on the way there”, explaining how using the data extracted from our HR systems to show the breakdown of who from the talent pool has what jobs, coupled with stories from some of those people, had been proven to be a powerful combination when helping people in leadership roles understand not only what needs to change but also why.

I’m very much looking forward to getting stuck into what Trevor Phillips has described as “essential reading” and I have a copy of “The Value of Difference – Eliminating Bias in Organisations”,  signed by Binna Kandola and dedicated to “A Gender Agenda blog reader!” to give away.  Normal blog rules apply: please write me an article, of c. 500-600 words, describing how bias has impacted your life or career in some way, and what actions you took to overcome it.  Feel free to change names and identifying details in order to respect your privacy, but do share your story, which we will publish in a future edition of the Gender Agenda.  I look forward to receiving your entries – the closing date for receipt of them is in four weeks’ time, on Friday 19th June.  Thank you.

If you’d like to buy a copy of the book, it’s available via the usual on-line book retailers or from the Pearn Kandola website.

Until next time … oh and, by the way: doesn’t our new web tile, which celebrates our DiversityInc win, look rather splendid adjacent to the Opportunity Now tile?  What a month!


12 May 2009

Pink is the New Black

As a follow on from yesterday’s article on how our PwC colleagues in Malaysia, Vietnam and their South East Asian region celebrated International Women’s Day in March, here are some examples of their promotional artwork, an overview of their role models programme and a fantastic group shot of PwC-ers in pink.

What wonderful, life affirming pictures!  Congratulations to Suit Fang, Stephanie and their team on their creativity and energy.

And, whilst I’m in congratulatory mode, many thanks to my Blog Master Matt for, in response to your enquiries, adding on the facility for people to leave comments on Gender Agenda blog posts; I look forward to reading what you have to say.

Cleo – today, proving that Brown is the New Black.

Malaysia_wearing it pink group shot 

SEAPEN_role models screen shot 


SEAPEN_Pink is the New Black poster

11 May 2009

On “wearing it pink” in Malaysia (and Thailand, Cambodia, Laos and Vietnam)

Hello again.  We’re all still on a high from our fabulous Opportunity Now win at the end of April… I was absolutely delighted to receive so many kind messages once the news broke. I personally received over 250 emails, texts and Facebook messages in the first 48 hours after the win!  Thank you again to everyone who took the time and trouble to congratulate us; the messages really were the icing on a very delicious cake.

Later this week I’ll be attending Deutsche Bank’s annual women in banking conference, which is themed as “The Art of Possibility”, so I’ll be writing about that shortly.  In the meantime, continuing with the good news stories, here’s a fabulous blog entry from Kuala Lumpur based Gender Advisory Council member Suit Fang Chin, which describes how her team invented a themed week of activities to support International Women’s Day back in March.

What gender diversity?  60% of our workforce is female!
Pink Week: how we celebrated diversity and our women

Suit_fang_chin “When I first brought up the topic of creating a week of diversity themed celebrations with my team and colleagues, I got a mixed bag of reactions.  Some were all for it.  Others, though not against the notion, really didn’t see the need.  We’re lucky in our neck of the woods – whilst I can’t speak for all, I know that a majority of us work for leaders (men and women) who are remarkably gender-blind.

But when I got elected to the GAC, I felt that we couldn’t just sit back and do nothing, no matter how comfortable we were with the state of things.  After all, I had to walk the talk, as they say.  So we started to test the waters.

First, we ran a survey to take stock of where we stood in terms of gender diversity and how our people felt about the issue in general.  We got a 30% response – rather encouraging, for a first attempt.  The survey told us that we were doing fairly well in most areas. 

But I still didn’t feel like there was a sense of real urgency to push the issue.  I knew it wasn’t for a lack of appreciation for the cause – perhaps many simply didn’t understand the business case behind it.  After all, more than half our workforce is female!  Or was I just underestimating the insight our people possessed?

But sometime in March this year, some of the women in Human Capital (HC) and our Malaysian marketing team got together.  They wanted to do something for International Women’s Day.  Never mind that it was less than two weeks away or that we hadn’t yet broached the idea to our colleagues in the Mekong (Thailand, Cambodia, Laos and Vietnam) firms.

We started small.  The initial idea was an internal web page celebrating the day.  But, as more heads got involved in the effort, this little idea took on a life of its own.  Soon we started talking about a donation drive, bringing in external speakers, putting together a show reel of role models … at some point, someone even wanted to get the local news station to cover these activities.  And voila, Pink Week was born.

We had less than three weeks to pull this all together.  Plus, make sure everyone knew about the slew of activities that were planned, and would fully support them.

It was a crazy rush for the teams but we managed to mobilise the forces almost instantly – talk about passion!  What about cross-collaboration?  We had the HC and Marketing and Communications teams working together, and they did it across the Malaysia and Mekong firms. One of the main coordinators of this effort was an HC woman who had only been in the Malaysian firm for a month!  It may have been chaotic but it just seemed to fuel everyone’s fires.  It also helped to have on my team a manager who is a self-confessed ”equalist”; her only reality growing up in a family of four women was that, barring the physical, women and men are no different.

Pink Week eventually turned out to be a full week’s worth of activities:

In Malaysia, the All Women's Action Society discussed how gender differences affect male/female relations at home and in the workplace.  The National Cancer Society of Malaysia (NCSM) held a session on breast and cervical cancer, and brought a few cancer survivors along to share their inspiring real-life experiences. Vietnam had a “Breast Cancer Talk” by the International SOS Clinic at both the Ho Chi Minh City and Hanoi offices. 

