15 October 2013

The secret life of Cinderella

Cinderella’s glass slipper is at least partly to blame for the trope of women’s obsession with shoes, but this blog isn’t about women and shoes; it’s about women and secrets.

Cinderella Photo 1

This past summer in my other life as a master’s student, I found out that the Cinderella story we know isn’t the original one. Since then, I’ve been a little obsessed. Discovering that this iconic story isn’t what we all assume jarred me, because the premise underlies so many of our social habits.

Seriously. Think about it. The story cycle has engendered everything from Disney franchises, to bestselling novels and adaptations, to movies like Pretty Woman, to our very lexicon (“that’s a real Cinderella story” we say about anyone with a positive reversal of fortunes). So, get this: evidence suggests that the prototypical Cinderella was actually a story of the denigrated and lost feminine, a story that demonstrated how the restoration of the feminine principle could have profoundly positive social effects.

The Cinderella story appears in every major culture around the world and has been told in thousands of iterations; scholars cite it as the best-known and best-loved fairytale of all time, so it deserves our attention. What’s more, lessons about the obscure origins of this fairytale princess inform the business world and can teach us about the importance of diverse leadership.

Cinderella 3

Fairytales and our working lives are much more interconnected than you might think. Fairytales are the first, and among the most powerful, narratives we learn as children. They socialize us by providing guideposts for appropriate behavior and success in life. They also establish and reinforce gender roles that suffuse life and work.

Social psychologists argue that while all human beings have the capacity to develop individual behaviors, men are usually rewarded for exhibiting “masculine” traits while women are rewarded for exhibiting “feminine” traits.

“Masculine” Characteristics “Feminine” Characteristics
Boldness, rational wisdom, individualism, risk-taking, virility, leadership, aggressiveness, assertiveness, competitiveness, materialism, ambition. Creativity, intuitive wisdom, gentleness, empathy, sensitivity, compassion, tolerance, deference, passivity, service, benevolence, solidarity with others, compromise, negotiation.

These traits are frequently underscored in fairytales and have bled into the world of work. In her book, Lean In, Facebook CFO Sheryl Sandberg notes that feminine characteristics are not rewarded or valued at work (or much at all, economically). She provides examples of how women exhibiting “masculine” traits are often punished or scorned, citing the negative correlation between success and likeability for women (while the opposite is true for men).

Harvard’s IAT and the research it has engendered demonstrate that most of the global population associates men with leadership and women with helper roles, and suggest that this dramatically affects the performance and potential of the workforce. That’s right, I said dramatically. And as someone who’s been taught to despise adverbs, I don’t use the word dramatically lightly. These biases have been blamed for women dropping out of the workforce in high numbers, for women receiving lower salaries for the same work, and for women failing to reach leadership positions despite comprising equal or greater numbers of college grads for decades.

PwC’s Global CEO Survey found that today’s CEOs most admire leaders that are strategic, innovative, adaptable, and decisive. However, another survey conducted recently by PwC Russia on female leadership, found that women cite noticeably different qualities as being important in leaders: passion, a sense of humor, sociability, and the capability of bringing out the best in others. Compare this list with the  “masculine” and “feminine” traits above, and you’ll see a clear dichotomy that pervades both business and fairytales.

In Cinderella the desires of the protagonists are clear. The girl wants to marry the prince. The boy wants to rule the kingdom. Said differently, success for men means power, success for women means marriage, and each should develop “masculine” and “feminine” traits to achieve these things.

This has been the dominant master narrative of Cinderella (and other fairytales) for thousands of years.

Or has it?  

Cinderella 4The common thrust of the Cinderella story is benign: our heroine is forced into servitude until her godmother intervenes and the prince falls in love with her and they marry. Sounds innocuous, so what secrets lurk in the early versions of the tale?

Well, the earliest European versions of Cinderella, (published prior to Charles Perrault’s massively popular version immortalized in Contes de Ma Mere L’Oye or Tales of Mother Goose) little resembles the one that we’d recognize today.

The original fifteenth and sixteenth century stories present a markedly different character arc. They emerge from Provençal France, the native country of the Langue d’ òc and the troubadours; they derive from a very unique and well-established culture that held feminine characteristics in high regard, manifested through social mores and religious practices.

As patriarchy achieved hegemony in Europe, the secular and non-secular authorities persecuted the people of Provence, murdering them en masse for their beliefs. Socially, religiously, and politically, the voices of the Langue d’ òc people were silenced.

