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4 posts from April 2008

21 April 2008

Pitching in, helping out: lessons from Toronto and New York

Hello again.  I’ve been back from my long US/Canada trip for a few days now, and have been busy following up on the activities to which I committed while I was away, as well as working on new content for the main Women at PwC website.  Expect to see some interesting new role model profiles on there soon, as PwC women from Turkey, Switzerland and the US talk about their careers.  I’m also working with colleagues in the US, Canada and Australia to share the details of some of their programmes for our women; these will be posted in the section called “Global Initiatives” very soon, so do please keep visiting the site to read about “Mentor Moms” in the USA, amongst other interesting ideas, and how we’re using Starbucks cards and iPods to work with our people.

I’m also very excited about the fact that we have just signed up with “Working Mother” magazine to co-sponsor their Global Town Hall Conference for Women in Johannesburg, South Africa this August.  Although we’ve worked with “Working Mother” for many years in the USA, and have always appeared on their Best Companies list, this is the first time that WM and PwC have been partners in an event outside of the USA.  I’m sure I’ll be writing more about the conference between now and August. Several of PwC South Africa’s female Partners participated in the “Leaking Pipeline” research and South African Human Capital leader, Nitasha Manik is also profiled on the website. And of course, the Gender Advisory Council’s very own Anita Stemmet, although currently on maternity leave following the birth of her daughter last month, is based in Cape Town and I’m sure will be coming along to the WM event once she’s back in the office.  Anita has served as a wonderful role model for the women of the South African firm and I’m looking forward to working with the team as we plan this event, timed to celebrate National Women’s Day in South Africa.

Mentioning role models, I had the privilege of meeting many great PwC people on my trips to Toronto and New York earlier this month.  In Toronto, the Canadian launch event for “Why Women Mean Business” was a huge success.  The panel was introduced by Human Capital leader Hazel Claxton and was moderated by journalist Deirdre McMurdy, who wrote about the book in her column in the Financial Post a few days later.  My colleague Judi Bachmann, who runs the Canadian firm’s “Women in Leadership” initiative, did a great job in bringing together so many interesting and influential business leaders to learn more about the book.   The next day, one of the male PwC Partners at the event wrote to us to say how much he’d enjoyed the launch, commenting that …

“…there was a fabulous “buzz “in the room and a clear sense of interest in the subject matter well into the early evening.

I thought that Avivah and Alison [the authors] spoke wonderfully - they were thoughtful and constructive in their comments.  They possessed the facts, presented a compelling and positive picture of what the future holds and were most eloquent in their remarks.

I also liked the panel format and how the discussion unfolded under Deirdre's leadership. That component sped by far too quickly in my view - an indication that the questions, answers and overall dialogue possessed the content and flow that was most engaging for those of us in the audience.”

Alison Maitland later emailed me to say that “we've just heard that Cherie Booth (Blair) strongly recommended the book at the Women's Economic Empowerment Summit in London on Wednesday!”

With an endorsement from Britain’s former “First Lady”, who is also a top lawyer, renowned for her work on behalf of women and children, no wonder “Why Women Mean Business” has been such a success and is now being re-printed?

From Toronto, I travelled to New York and participated in the final one (for now!) of the PwC book launch events at Madison Avenue.  This was held in the very grand auditorium of our office building there (“it feels more like Madison Square Gardens to me”, quipped Alison) and was, again, very successful.  Global CEO and founder of the Gender Advisory Council, Sam DiPiazza, who has of course endorsed the book, came down to say hello and have a chat with the authors and the panellists, commenting later that “it’s a great book and a great opportunity for our people to engage.”

One of my current favourite websites is The Glass Hammer, and they sent along a journalist to cover the NYC launch – here’s their review, which gives a good flavour of the panel and the issues they discussed.
A few days later, I attended the 2008 Catalyst Awards (bumping once more into Alison!) where we witnessed Nissan and ING describing their winning initiatives.  The keynote speaker during lunch was Indra Nooyi of PepsiCo, who won the highly prestigious award, along with PwC US, in 2007 and, as I commented to my colleague Joanne over lunch, her speech alone was worth the price of admission.  Here’s a link to theglasshammer’s review of the speech; Nicki Gilmour, founder and CEO of the site, sat next to me during the lunch and hardly touched her food, as she was so assiduously scribbling away and taking down the details of Indra’s story and world view.  Those of you who are on my PwC mailing list will already have received a copy of the hand-out which we received at the lunch, in which Indra Nooyi shares her lessons on leadership.  If you haven’t received a copy but would like one, please send me a blank email with the word PepsiCo in the subject line and I’ll send you the attachment.