And the biggest challenge during the crazy lead-up to Pink Week? Putting together this event dedicated to women, but making sure it wouldn’t alienate our men.  So we took great pains to tailor messages that appealed to them (like “Real men look good in pink too!”).  We dreamed up activities that they would want to take part in too – sales of pink ribbons for charity, getting our people to come dressed in pink and setting up a photo studio (who doesn’t love to get a good picture of themselves?).

It seemed daunting at first, but I’ve always believed that our people truly care about making a difference and giving back.

And they proved me right, with overwhelming support from all quarters, male and female.  In a mere five days and in the height of our peak business period, we raised a respectable amount for our pink ribbon donation drive. On the last day of Pink Week, we were a sea of pink, as everyone (almost) came dressed in theme.  It was hard to not get caught up in the enthusiasm; to feel that truly, in spite of our differences, we could still rally around a good cause.

Next year, when Pink Week happens, I’m looking forward to something better and bigger.  Perhaps even getting one of our men to take up the reins.  Now that would be a true stamp of diversity.”

01 May 2009

When will there be good news?

A wise woman once told me that the secret of happiness is thick skin and low expectations.  When I have, in the past, shared this nugget with friends, the response has always been a mixture of nods of recognition and acknowledgement and a few comments along the lines of “that’s a really pessimistic outlook on life, isn’t it?”. And I agree; as a philosophy, it does seem to imply an assumption that you won’t receive the gift, the promotion, the new job, the prize.  But, on the other hand, the possession of thick skin can be a very useful attribute in tough times, enabling one to shrug off unwelcome news and developments with a degree of ease.

I reminded myself of this mantra when I arrived at the Brewery in Chiswell St, central London, on Wednesday evening.  Along with 450 others, I was there for the Opportunity Now awards, a very prestigious annual celebration of achievement in the fields of gender equality, diversity and inclusion.  Unlike most of the people there, though, I was present because I, as part of the Gender Advisory Council, had been short-listed for an award. And as those close to me will know, I’ve been living with the details of The Award since January, so I was hugely amused to arrive at the venue and be greeted by a charming lady at the check-in, who gave me my name badge and then enquired: 

“Did you know that you’d been short-listed for an award?  Because that’s why your name badge is a different colour to everyone else’s.”


And she was right; I had a GREEN badge, whereas the majority had white.

The ON awards operate under a cloak of secrecy not dissimilar to that allegedly ascribed to Opus Dei, so I’ve been sworn to confidentiality until now.  But I can at last reveal that we entered the award back in the middle of January, when we completed a highly complex, strictly word-counted (1500 words, max) form, in an anonymous style, which asked us to describe the details of our “global initiative”, with the descriptor that it must be:

“… specifically for a gender equality, diversity and inclusion programme/work or initiative which extends across at least three countries.”

So we entered the Gender Advisory Council for the Global Award and filled in sections about our motivation, impact, aims, management commitment (that part was particularly easy to write, given the huge support that we have always enjoyed from Sam DiPiazza), our actions (the Leaking Pipeline, the “Closing the Gender Gap” film and so on), our accountability, our communications approach (hello) and our organisational learnings.  And all of this had to be done within 1500 words and without ever uttering those three little letters which mean so much: P.w.C

I pressed “send” on 21st January and then sat back and waited … which wasn’t too painful at that stage, as I left the country shortly thereafter and took up residence in the sunshine with my stash of books.  Upon my return, the very first email which I opened on February 9th was the one from Opportunity Now which both informed us that we had been short-listed (hurrah!) but also warned that it was a confidential exercise until the night of the awards and so we could not mention the fact of the short-listing and nor could we find out who else had been short-listed or even how many of them there were. So that’s why there’s been no loud trumpeting of the news on here or anywhere else, although at times it was a tough secret to keep.

The next stage of the process was to prepare a presentation to be given to an Opportunity Now judging panel – so the PwC team swung into action, marshalled our resources and started planning.  How do you condense all this great material and our strong messages into a mere thirty minutes?  How do you convey your impact and achievements?  What angle do you take?  And who are the best people to present your case? 

We decided upon a three woman team of myself, Moira Elms, the GAC’s chair and Sonja, our Dutch representative.  Sonja Barendregt-Roojers is the powerhouse behind the Dutch diversity movement in our firm in that country and we knew that her passion would come across in a very authentic way and add to our presentation.  A mere eleven iterations of the slides later … we were ready.  Our presentation summarised the application form and followed the same approach, but had a strong focus on the impact of our work; We were keen to indicate the significance of having Sam’s support, so we included the two minute trailer to the film as an opening gambit.  The judging panel took place on March 10th and went, we thought, well, although we agreed at the time that it was very difficult to really know; I do commend the three judges for their poker faces and complete unity on not conveying a single aspect of their thought processes.

So, fast forward to April 29th and my arrival.  I met up with Moira and our other PwC colleagues, as the UK firm had also been short-listed for an award; this was the Advancing Women in Business award, for which they entered the pioneering Advisory Women’s Leadership programme.  Three of the women who were promoted to Partner as a result of the programme were there (and they had in turn done their judging panel presentation a few days after us, in March)  and we met at our table, immediately pouncing on the programme to see who else was short-listed.

And this is the point at which my skin grew tougher and my expectations dipped, as I saw that we were up against two incredibly impressive sounding global programmes from the Foreign & Commonwealth Office and Goldman Sachs.  The programmes were described in case studies within the brochure (and are also now up on the ON website) and I was instantly convinced that one of them would win – how could they not? 