But their beliefs survived in the fairytale of Cinderella. Folklorists believe that fairytales are a means to keep alive truths too dangerous to express openly. Fairytales are a safe vehicle to transmit beliefs and historical events by persecuted minorities because they’re ignored by the social elite.

There is historical evidence that the original Cinderella tale emerged from this Langue d’ òc subculture as a conduit to tell the story of their suppression and to preserve their belief in the sacred feminine, or, said differently, in the equal importance of feminine and masculine characteristics to human well-being.

Here is some evidence from the earliest iterations of the Cinderella stories that will surprise you – they reinforce the conclusion that Cinderella was a channel to preserve a story too dangerous to tell at the time of their violent persecution:

(1)    Cinderella is not a rags to riches story, but a restoration story. The earliest Cinderella is not a peasant who climbs the social ladder but rather a worthy princess who has been denigrated and exiled by relatives. This was the metaphor for the subversion of feminine characteristics by a powerful patriarchy. The restoration of the sacred feminine to its rightful place next to the sacred masculine brings harmony back to the land. In a work context, this might be the equal importance of assertiveness (“masculine”) and compromise (“feminine”) in molding a more sustainable, innovative work culture, and an environment where individuals’ unique strengths can flourish.

(2)    The prince and Cinderella have a mutual need for each other. In the early stories, the prince grows gravely ill when separated from Cinderella – in fact, he approaches death. This serves as the proxy for excessively prominent and warped “masculine” values that were tearing society apart at the time the tale came into being in Medieval Europe – most notably, avarice among the powerful of the day which created war and hardship for the common folk. In the original story, only Cinderella can cure the prince, and it’s their harmonious union at the story’s end that heals the kingdom. Thus, what feminist critics have missed in their critique of Cinderella as a man-seeking maiden is that the prince is seeking his lost counterpart with equal fervor.

(3)    Cinderella rescues herself, first. In the early versions of the story, Cinderella is often persecuted not by a stepmother but by a father (analogous to a persecuting patriarchy) whom she must escape from. Cast out of her home, Cinderella demonstrates shrewdness, resourcefulness, resilience, and industriousness. She seeks and finds work as a maid to support herself and uses canny disguises to avoid detection by her pursuers before encountering the prince. She also makes suggestions to her godmother about how to best circumvent her captors.

Cinderella Photo 2

There are some powerful implications for business and diversity in this lost history of Cinderella.

First, the obvious: we must make the effort to look deeply at a thing (or indeed, a person) to understand it; the salient characteristics that appear to us on the surface (our blind spots and first impressions) often don’t correspond to reality – and such mistakes are costly. In business and in every day life, we must value differences enough to explore complications to achieve real insight into personal, social, and business challenges.

Second, the Cinderella restoration story could be replicated in leadership models by rejuvenating feminine characteristics through economic incentives. Studies show that emotional intelligence and diverse teams raise profits, so why not reward employees for managing people well, and for valuing difference in every day behaviors? Why not, in fact, privilege those skills as much as profit-making for a longer term view of success?

This recalibration of leadership competencies has already begun in light of the financial crisis, where an overemphasis on risk-taking and round-the-clock work had disastrous consequences. Research demonstrates that businesses maximize employee potential, innovation, and capital gains when led by a people with a wide spectrum of attributes, talents, and behaviors.

Cinderella 5PwC’s CEO Survey listed the leaders who current CEOs most admire. The survey contained a notable outlier in the top ten. Among the cowboy politicians, iconic CEOs, ruthless tech scions, and formidable military generals, one person’s name stood out as noticeably different: Gandhi. A leader, who, like the others achieved paradigm-shifting change, but who used vastly different personal strengths to do so, “feminine” strengths, such as compassion, and pacifism.

Both society and business could benefit if we learn from the original Cinderella, and restore the feminine characteristics aside the existing masculine ones to broaden leadership models. What if little girls and boys were raised with this alternative Cinderella narrative? The socialization process would slowly be altered. Perhaps tales such as Disney’s Brave are already beginning to explore these alternatives and in my opinion, this suggests we’re moving in the right direction.

Wishing you all a magical week.


01 October 2013

The Dual-Career Challenge

This week we bring you the second issue of a two-blog series focused on dual-career families from Franca Godenzi of the Boston College Centre for Work & Family.  Franca shares insights on how dual-career couples manage their conflicting occupational aspirations and the high demands of their careers.



Whose Career Matters More?