In the afternoon, I attended a very interesting session called “Including Men in Gender Equity: Techniques for Successfully Engaging Men as Diversity and Inclusion Champions”, the details of which you can read on the Catalyst link in this blog.  Professor Kimmel was particularly engaging when discussing men and housework, on which topic he posited that (most) men have two major modes of participation where domesticity is concerned: “they either “help out” or they “pitch in.”  Is this true?  My own husband is very involved and engaged in our own domestic lifestyle, but Prof. Kimmel’s statement received enough laughter and rueful nods to cause me to think that other men may not be so evolved. Or, indeed, involved.  I also have copies of the hand outs to share, so, as before, if you’d like to see copies of the two speakers’ work on this topic, please send me a blank email with the words White Men in the subject line (you’ll understand the title when you see the attachments!).

I returned to London with a lot more baggage than I took with me on the outbound flight, prompting the doorman at my New York hotel to ask if I’d “had a good shopping trip, Ms Thompson”, to which I could only reply “If only I’d had time!”.  No, my suitcase was full of books, either bought (“Why Women Should Rule the World” by Dee Dee Myers) or gifted by colleagues and contacts.  In Toronto, Judi gave me a copy of “Briefcase Moms” which is one of the Canadian firm’s programmes which I’ll be covering shortly on the website.  In New York, I acquired a signed copy of “You Go Girlfriend” by award winning business woman, author and coach, Maureen Frank, who has designed and delivered a great mentoring programme to our women in PwC Australia – which I’m also keen to cover on the website. I read Maureen’s book cover to cover on the plane ride home and it’s a great read; I now forgive her for dedicating my signed copy to “Chloe”.

Until next time

Chloe Cleo

11 April 2008

Blanka’s story: Czechs in the City

I’m currently in New York, at the end of a whirlwind 10 days of travelling between London, Toronto and the Big Apple.  I have so much to report back on, having attended two book launches for “Why Women Mean Business”, gone to the Catalyst Awards Conference at which Nissan and ING were recognised for their innovation and progress, given out over one hundred copies of the “Leaking Pipeline” report and, last but not least, met some of the most interesting and smart people out there, one of who even shares my somewhat rare allergy to aubergines (or “eggplant”, as she calls it).  What were the chances?

More on all of that next week.  Ahead of that account, here’s the final blog entry to win a copy of “Why Women Mean Business”. It comes from Blanka Dubrokova, currently based in PwC’s Prague office. Here’s her story of what she learned from her secondment to New York. Thank you, Blanka. 

(I have to just add in at this point that WWMB is currently unavailable in the USA, as it’s sold out!  We had the last 100 copies at the NYC launch and it’s now being re-printed – so, for those of you who have one of the first copies, you have a first edition!)

Blanka_copy“In 1996, I joined Coopers & Lybrand in Prague in the Czech Republic, as an audit assistant and spent the next nine years auditing telecommunication, technology and utility clients. In 2005 - 2007, I joined PwC USA and worked in the Global Assurance Methodology Group in New York. I made my first contacts with a women's network here.  Now back in the Czech Republic, I am currently working in a joint role as an assurance senior manager serving clients and a team leader of the Central and Eastern Europe audit methodology team.

 

I enjoy working with people from different territories; here I truly appreciate the global nature of the Firm. Helping the Firm to be a better place to work at, thus ultimately providing a better service to our clients is my main aspiration.      

Believe in Yourself

Magnificent skyscrapers, century-old subway stations, and yellow cabs everywhere. It was July 2005 and the biggest adventure of my life - a two-year secondment with PwC New York – had just started. 

I really didn’t know what to expect when I found myself at JFK airport, after successfully passing through strict looking immigration officers. To some of my friends and colleagues, moving as a single woman to the USA, and specifically to New York, seemed risky. But I had tried not to think about the possible negative sides of my decision and focused instead on all the good things which could happen.  I spent the first part of my life in the communist Czechoslovakia and another part living in the young democracy of the Czech Republic. This somewhat diverse experience, together with my three large suitcases and a determination to pass the coming life test as best as possible, were the main equipment I took with me to the US.