I settled in and enjoyed the speeches from women including ON Chair Carolyn McCall, who reminded us that these initiatives “improve companies for women – and so they improve them for everyone – full stop.”  Alison Platt, the incoming Chair, noted that it was a fantastic achievement to even be short-listed, and I murmured that one to myself under my breath. Journalist Samira Ahmed was the evening’s host and she cited the PwC survey on the recession in her opening remarks, reminding us of the old World War 2 mantra that we need to “Keep Calm and Carry On”.  She also noted that it was important for us all to:

“Keep our foot on the diversity pedal in these difficult times; the recession won’t last forever and we will need female talent to pull us into the future.”

Keynote speaker Cilla Snowball urged everyone to guide and support the careers of at least two women,  and talked about her own role models; both men and women who had, throughout her long and successful career in advertising (“it’s not at all like Mad Men”) provided her with the enthusiasm and motivation needed to make a success of her profession. 

And so, finally, to the awards.  The Global Award was the fifth (I think) announcement and I actually gave human form to the saying “she almost fell off her chair” when the words:

And the winner is … PricewaterhouseCoopers!” -

were announced.  Moira and I made our way up to the stage, were warmly congratulated by Carolyn and Samira, were presented with the award and were photographed.  This bit is all a blur to me; many, many people have subsequently commented that I was “grinning widely” and “looking absolutely, ecstatically, happy” and “very emotional and overwhelmed” – and they’re probably right.  But I can’t remember!  I do remember cradling the huge lump of engraved glass that is The Award in my arms as we made our way back to the table, sitting down and draining a large glass of water and being warmly congratulated by my colleagues.  But I had hardly calmed down from all of this and found the presence of mind to text my husband and my best friend with the single word: “YES!!” when the words:

And the winner is … PricewaterhouseCoopers!” –

were again heard from the stage – and this time Honor, Jo and Madeline went up to collect their award.

So – what an amazing night for PwC! And how proud and happy we all were to have the three years of work that has,  to date,  gone into the Gender Advisory Council in order that we can be recognised as the first winners of Opportunity Now’s global award.  Here is a photo of the award – taken when I arrived back home, so please forgive the poor quality of the image:


As GAC member Rich Baird commented yesterday:

“It must be one of the shards of the glass ceiling mounted and engraved.  How clever they are!”

Until next time – from a very proud member of the award winning Gender Advisory Council


PS: Happy Birthday today to Sonja – what a wonderful birthday present this award is for her!

24 April 2009

Networking for busy people

Hello again.  I mentioned last month that I’d write a follow up piece on networking, an idea which came to me when I received an email after our International Women’s Day event. A colleague wrote to me to say that:

“… I stayed briefly at the end and spoke to a couple of people from PwC who felt the meeting was very valuable. They could certainly see the benefit of networking but their issue was ‘Where do we find the time to do it?’.”

And I do agree re the time issue on networking, in some ways; but, in others, I think of it as the kind of thing that is useful in terms of keeping the wheels of one's life, career and health moving along. An analogy might be - where do we find the time to go to the gym, or undertake some other "worthy" but time consuming pastime?  For example, people frequently ask me where I find the time to read.  

To which my response is - we find the time for all sorts of things if we feel that we must, or perceive that they are important and beneficial in one way or another. So I would fit networking into that category; we will make time for it if we truly want to.  

(To learn more about networking whilst reading (See? Multi-tasking), check out Steven D’Souza’s book, “Brilliant Networking” in the Recommended reading link on the right.)

I'd also note that it depends on one's understanding of the word "networking".  I suspect that, for some, it’s viewed as an organised activity, rather like the IWD event, which has a purposeful, self-described networking component built in. So, absolutely - for many people, adding on their attendance at an event to the end of their working day will feel like an extra thing to do and one for which they may lack the time.  I could easily be out at some kind of an event pretty much every evening if I accepted all the invitations which come my way.  

But I would rather go to fewer events but make more of my time at them; I also work very hard to keep in touch with and nurture, for want of a better word, the network that I do have, which is both enjoyable and far less time consuming than attending events. Additionally, I make use of other types of networking, by keeping in touch with people more casually and using on-line tools like Facebook and Linked-In.  It’s also helpful to think about what networking you can do during your normal day – can you meet people for coffee, for example?  What about breakfast events?  The “Starbucks Effect” seems to be a growing trend, picked up on in this article from The Glass Hammer entitled “Coffee is the new lunch”.  

Finally, here are some networking tips courtesy of “My Mentor” creator Emberin’s latest newsletter – reproduced with thanks. 

Top 10 Networking Tips for Success

Written by Lisa Butler of Paragon & Associates
Author of Networking Exposed

Networking is important for business, career, leadership and personal success.  Successful networkers know that the true nature of networking is developing and maintaining genuinely helpful relationships with others, with a focus on helping them, not you. You should not be selling when you are networking! The top ten tips for networking success are:

Tip 1 - Recognise the true nature of networking and appreciate the value it offers in your business, career and personal life.  Accepting that networking is about relationship building and building win-win alliances with others is the first step to networking success. Focus on helping others and you will undoubtedly reap the rewards.  

Tip 2 - Be aware of the reasons that stop you from networking. Many people are hesitant to network - often due to negative perceptions about what networking is and its value. Be aware of what stops you, and identify strategies to help you to have the right mindset and get the value networking offers.

Tip 3 - You need to network strategically. Consider why you are networking, and how it will help you to achieve your business and personal goals. This will enable you to more effectively customize and ensure you are networking with the right people, in the right places and in the right way. This focus helps you to save time and gain greater value from your networking effort.