All of the participants in my study indicated that their careers were viewed as important in their marriages.  However, there were still disparities.  Out of the four couples in my study who moved due to employment opportunities or requirements of one spouse, three moved due to the work of their husbands while only one couple moved due to the wives’ work.  Out of the six couples that had commutes of different length, two of the husbands had longer commutes and four of the wives had longer commutes.  This seems to suggest that there are still some inequities in terms of whose job is made a priority, and who has to make greater sacrifices.  However, in terms of business travel, the wives in my study traveled more than the husbands.  In five of the seven couples where both spouses are required to travel for work, the wives travel more, which suggests that the husbands in my study were also making sacrifices in order for their wives to advance in their careers.  Half of the couples in my study have chosen to opt out of travel, knowing that this could have professional implications.


Addressing the Overwork Trend

Of the ten dual-career couples, six of the husbands work longer hours than their wives and three of the wives work longer hours than their husbands.  Heavy workload has become a standard among professionals in the United States.  In a 2010 survey, nine out of ten respondents reported that their workloads have increased in the last twelve months.  Work hours are being seen as a proxy for an employee’s commitment and competency.  Workload has increased due to factors such as inadequate staffing, information overload, technology, and job insecurity.  Overwork is correlated with absenteeism, turnover, decreasing job performance and engagement, and physical and mental health issues. Overwork can cause role blurring, which is associated with higher levels of work-to-family conflict, according to a 2012 study.


Overwork is a reality.  What can employers do to address it? Employers can offer stress and time management workshops for employees and encourage them to use their vacation time and sick days. Reducing low value work, effectively using e-mail, holding efficient meetings, and promoting flexible work options are other possible strategies.  In a 2010 study, IBM found that employees with high perceived job flexibility were willing to put in about eight extra hours weekly before reporting significant increases in work-family conflict compared to those individuals without perceived flexibility.  Companies such as Marriott, IBM, and PwC have used work redesign processes to address overwork.  IBM’s People Oriented Work Redesign Tool (POWR) has enabled teams to identify and resolve unnecessary, low value work at the departmental level and improve productivity among team members.

Seeking Schedule Control

In my study, the wife has more control over her schedule than her husband (in seven out of ten cases). One woman stated that her husband, who works in the corporate world, has “a lot” of control “in theory” because he is a regional manager; however, “practically speaking it is looked down upon in his industry to take a more flexible approach to work.”  All of the women in my study tried to create control and flexibility in their schedule, but only three husbands in my study created more flexibility in their work schedules by either switching or taking time off from careers.  One of the husbands in my study made the switch from private practice to academia and took a pay cut because he wanted to spend more time with his family.


Recent research has looked at flexibility stigma against men in the workplace.  In a 2013 study  men who requested family leave to care for a sick child or parent were more likely to be subject to demotions, pay cuts, and termination, and less likely to be recommended for promotions, leadership roles, and raises.  A 2013 study found men who took advantage of an employer policy allowing them to work part-time after the birth of a new child were seen as less dependable, committed, dedicated, and efficient.  Care-giving fathers experienced the highest rates of general mistreatment at work among men, such as being excluded, ignored, insulted, humiliated, or pressured.  However, a 2012 study  found that the long-term effect of FWP utilization on promotions is positive because the long-term effects of flexibility benefits utilization, such as conservation of time and energy, outweigh the negative effects of stigmatization.

The Importance of Social Support

All ten participants in my study stated that their husbands were supportive; nine used language such as
“extremely,” “incredibly,” and “totally.”  A little over half of the interviewees in my study felt their colleagues at work were mostly supportive.  In a 2012 study mothers who perceived more social support were likely to report lower levels of depressive symptoms.

Four women in my study felt their colleagues at work were not supportive.  Three women in my study felt they needed to “overachieve” in order to be perceived as successful in their jobs.  Overachieving included sacrificing time with family to work longer hours at the office.  Potential career penalties for women of flexibility stigma include curtailed benefits, career derailment, and mommy tracking. Stigmatization can lead to lower levels of job satisfaction and organizational commitment, higher rates of absenteeism and withdrawal, and opting out.  In a 2013 study  workplace inflexibility and the stigma attached to part-time work played a major role in female employees’ decisions to interrupt or suspend their professional careers.

Franca-GodenziHigh career demands, including long hours, business travel, and job relocations, pose unique challenges for dual-career families.  Organizations need to take heed: workplace flexibility and social support are critical components to keeping dual-career couples from “opting out” of travel, of promotions, or of the workforce all together.  With talent shortages identified as one of top concerns of the global CEO – can your organization afford to let talent “opt out”?

