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2 posts from March 2011

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. 

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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.