The City absorbed me immediately. It was hot and humid, even at midnight. I couldn’t figure out how to unlock the door of my temporary apartment. Exhausted from a long flight, jetlagged, and thirsty, I almost started crying. Why the hell is the lock not working in the way it is supposed to work? A wise Czech proverb says: “Different place, different habits”. Accepting that things are working differently, and that it still can make a lot of sense to others -- as a doorman I ended up calling explained to me, smiling and demonstrating how to unlock the door-- was the first big learning lesson. I kept reminding myself of this always when things, actions, or conclusions of other people seemed illogical to me. And I continue till now.   

After a week of acclimatization, it was time to start working. Here it was. The PwC office at the intersection of Madison Avenue and 42nd Street, the busiest street in Manhattan. Looking at the 35-story building, all glass and steel, I still couldn’t believe this was the place I would be going to work for the next two years. It appeared cold and anonymous. Looking around me at millions of cars, people, and crazy bicycle riders, I was wondering how to find my place in this jungle, not knowing anyone. And no one knowing me.

Luckily, my fears didn’t come true. My new colleagues in the office did a fantastic job of helping me adjust, both to my job, as well as to life in the City. Buying a TV set, arranging for an internet connection at home, applying for my social security number, everything was suddenly much easier with their advice. My coach, a Partner in our group, took two hours out of her busy schedule to meet with me to introduce herself and to learn more about me and my background. Even though my job turned out to be quite challenging, at the same time it was the most fascinating experience. Having many new things to learn, working with new people, travelling to Europe and other places in the US: this was all demanding, but also very inspiring. 

After several months, I was asked to take on new responsibilities, including leading various teams, presenting at group meetings, or being a coach to several members of our group. To my surprise, I also received some positive feedback for bringing different perspectives and contributing something unique into our projects. All I was actually doing was applying experience from my home office and trying to add value to my work and to our team. My background and experience from a different part of the world suddenly appeared as an asset. I realized that everyone can make a difference, and that even I can make a difference.   

Outside work, I found myself in various situations I had never possibly imagined. I became a tai-chi instructor and led classes in a tai-chi studio in Manhattan. As a volunteer, I taught a series of “Our Community” lessons to a class of second grade students at the elementary school in my neighborhood. I also ended up putting together a business plan for a charity organization, probably as a result of being the only member with some finance and management background. It felt very encouraging to be able to contribute something to life in The Big Apple.

Looking back at the two years spent in the US, I feel endlessly grateful for having such a wonderful life opportunity. If I could name just one of the things I value most, I would say gaining confidence. Confidence in myself, my skills and abilities. I found out that I am as good as others in this big world and that I can bring valuable things to the table.

I want to encourage every woman to: “Believe in yourself”. Whatever you decide to do, you can really do it, no matter how difficult or impossible it may look. Put aside your fears and enjoy your journey.”         

07 April 2008

Why Women Mean Business – a view from the front line

Here’s the second of our guest articles – this time from Paula Holt from PwC UK, who is an author on the UK's PwCPeople blog. Paula wins a copy of “Why Women Mean Business” for her thought provoking views on life as a working mother.

Here’s her story.

“I joined Coopers & Lybrand Assurance at the end of August 1996, straight from University, based in Cambridge.  I completed my ACA training contract, getting a good mix of hi-tech, manufacturing and public sector audits, together with a few IPOs and corporate finance deals.  I was promoted to manager while on maternity leave for the first time (in 2001).  In summer 2002 I took a six month secondment to Partner Affairs Finance in London.  I found I really enjoyed being able to make a difference to the firm itself rather than offering words of wisdom to our clients and the role in Partner Affairs became permanent.  I expanded the role from its main focus of looking after the finance for partners in international placements in or from the UK and I now run the Partner Affairs Finance team, having been promoted to senior manager in 2005. 