Franca Godenzi is the Member Relations Specialist at the Boston College Center for Work and Family, where she is responsible for supporting members of the Global and National Workforce Roundtables.

19 September 2013

The Competitive Advantage of Family-Friendly Policies

This week we are very pleased to bring you the first of a two-part guest blog series from Franca Godenzi of the Boston College Centre for Work and Family.  After conducting research focused on the dual-career family, Franca shares her insights on how flexible work policies promote employee engagement and wellbeing in and out of the workplace. 




Non-traditional families, including the dual-career family, are on the rise.  It is crucial for organizational success that companies continue to find ways of supporting their employees and their families.  For my senior thesis at Boston College, I focused on dual-career families conducting qualitative interviews with working parents about their personal and professional lives.  And over two blogs I am going to share the findings of my study with you.

The women’s stories shed light on the various challenges they were facing as working mothers.  I had always been passionate about women’s rights and conducting this study helped me to see that work-life policies are a crucial component to women’s advancement.  In fact my study encouraged me to transform my academic passion for work-life integration into a professional pursuit, and I have since become the Member Relations Specialist at the Boston College Center for Work and Family.   


The women in my study utilized various forms of child care, including nannies, home daycare, and daycare centers.  All of them discussed various downsides of child care, including lack of oversight and reliability, high cost, and scheduling difficulties.  One woman told of her home day care provider, a hypochondriac who insisted she stay home with her child if her child had even the slightest case of sniffles.  Another woman’s nanny quit out of the blue, leaving her and her husband, both lawyers, struggling to find coverage at home and at work.  The women whose children were in daycare centers argued that they were safer and provided their children with more structure and greater opportunities for social and cognitive growth, but agreed that the cost was very high.  One participant told me her daycare provider charges her in cash for every minute she is late picking up her child.

There are multiple benefits for parents of on-site child care centers.  Benefits include reduced concerns surrounding transportation of children to/from off-site centers and less additional time needed for pick-up and drop-off.  A report prepared by the Center for Work and Family found improved positive perceptions in areas such as: quality of work, relationships with colleagues and supervisors, and job satisfaction.  Parents with children enrolled in on-site centers reported feeling “less drained” and “worn out” than parents not utilizing the on-site centers.  According to a 2008 report, of the parents using a full-service child care center, 68 percent said that workplace child care was important in their decision to join their company and 90 percent stated that access to a work-site child care center positively affects their productivity and focus at work.  The same report suggests that users of an on-site child care center were 20 percent more likely to be rated as “top performers” by their employers compared with non-center users, and 68 percent more likely to have 5-9 years tenure with their organizations compared with non-center users.

Back-up care can also make a significant difference for employees.  In a 2008 study, 74 percent of respondents reported that they are more likely to continue to work for their current employer due to the availability of on-site or near-site back-up child care, and 92 percent of respondents stated that back-up care positively affects their productivity.  Studies have shown that respondents using dependent care supports offered by their employer report fewer instances of chronic health issues and less stress, are less likely to consider looking for a new job, and are more engaged in their work.

Encouraging employee engagement at home and at work

Half of the women in my study carefully considered the timing and spacing of their children due to career aspirations.  Four women explicitly stated that it was difficult for them emotionally to return to work after the birth of their first child.  One participant quit her job after she had her first child, but returned to work on a part-time schedule because of her encouraging and supportive manager.  To retain top talent, employers should implement formal on-and-off ramping programs to help female employees maintain connections that will allow them to return to work without feeling marginalized or penalized for having children.  Best practices include creating reduced-hours jobs, removing the stigma of motherhood, and implementing mentoring and networking programs that help women sustain their professional ambitions (Off Ramps and On-Ramps).

NewDadStudyCoverFour of the fathers in my study performed a greater portion of the parenting tasks than their spouses.  As a whole, the fathers in my study were more involved than culturally expected.  In order for fathers to be more involved, they need to have access to flexible work policies, such as flex-time, compressed workweeks, and telecommuting.  When fathers are involved starting at the birth of a child, they are more likely to continue to be actively involved in raising their child.  One husband in my study took off extended time from work, and another husband became a stay-at-home father after his children were born.  Though he faced scrutiny for putting his career on hold, he found tremendous joy and satisfaction from being at home with his children.  