Tip 4 - Have a good system for monitoring and recording your list of network contacts. It is important to recognise that effective networking is more about how you keep in contact with people and look after them, than it is about attending events. A good system should enable you to easily update contact details and be an easy reference tool when you need to find relevant contacts.

Tip 5 - Be genuinely interested in other people. Sounds simple, but it requires effective communication skills (the ability to ask good questions which engage people, and to listen!).  

Tip 6 - Treat everyone you meet with the utmost respect and give them 100% of your attention.  Never underestimate the networking value of people you meet, as it may come back to haunt you. 

Tip 7 - Be able to talk about what you do (when asked!) in a way which is relevant, interesting and understandable to the other person. This requires you to tailor your response and focus on providing information which will enable further conversation.

Tip 8 - Identify relevant and helpful reasons to continue contact with people you meet. Be on the lookout for opportunities to follow up with people, preferably in ways that will help them, not you. It is far easier to follow up with someone when you are doing something worthwhile for them. It is also very powerful!

Tip 9 - Prepare to network. Before you attend an event or even just a catch up with a contact, consider your objectives, who you will meet, the topics of conversation, questions you can ask, research their companies or industries, and generally be up to date. Also consider how you can best achieve your objectives through your behaviour and the impressions you want to create.

Tip 10 - Enjoy it. The most effective networkers tend to be the people who find enjoyment from their networking. Other people are drawn to happy, positive people, and it shows in your demeanour and language. A positive mindset is an important element of networking success.

I would also add my own personal “Tip 11” to this list – do what you say you’re going to do. If you commit to sending someone an article or providing them with some other piece of information: make sure you do so, as soon as possible - and ideally within 48 hours of making the commitment.  This, for me, comes back to the “safe pair of hands” component of my personal brand and I believe that it makes networking a richer and more enjoyable experience for everyone involved. 

I hope to have good news next week about our success in a competition … watch this space. 

Until then - 


15 April 2009

Further survey findings: is the recession creating an equality timebomb?

Hello again.  We’ve finally finished compiling the fascinating results of the survey which we undertook last month in support of International Women’s Day – and, as predicted at the time, the results make for grim and thought provoking reading. We were trying to assess the first impressions of the impact of the global economic crisis on women's careers and prospects, now and in the future, and we asked: 

Will the recession break the glass ceiling or reinforce it? Will it set equality back ten years, or put women on an equal footing for caring and pay responsibilities? Have women been more adversely affected by job cuts than men? Or is the recession's potential impact on women all just … hype? 

Over a thousand people responded from around the world.  43% of the survey’s respondents were in the banking, finance and professional services sector in London and the UK’s southeast; the balance were based in other parts of the UK, mainland Europe, the US, China, India and Australia. 

91% of respondents were female, which I suppose comes as no surprise given the channels that were used to socialise the survey around the globe. 75% are in full-time employment. 

The primary finding is that the pipeline of female leadership for Business PLC could be reversed or irreparably damaged by the recession, with almost three quarters of the respondents saying that they see redundancy as an opportunity to exit corporate life and make a new start. 60% believe the recession will reinforce the glass ceiling, making it more difficult for women to progress.

  • 45% believe it will lead to a shift of women into Small Medium Enterprises/social enterprise careers
  • 40% of respondents said that they believe women’s roles will change, to become the main earner
  • 30% predict that presenteeism and a long hours working culture will re-emerge as people seek to ensure their job security
  • One in three believe women’s role as the primary carer will have changed when the recession is over (36%) 

The survey demonstrates how short term decisions regarding reductions in training, development and redundancies could adversely affect women’s development and progress to leadership positions in the recovering economy.  50% of respondents believe reductions in learning and development budgets now will make it more difficult for women to progress in the long term.

Asked to select one prediction of the world of work in three years time, respondents appear to be bracing themselves for a bitter legacy from the recession. The top prediction, as I mentioned at the PwC IWE event last month, was the re-emergence of presenteeism and a long hours working culture, as people seek to ensure their role’s continued survival. A further 12% believe that corporate expectations of working hours will have changed and ten percent predicted that uncertainty about financial and work issues will have caused people to delay having a family. One respondent shared her fear that:

“ … all other factors being equal, roles will be offered to those without family responsibilities, as they will be perceived as better value for money.”

And others commented that the changes would not be gender-specific as much as age-specific, with comments such as:

“… it will be hard for all of the working population. In fact, I think it will be hard on older employees looking for work, mid-career employees looking for promotion opportunities with new graduates / early career employees knocking on the door for promotion as well” and “for the first time in my life, I feel my age may go against me rather than my gender.”

Globally, 66% of the respondents agreed that it would be harder for women in developing economies to emerge from poverty and 40% see this level of uncertainty continuing for the next 12 – 18 months, as we witness the recession ripple around the world.

On behalf of PwC, I’d like to thank everyone who took the time and trouble to contribute their responses.  Keep an eye on the “Read, watch and listen” page of the main website for a download which will contain some more detailed findings later this month.

Until next time


02 April 2009

Diversity in the downturn: what’s the business case?

Last week I attended a very interesting multi-company workshop on diversity in the downturn, organised by Opportunity Now and hosted by the UK headquarters of a major pharmaceutical firm.  We were a small group of nine, from a very diverse range of organisations: professional services (me), a global car rental firm, a university, an energy supplier, a mail and distribution company and Business in the Community , ON’s umbrella organisation.