I also sit on the Parents Network Steering Group in the UK, a network that I helped set up to provide support and advice and share experience of parents and would-be parents in the firm.  We run quarterly lunchtime seminars on everything from sibling rivalry to building self-esteem in your kids, we organise basic “life support for babies and children” classes and we manage a database forum where anyone can post anything from 'How do I build a climbing frame?' to 'Help, my toddler’s biting at nursery' or 'What do you do with a depressed teenager?'.  We have a distribution list of 1,200 partners and staff whom we survey for their thoughts on flexible working, childcare vouchers, maternity return etc so that we can input to the firm's policies in these areas.

Ga_070408Why Women Mean Business
“Bye darling, I'm off now, Lex and Sam are dressed and have had breakfast but haven't cleaned their teeth yet; Tiny Tom isn't dressed and was half-way through his breakfast when he got distracted and now he's standing on the windowsill throwing apples at the sofa."

I glance over at my husband's supine just-waking form as I spit out the toothpaste, discard the yoghurt-covered cardigan, replace with the 'no child shall touch' work version and make a quick bee-line down the stairs and out the front door, grabbing my lap-top trolley-bag on the way.

As I'm hurtling along the ten-minute walk to the train station, I realise that my husband's frown, although an indication that he had heard me, probably also meant that, as usual, my final sentence was far too long and complicated to actually register any meaning.  In the five minutes it takes him to come downstairs, in all likelihood Tiny Tom will have stopped throwing apples at the sofa and moved on to something else.

I have three boys aged 6, 4 and 2 and a fourth (boy) on the way.  I work full-time and my husband is a house-husband, an arrangement that suits us both very well.  He doesn't like mornings, so I do the 'getting-the-kids-up' routine - although son number 3 is of the alpha-male variety, so coupled with toddler-tantrums he generally fails to fall for any of my attempts to direct his actions; and I don't like evenings, so my husband does the 'getting-the-kids-to-bed' routine.  On the one evening a week when my husband goes out early to play pool, I resort to ringing him in the pub to speak to son number 3.  I've always thought it must be quite amusing to see him pause mid-shot to say 'bed-time' into his mobile in a stern-daddy voice.

Of course, there are problems with the set up - such as the nursery's "Mums' Evening Out" social from which my husband was specifically excluded, despite him being the only one of us to have ever spoken to any of the nursery staff or other parents - or the financial crisis resulting from my maternity leaves, which we cover by using up every ISA I ever dutifully manage to stash away.

Inevitably you get the heart-breaking episodes such as where son number 1 said "I don't want to grow up because I'll have to grow up to be a Daddy not a Mummy and only Mummies get to play."  Daddy is the disciplinarian and Mummy gets to have fun and play and doesn't stop the throwing apples at the sofa game because she's running out the door and doesn't have to deal with it all day long.  When my sister and I were kids, my dad was the bread-winner and my mum was the disciplinarian.  I'm not sure if it goes with the territory of being the house-person, or if the disciplinarian has to be the same sex as the child.

So, do I feel guilty for not being there enough for my kids?  Well, sometimes, but given half the chance they'll go round to a friend’s house to play at the weekend rather than stay at home with me, and besides I get the cool role of being the parent who likes to play! 

Do I feel guilty for being about to take my fourth maternity leave away from PwC?  Actually, no, quite the contrary, I think my absences add a great deal of value to PwC.  Being away for six months makes sure that I have addressed the key-person risk, that I am developing my team by coaching them to cover my role when I am not here (albeit with added support recruited in to assist), that my systems and processes are fully documented and understood, that everything I do is done as efficiently and effectively as possible, that I continually re-address my role and where I want to be, that I have the occasional 6-month secondment to build my organisation and negotiation skills before returning refreshed to the work-place.  I have covered my leaves and positioned myself to such an extent that on two of my four maternity leaves I got promoted. 

In fact, as my husband and I have agreed that boy number 4 is to be our last child, I am seriously worried about how my career (and hence the value the firm receives from me) will suffer without any more maternity leaves.” 

03 April 2008

“The single most important thing to progressing in my own role was …”

One of the very first PwC people to whom I spoke when I first started in my role with the Gender Advisory Council was Dale Meikle, who has written today’s blog posting.  Currently on secondment to our European partnership, she joined PwC US in 1999 and worked in the Washington National Tax practice until 2005, before moving to Luxembourg, Paris and finally (for now) Belgium.