On average, however, the women in my study took off between 12 and 16 weeks for maternity leave, and the men only a few days.  In a 2011 study, only 1 in 20 fathers took more than two weeks off after their most recent child was born, and 1 in 100 took more than 4 weeks off.  However, more than 75% of the fathers stated that they would have liked more time off with their new children.  Paternity leave needs to be legitimized in the workplace in order for fathers to feel that they can take time off without facing career penalties or stigma from managers and co-workers.

Securing long-term success by advocating use of flexible work policies

In a 2012 study use of flexible work policies has been associated with high levels of job satisfaction and low levels of job stress for employees, and increased rates of attraction and retention of talent for employers.  Leslie et al suggest that the use of flexible work policies facilitates career success if managers attribute use of FWP’s to a desire to increase work productivity, and thus view FWP use as a signal of high commitment.  Managerial training programs may be an effective method for preventing potential career penalties for FWP use.  A 2012 study found that employees who do not use work-life benefits when they need them avoid the possible negative stigma of utilizing the benefits; however, they risk decreased performance and loss of motivation in the long-term.  In fact, according to the same study, use of flexibility and dependent care benefits are linked to subsequent promotions for married employees.

My study findings reiterate the importance of work-life policies for employees and their families. Institutional solutions, such as governmental policies and corporate support, have to be combined to assist employees to be their most successful personally and professionally.  Ultimately, by supporting the mental, physical, and social wellbeing of their employees and their families, corporations will increase the likelihood of profitable and sustainable futures.


Franca Godenzi is the Member Relations Specialist at the Boston College Center for Work and Family, where she is responsible for supporting members of the Global and National Workforce Roundtables.

28 August 2013

Spotlight on Russia – Women leaders in Russian business

This week’s Gender Agenda blog shares some recent thought leadership from our Russian firm. The study entitled Women Leaders in Russian Business included both quantitative and qualitative research methods incorporating 200 female Russian business leaders.

The female respondents were asked to identify the level of gender diversity on their company boards. The results were mixed with almost half of the companies having no gender diversity on their boards. 19% of the represented companies had 2-3 women, and 6% had more than three women represented on their board.


When it comes to board diversity -- the number three has been identified as somewhat of a magic number -- with research indicating that gender diverse boards (boards with 3 or more women or with 33% female representation) lead to many performance and financial benefits. For example Catalyst research suggests that gender diverse boards have better return on equity, better return on sales, better return on invested capital, and better financial results. While Gender Worx research found gender diverse boards add greater decision making value, demonstrate greater evidence of diversity of thought and perspective, and at the same time, greater unity and collegiality. Interestingly 47% of the female leaders represented in this study believe boards should have representation by way of 4-5 women.

The respondents identified the top ten most important skills for career advancement; strong working ability, responsibility, strategic vision and systemic thinking and sociability were identified as the most important for the career advancement of women in business in Russia.


Further highlights from the research study are outlined below:

  • Women under 35 responded as the most career-orientated; more than 65% indicating they intend to continue their career and professional growth. Focus on career growth decreases with age.
  • Half of all respondents are primarily in charge of other women, while almost 15% primarily manage men.
  • 77% of respondents dedicate more time to personal health than they did 5-10 years ago and 55% of respondents dedicate more time to their leadership roles.
  • 90% of women leaders are satisfied with the professional side of their lives.
  • The majority of respondents cited family as both a motivating factor and an obstacle to career growth.

The infographic below shares a portrait of a modern Russian female leader based on the profile of the 200 research respondents.


For more information on the Women Leaders in Russian Business report, please visit: http://www.pwc.ru/en/hr-consulting/women-in-business.jhtml.


12 August 2013

Leaving the workforce, coming full circle

This week’s guest blog comes from Tracy Strickland Sas a senior associate working with our US firm. Tracy – a mom of a teen with severe Autism shares her story, a story that is full of courage and hope.  I’ve no doubt it will touch and inspire all of our Gender Agenda readers.


Follow @AoifeRFlood


For as long as I can remember, I dreamed of a corporate career. As a five-year old, I’d put on my dad’s suit jackets and pretend to give out business cards to my imaginary clients. So, corporate I became as soon as I graduated from Rollins College with my degree in Communications & English. In 1984, I joined PwC (then Price Waterhouse) as a microcomputer support specialist. I traveled, trained, documented and supported the needs of our practice offices. I believed I had found the perfect place to work and never imagined that one day I would need to step away.