Discussions ranged initially around the everyday difficulties of trying to maintain diversity and inclusion priorities against a changing global landscape of fear, chaos, change and budget cuts.  We identified some of the workplace challenges as follows:

  • Job insecurity for many, coupled with “survivor syndrome” for those who retain their jobs when colleagues and friends lose out;
  • Leaders and managers defaulting to “old” behaviours and habits and taking refuge in being change averse;
  • Obviously – budget and resource cuts impacting people and programmes;
  • The impact on HR caused by restructuring activities and a revised focus on organisational change – do HR colleagues still have the time and capacity to support diversity based activities?
  • Are some staff within both visible and invisible minority groups now being subjected to bullying and harassment, perhaps from those who have defaulted to “old” behaviours and, for fear of losing their jobs, do the bullied not feel able to complain?
  • And finally – is the diversity agenda now attracting cynicism as being “nice to have, but only in the good times”?

Our conversation turned to ideas on how to act and behave during this difficult period. How can we survive and get fit for the future, how can we balance long term trends with short term viability?  One suggestion came from the need to respond in a positive manner to re-structuring opportunities and to work to preserve an organisation’s existing investment in diversity based activities. 

So we had a very interesting debate, which was then mirrored for me earlier this week in a Gender Advisory Council setting, around the need to refresh and revisit the business case, and to change both the agenda and the vocabulary that we use when presenting the case for diversity.  If we acknowledge that the previous business case was based on, in the case of gender, women bringing innovation to the boardroom, being perhaps more risk averse and that companies with women at the board level are more financially successful, then we also have to ask ourselves - is that still true and does a “one size fits all” business case still fit the businesses fighting for survival in these unprecedented times? 

This Diversity Inc article, “What Would Happen if Women Ran Wall Street?” makes an interesting case for diversity in that particular business sector, but I found myself wondering that, if I were, for example, the male CEO of a crisis hit residential construction firm, with an all male board, would I be persuaded by the argument that my company and business sector would have emerged unscathed from a global credit crunch and a near unprecedented collapse of the housing market if I had only appointed a more diverse leadership team? Perhaps. Or perhaps not.

Circling back, we returned to the people issue: does the argument that running a diverse and inclusive organisation assists with employee attraction and retention hold water when people are no longer such a scarce resource?  I suppose the latter argument neatly brings us back to the cynicism referenced above.  The ON group concluded that employee engagement is now more significant than ever but we reluctantly agreed that obtaining participation and leadership buy-in is currently very difficult when focus is elsewhere.

Moving on - the G20 Summit started in London earlier this week, and so we have the Obamas and their retinue in town on their first overseas visit of the Presidency. Leaving aside my profound (and predictable) irritation at the dinner hosted by Sarah Brown for Michelle Obama being described in such lazy language as a “girls’ night in”, and by way of a contrast, here’s a link to a series of articles on Michelle which appeared in New York magazine last month.  Jennifer Senior’s contribution, and the on-line responses to it, are particularly thought provoking. And the piece on the constant references to Mrs Obama’s height (similar to my own, in fact) made me smile in the context of seeing the UK press coverage photos of both Obamas positively towering over the Queen and Prince Philip.

Until next time –

26 March 2009

The global recession as a change agent – early survey responses

Last month, ahead of International Women’s Day, we launched an on-line survey which invited responses to questions around the impact of the global recession on women, the workplace and the future of work.

The full results of the survey will be released on April 2nd, and I’ll cover them in more detail next week. We received over 1000 responses from around the world, with questionnaires being submitted from Europe, the US, Canada, Australia, New Zealand, China and India.  Many thanks to all Gender Agenda readers who took the time to complete the survey,  and to our friends at The Glass HammerEmberin and The Thin Pink Line for featuring the survey on their websites.

Some of the headline findings include:

  • 10% of the respondents predict that uncertainty about financial and work issues will cause people to delay having a family over the next three years.
  • Examining the more immediate impacts of the recession, 40% of respondents said that they believe women’s roles were changing, with many of them expecting women to become the primary earner.
  • One in three believes women’s role as the primary carer will have changed when the recession is over.
  • Over half of the respondents worked in roles in the legal, banking, finance and professional services industries. 
  • 41% were between 25-35, and 33% between 36-45.
  • 50% of the respondents said they were the primary earner, with no current caring responsibilities.

More results and thoughts on what they could mean for women and the future of work next week.

Finally:  a news story which saw my two of my interests – books and gender – collide. I live in a house which has been described as resembling “a bookshop with added furniture”, so I was interested to see an article in my weekend newspaper which referenced gender differences in reading. Follow the link and see if you are a Page Turner, a Slow Worm, a Serial Shelver or a Double Booker (or perhaps, like me, a blend, ie, an avid reader who has shelves of unread books and, in the constant pursuit of reading some of them, often has two or more books on the go at the same time).

One of my next blog musings will be on the topic of diversity in the downturn, following on from an Opportunity Now workshop which I’ve just attended.

Until next time –


19 March 2009

Why Women Mean Business – even more so in 2009

Wwmb Regular readers of the Gender Agenda will recall that, in 2008, PwC was a very proud global corporate sponsor of the ground breaking book, “Why Women Mean Business” by Avivah Wittenberg-Cox and Alison Maitland.  Our global CEO, Sam DiPiazza, endorsed the book with this cover quotation:

“This book ably illustrates that the companies which succeed in the 21st century will be those that realise the full potential of women…”

- And we hosted very successful and lively book launches to support the publication in London, New York and Toronto.

Here on the blog, I gave away three copies of the book to the readers who sent me the most compelling stories of life as a woman in business, and we ran articles from Dale in Brussels, Paula in London and Blanka in Prague.