Based in Brussels, she works as a Human Capital Manager for the region and co-ordinates the PwC Eurofirms Women in PwC Network.  Dale has assisted on several GAC projects, most notably working on the “Leaking Pipeline” interviews, conducted in both English and French, undertaken with senior women in PwC France.

Meikle“I know something of how our perceptions can influence reality; when I came from the U.S. to Europe on secondment two years ago, I immediately surmised that in order to gain credibility I was going to have to change (it can get awkward quite fast if you don’t learn the two versus three cheek-kissing conventions in France versus Holland).  I was going to have to hone my patience and cooperation skills.  I was also going to have to make a decent effort at learning at least one of their languages.  And those were just the small things.  Europe, with its inherent cultural diversity, was a paradox – a progressive region, yet also one deeply rooted in tradition.  And so my secondment began with a dawning awareness of the particular way our perceptions and mindset directly impact our experiences. 

In my new role as manager of the Eurofirms Women in PwC Network, my education in this sphere would soon be furthered.  I was no expert in diversity when I began this role, but I knew a few things.  My economist friend had explained to me that without the cost-free domestic labor women contribute to society, the global economy would implode (interesting, I thought; hadn’t my own mother once threatened to “go on strike?”)  And to my pregnant friend who worried about how she would rejoin the workforce after starting a family, I promptly replied, Move to Sweden! Immediately!  Two years, many articles, conversations, annual reports and meetings later, I know quite a lot more. 

The most fascinating and personally relevant insight I gained was when I assisted the Gender Advisory Council (GAC) in interviewing PwC’s female leaders.  Speaking to these women brought veracity to the statistics and academic papers I’d been reading.  Each story I heard was very different.  Some of these women had experienced high degrees of autonomy, while others had acquired trusted mentors who’d “held their hand” in navigating the nuanced path to leadership.  Some had worked on a myriad of clients all over the world, whilst others had been at the same office and client practically their entire career.  Having children had had a significant impact on work for some, while for others it had not.  Some had experienced perceived sexism, while others saw their gender as wholly neutral to their career progression.  Interestingly, some of these women would have changed just about everything they had done, while others insisted they’d have had it no other way.  On the surface, these stories sounded contradictory; there was no “solution” – no consistent formula for success that could be neatly packaged and shared with other women. 

It was only with some time and perspective on the interviews that I was able to connect the dots.  I was sure that none of these women had achieved a leadership position by accident – and the one common element that had allowed them to get there was their own perception of themselves and their environment; to paraphrase Emily Dickinson, they dwelled in their possibilities, not their limitations.  That was the defining factor individually and the unifying factor when looking at their stories as a whole.  Simply put, they had found a way to become leaders armed with the belief that it could be done.  These women were driven in a way that transcended their environment (however detrimental or supportive that atmosphere had been at the time) though they may have used many different tools to get to the same place. 

Personally, this revelation was quite significant and empowering for me.  Much as I understood those two years ago that I’d have to change my expectations and behavior to adapt to European business and social mores, I now realized that the single most important thing to progressing in my own role was changing my own behavior, perceptions and willingness.  Success was not something vague and intangible; I was obligated to know my own mind and then seek out and take advantage of possibilities.  The realization became palpable to me that while the support structures and culture at PwC are necessary to the success of women, it is the willingness and beliefs of each individual that will truly have impact and bring lasting change. 

It’s a fact that the environment today at PwC is very different than it was when these women were taking their first steps toward leadership.  There is the inception of the GAC and there are territory leaders who are removing obstacles to women’s advancement, one by one; there is the sweeping shift in the mindset of our young women just beginning their careers.  In fact, I wonder if this new generation is so different from those that came before, that gender won’t even cross their minds; that because they don’t see a glass ceiling, that it actually won’t exist for them.  I wonder if decades down the line diversity will be so embedded in the way we work that we will have rendered formal programs and communications on the subject superfluous.  What I know is that these young women will be in an environment that is willing to support and enable them significantly more than the women I interviewed.  I believe we should share their success stories very early on in our young women’s careers to demonstrate that above all else, it is they who will decide their future; that armed with their own ambition and inspiration – and in the milieu of our dynamic organization – they indeed have the opportunity to get wherever they want to go, as far and as fast as they can.  And so do I, and so do any of us.”