Ten years passed before another dream was realized with the birth of my twins, Jonathan and Taylor. Since my husband also had a career, many assumed that I would give up mine to focus on my babies. I remember the sting of disapproval when I shared my decision to return to the workplace fulltime. One friend actually said, “I can’t believe that you’ve tried this long to get pregnant, and now that you have twins you’re going back to work.”


Determined to give my all to both, I did so for the next few years — but then I was forced to adjust to a hard reality. My son, Jonathan, wasn’t developing as expected. He was easily frustrated and his language was limited. We soon launched into an all-consuming journey called Autism. Despite all manner of treatments, specialists, and prayer, Jonathan was getting worse. I continued to work as we struggled to get needed services. It was a very lonely road, as Autism didn’t receive the level of attention or funding as it has in recent years.

In one of the hardest decisions I’ve ever had to make, I stepped away from my career to navigate the unknown and overwhelming challenge of Autism. I felt the loss on many levels: loss of my dreams for my son and family, loss of income, and loss of my own identity.

I approached Jonathan’s care like a project (something I knew) with spreadsheets and data collection. I tracked the foods he ate, when and where his behaviors occurred, and even photographed the destruction of our home as he acted out in frustration and rage. Therapies were terribly expensive, and, at that time, insurance didn’t cover any of it. The therapy that held the most promise was called Applied Behavioral Analysis (ABA). However, it cost about $70,000 per year — far beyond our reach.


A couple of years ago, the doors finally opened for Jonathan to enroll in a residential educational program structured to his needs. Had I not stepped away from my career when I did to devote myself to Jonathan, this wouldn’t have happened. I needed every ounce of time, energy, determination, and all that data, to hold our family together and to break through the bureaucracy. I will never regret my decision to step away from my career to invest myself in Jonathan. Thankfully, parents today have more options and support than I did.  More employers recognize the importance of flexibility and family benefits, particularly for those who have children with special needs.

In January 2012, I ran into a former PwC colleague who encouraged me to return to the firm. Not only did I return to a firm I love, but was blown away by the many Diversity & Inclusion programs now available. Special needs caregivers can join a networking circle to connect with colleagues who understand what they’re going through. We’re provided opportunities to speak to educational specialists for advice on how to obtain services. And, best of all, PwC US now provides insurance coverage for ABA therapy, a therapy that holds promise for kids with Autism and hope for their parents. I’m grateful and humbled to work for a firm that reaches out to parents who care for children with special needs.

Parenthood comes with changes and challenges — compounded exponentially by a diagnosis like Autism. It’s transformed my family and my life. But it’s also taught me that many people have struggles we can’t see, and each one of us has something to contribute. I’ve learned to celebrate the joy in little things. There’s nothing like Jonathan’s sweet smile and the sparkle in his eye when he engages with his twin sister.


Tracy Strickland Sas is a senior associate in PwC’s U.S. HR Shared Services Centre where she maintains the firm's HR website. She contributes regularly on women's issues through enterprise-wide social media and is launching a Lean In Women's Circle in Tampa.

23 July 2013

Leaning In, together – join the webcast

Later today, Bob Moritz, PwC US Chairman and Facebook COO Sheryl Sandberg will embark on an exciting conversation about gender, leadership, and the workplace – and we want to give you the opportunity to be part of it!

Lean-InThree months ago, Facebook COO Sheryl Sandberg launched an international movement to encourage women to “lean in” to their ambitions with her book Lean In: Women, Work & the Will to Lead, and non-profit foundation LeanIn.org.  Her argument that women need to overcome their own internal barriers in order to advance their careers provoked significant debate. Critics claimed she was blaming women for not making it to the top, while supporters believe she is inspiring women to aim higher. The book has become a best seller and generated vast international media coverage.

During this PwC Talk, Bob will interview Sheryl to hear her perspective about why she wrote the book, what she thought about the controversy, and how men can join the dialogue.  Furthermore Sheryl will be answering audience questions, including those submitted from the live virtual global audience. 

Sound interesting? Well why not join us via our live webcast. 

What time?

Tuesday, 23 July:

11:00 – 12: 00 San Francisco / 14:00 – 15:00 New York / 15:00 – 16:00 Sao Paulo

19:00 – 20:00 London / 20:00 – 21:00 Paris / 22:00 – 23:00 Moscow

2:00 – 3:00 China / 4:00 – 5:00 Sydney (+ 1 day - Wednesday, 24 July)


Simply click here:  Leaning In, together

Can’t make it!

Can’t make the live event due to your time zone or a scheduling conflict? We’ll be sharing a recording of the event shortly after it concludes: to access just click here Leaning In, together.