So much has happened since then, such as the publication of the “Leaking Pipeline” report and the production and launch of the “Closing the Gender Gap” film and so I was pleasantly surprised to learn from the authors that WWMB will be published in paperback in May; this news gave me quite the “oh,  don’t they grow up so FAST?” moment.

Paula sent me an unofficial review of the book last week, in which she commented that:

“… it is the most inspiring book I have read.  I intend to give a copy of it to all my girlfriends for their birthdays!  As someone who spent years being told to work on 'impact', it was fantastic to read that the way forward is not to 'fix' the women with assertiveness-training, but to fix the company by making sure it values both female and male attributes.  It was amazingly reassuring to hear that generally women are motivated by 'making a difference' and would improve diversity by putting 'greater emphasis on appreciating individual uniqueness' and that other people find it 'just so tiring trying to be yourself'.  Recently a male peer asked me "Why do you persist in being different when you know it will hinder your career progression?”

I 'persist in being different' because I am different, because that difference is precisely where I add value, because I get more satisfaction from making a difference than I do from being rewarded for the difference I make.  Obviously I would like to be rewarded too, but I couldn't ever be happy conforming to the mould and adding no value just to be rewarded.”

For more on fixing the company rather than fixing the woman, check out Avivah’s website, Women-omics and be sure to look out for the paperback of WWMB, which will feature some updates and revisions when it comes out in a few months’ time.

If you’re interested in the benefits and the impact of coaching upon both women and men, you may like to run your eye over a recently published report entitled: "Encouraging Women into Senior Management Positions: How Coaching Can Help".  This report comes from the UK-based Institute for Employment Studies and features interviewees from the UK, USA, Germany, Greece and Sweden.  What caught my eye about this publication was that it acknowledges a few elephants in the corner, such as:

  • Do women want to progress to board level – or are they choosing not to - and are the barriers sometimes of their own making and/or not perceived to be an issue?
  • Coaching at a very early stage of one’s career can play a huge role in obtaining those key, stepping stone roles (as opposed to assuming, as I have read elsewhere, that coaching only has a part to play once one is already at a relatively senior level in the organisation);
  • If men are currently the “gate keepers” to the key roles, then coaching them into recognising what impact they can have on moving women into these roles is vital.

Members of my internal PwC mailing list will already have seen a copy of the report; it is also available for purchasable download via this link.

Mentioning books (just for a change…) I had a very happenstance moment last week.  I was in the office, preparing for an extremely important presentation to a judging panel, which I gave, together with two of the members of the Gender Advisory Council.  I’ll be able to tell you some more about this Big Event in a few weeks’ time, but, suffice to say, it was quite a big deal and we were all very anxious to do well and to deliver our messages and our material to the panel in the allocated 30 minute slot. 

Just I was going through the slides for no more than the 99th time, the post was delivered and I opened up a package containing a copy of “Speak Up! A Woman’s Guide to Presenting Like a Pro” by Cyndi Maxey and Kevin E O’Connor. Unfortunately, as fast a reader as I am, I simply could not power-read it in time to do so ahead of our presentation, and so the book remains on my towering “to be read” pile.  But I will read it and post a review here once I’ve done so. 

I’ve already looked at Chapter 10, on surviving “… When the Audience Is Just Not That Into You” which struck me as an apt metaphor for the kind of event when you have to deliver a tough message. This section also references how to handle a technology failure mid-presentation, which is definitely advice I could have used a couple of weeks ago …

Until next time

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06 March 2009

On supporting International Women’s Day with a series of honks

Earlier this week, I was part of a panel (and an audience of 100+ men and women) who gathered at PwC’s London offices to celebrate International Women’s Day – which falls this Sunday, 8th March – with an event entitled “Taking Control of Your Destiny”.

It was great to see friends, old and new, in the audience, including Nicki and Jane from The Glass Hammer and clients from many business areas, both corporate and the public sector.  In addition to it being the first ever PwC Women event that we had opened up to our clients,  it was also the first time that we had been simultaneously web-cast … more on that shortly. Oh, and look out for TGH’s report on the event, it should be up on their site very soon.

Our guest speaker was the charismatic and inspirational Gita Patel of Stargate Capital Investment Group – accountant, banker, and entrepreneur - who opened up with a quote from Michelle Obama:

“Each of us is here today by way of our own improbable journey”.

Gita’s own journey began in Kenya in the 1960s as one of five daughters.  They were living a “normal” happy and ordered life, until the day that her mother asked Gita to begin packing – with the specific request that she pack up their lives into two suitcases.  The next day, the family fled to Britain and so Gita began her life here, as one of the first Asian women to become a chartered accountant. She worked for Arthur Andersen and then NatWest bank and was pursuing a well trodden corporate pathway, until the day that her sister asked her a life changing question:

“What’s your legacy?”

Gita’s response to this challenge was to go on to found venture capital firm Stargate Capital and, later, Trapezia – the latter specifically to take advantage of the female business sector.  Her mission was and is to improve access to capital and investment funding for women and she knew that, in order to make a difference, she would need to innovate.  She told us how she views the internet as a “liberating force for women” where stereotypes are not in play, and how her next venture will be to build a collaborative on-line platform in order to connect female entrepreneurs with each other and with the marketplace.

She concluded with sharing her views on geese with us.  Yes, you did read that correctly.  No, it’s not a typo.  Geese. 

Gita’s theory is that we can all take lessons from the way geese behave as both a flock and individually, in terms of support and leadership behaviours.  We hit the press with this analogy – here’s what the London paper City AM had to say this morning:

Ga_060309 Gita closed by telling us that geese always honk to support each other!  So, as I took to the podium (as is always my lot, I tend to speak alongside incredible people; one day I’m sharing a platform with a supermodel in South Africa, the next I speak after Gita and her geese…)  I thanked Gita with a honk of my own and then went into a brief description, on the theme of destiny, of the making of “Closing the Gender Gap” last year, and how, as I’ve previously referenced here, I’m pretty sure that being an Executive Producer of films is in no way my destiny. 