Want to submit a question?

Sheryl and Bob will both be answering audience questions, including those submitted from the live virtual global audience.  Want to submit a question, you can do so now by clicking here: PwC Talks: Leaning In, together.


Aoife and Dale

17 July 2013

Women Leaders: the key organisational ingredient to surviving in a millennial world

Little things happen in our daily work life and sometimes it is these little things that make us most proud to be associated with our organisations.  PwC sponsored a recent Harvard Alumni event and while making arrangements for this event I asked the core PwC partner involved who they would like to invite along.  Given this was a high profile event, pitched at high profile women, I was rather pleased that the partner chose to bring Sarah, a millennial talent she was focused on mentoring. 

What might seem a ‘little gesture’ to one can be somewhat magnified to another.  This invite meant that Sarah got exposure to very senior female role-models, very early in her career, and had it not been for this ‘little gesture’ Sarah might not have been exposed to such senior female leaders (beyond PwC) until much later in her career.  Even more gratifying for me is the fact that the experience left Sarah feeling inspired, and it is through this inspiration that we bring you this week’s guest blog, written by Sarah Passmore.

Before I hand you over to Sarah, I want to first share the exciting news that Bob Moritz, Chairman PwC US, will be embarking on a conversation with Sheryl Sandberg next week (23 July).  Even better, we would like you to be part of this conversation.  Interested? Just click here to learn more!




Recently I attended the London Harvard Business School Alumni Club’s celebration of 50 years of women on the Harvard Business School campus; sponsored by PwC.

There was an impressive line-up of speakers, including Barbara Minto, designer of the Minto Pyramid principle (and first ever female consultant at McKinsey), Orit Gadiesh, first female Chairman of Bain and Company and Rona Fairhead, former Chairman and Chief Executive of the Financial Times Group.  These women were there to tell stories of their rise to the top following their time at Harvard.  One of the reasons they had been asked to join the panel was because they were ‘trailblazers’, both at Harvard and in their subsequent careers.

It’s easy to forget that it wasn’t long ago, when these women were setting out, that overt gender discrimination was commonplace.  Orit, for example, was told in all seriousness that ‘women are bad luck’ when she started work in the steel industry.  The story is told as a joke today, which in itself shows how much, luckily, times have changed.  For example, a 2012 study found that 50% of graduates are women. Diversity has a voice on the agenda in the boardroom.  It feels like we’ve come a long way from the business world described that evening.

But we can’t get away from the much-publicised fact that women are not reaching board positions. Although we’ve got equality at entry-level, only 30% of these women go on to become managers, and only 10% progress to senior management levels.  The successes of Barbara, Orit and Rona are still in the minority.  There are only 192 women directors on FTSE 100 boards, out of a total of 1,110 places. Women make up 20 of 193 world leaders recognised by the United Nations.  Even the most diverse organisations, and nations, simply aren’t cutting it as you near the starry heights of the Executive.

So even though we’ve come a long way, there is a prevailing undercurrent of prejudice, at least at the top levels.  But it’s been over 40 years since women like Barbara, Orit and Rona joined the workforce.  What’s it going to take to get us to the top?

Recent studies explore a number of changes that will support the female agenda.  This varies from ‘executive feminism’ and a growing focus on diversity initiatives, to a steady rise in Asian female employment due to savvy multinationals.

I’m going to focus on the ‘millennial effect’, because I believe it will have a major impact on the diversity agenda and on how businesses are run.

In the HR Consulting practice, we have seen an increased focus on organisations seeking to embed their corporate values and behaviours.  Over the last 18 months specifically, companies have been increasingly looking to define what they stand for.  Why? Because companies know that today, values matter.  There are two reasons for this, and both will support the rise of women through senior management.

Firstly, customers have changed.  In addition to caring about the quality of product or service they are getting, they care about what the brands they buy stand for, and are willing to go elsewhere if it doesn’t fit with their own value system.  Consumers increasingly demand information as to how and where their products are produced. They demand fair working conditions for factory-workers, will pay a premium for fair-trade, and avoid brands who don’t pay ‘fair’ amounts of tax.  These preferences are no longer limited to an ‘elite shopper’; they simply reflect the demands of the ‘millennial shopper’.

In this way, customer loyalty is increasingly coming from creating a connection between the customer and the brand, so companies are placing a real focus on getting to know their customers and building relationships with them.  This was also the focus of Seth Godin’s latest book The Icarus Principle. Take the success of brands like Innocent, Apple, or Google.  Their success comes from having strong and authentic corporate values that build and maintain powerful relationships with their customers.