Everything was going along as smoothly as a flock of geese in flight, until we got to the technical bit, wherein we showed our 8 minute “Davos” edit of the film. 

Having, I hope, whetted the audience’s appetite with my descriptions of trying to make a film against the changing economic backdrop which is our current global environment, we then went into … a large blank screen, as the technical team frantically tried to get the film to play.  Meanwhile, those watching the webcast were viewing it as scheduled! We eventually got it running in the “live” environment and so the London audience managed to see the last half of the film.

We ended with a very lively panel debate, in which Gita and I were joined by UK tax partner Pam Jackson and PwC UK board members Kevin Ellis and Richard Collier-Keywood.  We took questions from both the on-site audience and the webcast viewers and the discussions ranged across some of the early results from our on-line survey on women and the global recession (and here I must just add in a quick plea – if you haven’t yet taken the survey, please do so, via either the link in this paragraph or by way of the attractive terracotta button on the top right of the screen.  The survey is open until close of business UK time on Tuesday 10th March. Thank you.) Through to the panel’s views on quotas and the different leadership skills and styles brought to the workplace by men and women.

The closing question was around the panel’s views on what specific actions people could take to enhance their careers.  Gita and Pam both urged courage, bravery and audacity – if you have an idea, speak up, suggest it and argue your case.  Pam also reminded us that:

“Good things come to those who go out and help themselves, rather than those who wait" – which has since become my mantra.  I interviewed Pam for “The Leaking Pipeline” report in the summer of 2007 and those words really resonated with me, then and now.

Richard and Kevin spoke to the significance of role models and networks, and I suggested the importance of Being Your Own Brand (a life lesson from Maureen Frank). We can’t all be entrepreneurs, CEOs or media superstars; but we can all be brilliant at something and, whatever that “something” is, it should be our personal stamp of authenticity and radiance – a guarantee to our colleagues, as I often think of it.  I made a similar analogy when I spoke at the NASSCOM event in India last year, referring to myself then as being a “safe pair of hands” and it amuses me hugely that I continue to receive emails in which this is mentioned.

We ended with a networking reception, at which the issue of the equation of:

Networking = Good but Lack of Time = Bad

- so how do we match the two dichotomies?

was raised.  More thoughts on that next time.

Until then – Happy Women’s Day,


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27 February 2009

Ahead of International Women’s Day: the global recession - is it hitting women harder?

Hello again.  And thank you for all the emails I received whilst on my blogi-day, from countries including the US, India, South Africa and Poland – good to know that we’re receiving a global readership to go along with our global approach!  I had a fantastic holiday and managed to read a grand total of 15 books whilst I was away.  Many of them were standard beach fodder but I also (finally) read “Outliers” by Malcolm Gladwell, which was every bit as absorbing as I had thought it would be, and also “Q & A” by Vikas Swarup; the latter book may be better known to you as the BAFTA and Oscar ® winning film “Slumdog Millionaire”.

The 2009 World Economic Forum took place in Davos, Switzerland, at the end of January, and we showed an 8 minute edit of our film, “Closing the Gender Gap” to great acclaim.  This shorter version of the full film is available to view here on the main website if you’re interested.  What caught my eye when I got back home were the number of articles noting the lack of women at Davos, and making the connection between the absence of women in leadership functions at tables such as the WEF and their mirrored absence at the helm of companies in, for example, the banking sector. Nicholas Kristoff wrote a much circulated article called “Mistresses of the Universe” in the New York Times in which he made this very point, noting in particular that:

“Banks around the world desperately want bailouts of billions of dollars, but they also have another need they’re unaware of: women, women and women.

At the recent World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland, some of the most interesting discussions revolved around whether we would be in the same mess today if Lehman Brothers had been Lehman Sisters. The consensus (and this is among the dead white men who parade annually at Davos) is that the optimal bank would have been Lehman Brothers and Sisters.”

It’s worth reading the full article on the link above just to read Mr K’s observation on the similarity between a Wall Street firm’s senior staff meeting and an urologist’s waiting room, by the way …

Next week sees the beginning of two weeks’ worth of global celebrations and events to mark International Women’s Day, which falls this year on Sunday 8th March.  Here at PwC in London, we’ll be holding our event on Wednesday 4th March and we’ll be hosting a group of men and women from PwC as well as from our clients.  The theme of the event is “Taking Control of Your Destiny” and we’ll be showing what I keep calling the “Davos edit” of CTGG, as well as hearing from Gita Patel, the founder of Stargate Capital Investment Group. Gita brings five years of experience in the women's business and entrepreneurial space, having launched Trapezia - the first vehicle in the UK to invest in women-focused businesses.  She calls upon influential women to play their part in redefining the economy in these difficult market conditions and asks if women should be more prepared to step into leading roles.  Gita will talk about:

  • Taking control of our destiny and in the process “making a difference"
  • Playing a more pivotal role in the aftermath of the current crisis to drive change
  • Carving a path for other women
  • An alternative perspective on risk and corporate governance
  • The business case for capitalising on the difference

I met Gita just before Christmas – she is a really charismatic and much energised woman, so I know that her speech will be fascinating. 