There is a second reason that values matter to businesses.  At the same time as businesses having to change to accommodate the ‘millennial shopper’, they must also accommodate the ‘millennial worker’.


As we know, the millennial generation is a growing presence in today’s workforce.  Businesses are beginning to understand what impact this will have on how they operate.  What makes this more pressing are the results of the recent PwC NextGen study; it shows that millennial values aren’t limited to the millennial generation.  The workforce as a whole is increasingly caring about corporate values.  People want to feel like part of a team.  They want a purpose.  They also want things like a flexible schedule and development opportunities.  By 2020, millennials will account for 50% of the global workforce, but as we’ve seen, ‘millennial values’ are likely to account for more.

To respond to this, businesses are increasing focus on embedding corporate values, investing in graduate development and talent management programmes, and on flexible working.

Savvy organisations are going further than this.  To engage both millennial workers and millennial shoppers, they are actively building authentic, values-driven organisations that encourage their employees to ‘live’ their corporate values.  They encourage employees to really connect with the organisation, and for this to shape how they interact with their customers.  In this way, employees create the authentic connections that customers are looking for.

What has all of this got to do with the gender agenda? Simply, building this change in the way organisations view their customers and workforce requires a radical change in the way they are run. Without adapting, traditional top-down organisations won’t survive.

A study of 7,280 leaders by Harvard Business Review reveals that women excel in the areas that will deliver this change.  According to the study, women have high integrity, and a greater propensity to develop others, to inspire, and to motivate.  Women build relationships, collaborate and champion teamwork (Men were rated more positively on only one leadership competency in sixteen).  These are the very qualities that deliver the leadership and values that millennials are looking for.  They build the sense of purpose, the authenticity and the values-driven culture that will engage and retain millennial workers. It is these leadership traits that will ensure workers are equipped with the skills they need to build strong and lasting relationships with customers.

Women are positioned for success because we have millennial values.  We can help to shape organisations that can thrive in the changing environment.  There’s a clear message for business here.  They need to set women up to succeed if they want to survive in a millennial world.

Sarah Passmore is a Manager in PwC's UK HR Consulting practice, where she works with clients to align their people strategy with business strategy, focussing specifically on individual Performance Management.


05 July 2013

Mending the gender gap: Advancing tomorrow’s women leaders in financial services

Let me start this blog by sharing the exciting news that PwC has announced the new global leadership appointment of Agnès Hussherr as the Global Diversity Leader.  Based in Paris, Agnès joined PwC France in 1989 and has been involved in network Diversity efforts along with leading the ‘Women in PwC’ initiative in France for many years.  Watch this space as Agnès will be sharing more about herself and her perspectives on Diversity with our Gender Agenda blog readers in the very near future.


Agnès is a client relationship partner in Assurance with clients in the banking industry, and given her Financial Services expertise it felt very appropriate we share some recent PwC Thought Leadership on women leaders in financial services.

The lack of women leaders continues to grab the spotlight, and that is because it is far more than just a social issue.  It is an issue with financial, legislative, risk management, and talent retention implications.  Simply put, Diversity is a business issue with a clear business case

So lets shine a light on women leaders in the financial services industry, or the lack there of!  Despite making up more than half the workforce in financial institutions, women continue to dramatically lag behind their male counterparts in leadership roles.  In fact data from 20 global markets shows women comprise nearly 60% of employees in the financial services industry, but only 19% progress through the leadership ranks to senior level roles.  Board and CEO representation is even more alarming: women hold only 14% of board seats and a mere 2% of CEO positions.

There is no denying that workplace gender diversity has come far when compared with past decades, however progress in the last several years has been painfully slow.  For example, among the European Union member states, the number of women on boards has increased by an average of only 0.6% per year since 2003.  It is this lack of progress that is raising the level of urgency on this business issue. 

In this PwC Thought Leadership, we take a closer look at the shortage of women in leadership and describe the strategy financial institutions can take to expand their pipeline of women leaders.  This strategy can help close the gender gap and position companies for the many benefits that accompany a gender-diverse workforce.  

Mending the Gender Gap

Mending the gender gap: Advancing tomorrow’s women leaders in financial services.


18 June 2013

The Power of One Word

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

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


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

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

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

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

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


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

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


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

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

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

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


04 June 2013

Vital Signs: Understanding - and Impacting - Your Talent Pipeline

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

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




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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Find out more about Jennifer.