Gita’s presentation and the showing of the film will then be followed by a panel discussion in which we’ll be joined by UK partner Pam Jackson, so it promises to be a lively evening.  The Glass Hammer is sending along a journalist to cover it, so there’ll be a report up there next week.  We are also planning to film the event and make it available as a webcast, so I’ll post a link to that once available, technology permitting.

Finally, please do take a few moments of your time to take this on-line survey, which we have designed in order to mark International Women’s Day. It’s a snap assessment of the first impressions of the impact of the global economic crisis on women's careers and prospects, now and in the future.

We’re asking: will the recession break the glass ceiling or reinforce it? Will it set equality back ten years, or put women on an equal footing as regards caring and pay responsibilities? Have women been more adversely affected by job cuts than men? Or is the recession's potential impact on women all just hype?

Click on this link http://www.i-grasp.com/uq/r.asp?q=12729, 452064450 to take the survey, which will be available until March 10th.

Please give us your thoughts - the survey will take no more than ten minutes to complete, and a report on the results will be made available in the coming weeks here at the Gender Agenda.

Until next time,


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29 January 2009

On changes in South Africa

Hello again.  I’m heading away on holiday tomorrow, and I have already packed a hefty suitcase of reading material and several very large bottles of SPF 50 sun-cream.  I’ll be back in a couple of weeks’ time but, in the interim, here’s a guest blog entry from my South African colleague, Lynn Oelofsen. Lynn and I used to work together in PwC UK’s recruitment team and she has recently returned to Johannesburg,  where she is responsible for PwC South Africa’s corporate and social responsibility agenda, and their programme of gender initiatives

Before she left London, we were discussing how much South African society has changed in the last ten years -   and so I asked her to write me a short piece about her experiences as a “returnee”. What does it feel like to be a visitor in the land of your birth?


“Almost ten years ago, I bought an aeroplane ticket, packed a backpack, bid farewell to my hometown of Benoni in South Africa and boarded a plane destined for London.

At the time, I had just turned 21 and had little life and career experience. Although I had worked since the age of 15, I had only worked in an office environment for two years. Back then, things were very different in South Africa to how I now find them. Apartheid started dissolving from 1990, schools were only integrated and made multi-racial at the start of 1992 and our first free and fair elections occurred in 1994 when Nelson Mandela became our first black president. The atmosphere of the country was chaotic. Some people were ecstatic, some people were petrified and some people just simply packed up and moved abroad.

My first South African office-based job was working for a freight company just outside Johannesburg. As the youngest member of staff, I was the only one who had ever gone to school or socialised with people outside my own race. It was evident that companies had a long way to go. In this particular company, the managers were all white males, the administrators were all white females, the warehouse staffs was all black males and the cleaners were all black females. Racially, we still had separate toilets and separate end of year events and functions. We addressed the CEO as “Mr Smith” and never by his first name and, fairly often, women would not be included in the male banter bonding sessions. This, however, was all “normal” to me and I knew no better.

Life in London was extremely different. Everyone was equal. After temping wherever I could to pay the bills, my first permanent UK based job was working in a recruitment agency in the centre of London.  My branch manager was female, my supervisor was female, and my colleagues were predominantly female. I realise that this is partly the nature of the industry, but it was almost odd for me to watch a woman take charge and successfully run a branch. I then moved into an HR role before joining PricewaterhouseCoopers UK in 2004. At PwC it was refreshing to see that a manager is a manager, regardless of gender. My female boss made for a great mentor and, even though I am no longer there, I’m still being mentored by her. There was a real sense that nothing is out of your reach – you are in charge of your own future and what the future will bring. If you want to be promoted, you will be – if you work hard and remain dedicated, you will certainly reap the rewards.

The only time in the UK that I felt aware of gender bias was at the time of my second promotion. Out of the five officers promoted to manager, four were female. This I thought was astonishing, until one of the newly promoted managers pointed out that at our level, regardless of our years of experience, the women were all aged 30+ and the man was 28. The other male manager had been promoted a year earlier, also at the age of 28. Why was it taking longer for women to be promoted? We could have challenged this question and taken it up with senior management, but we didn’t. We just accepted it – and perhaps this is where many of us go wrong.

After four years and two promotions in the London office, I made the decision to move back to South Africa, and I transferred to a role in PwC in Johannesburg, which I started a few weeks ago. It is a very different country compared to how it was when I left. After so many years abroad, when I unpacked my bags I felt like a foreigner, the same way I did when I left to go to England. I was unsure of what the working environment would be like, I didn’t (and still don’t) really know my way around, due to major infrastructure changes in preparation for the Football World Cup in 2010, and I can’t really work out the value of the Rand when I am out shopping: “is this expensive, is it cheap?”

A huge part of me had concerns about staying with PwC; I loved the UK firm and the people and wondered if it would be the same in South Africa. I’m glad to say I was wrong to worry. The people are just as talented and professional as in London. My role is an interesting one – as the Corporate Social Responsibility Manager, our focus is on helping our communities and on skills development. As the Women in PwC Project Manager, my role is to help retain and empower our key female talent. I’m pleased that times have changed since I first started working in SA – the Partner to whom I report is female, as are the managers in the department. The networking group for women has incredible support from both male and female senior staff. Everyone is committed to closing our gender gap, and, in South Africa, focusing on equal opportunities for all races as well.

I’ve only been back for two months but I am already feeling less like a foreigner and more like I am back at “home”. I miss my colleagues and friends in the UK - it made a great second home for so many years and gave me so much in the form of life, cultural and career experience. Hopefully, I will be passing that knowledge and experience on here.” 

We miss you in London too, Lynn (as do the staff in your local branch of Starbucks, no doubt).

Until next month, post holiday –