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3 posts from May 2011

31 May 2011

Weißwurst and Karma


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

à bientôt,


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


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

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


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

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


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


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

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

18 May 2011

The whole world is watching you


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


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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

à bientôt,


10 May 2011

Who’s your sponsor?


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


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


Here are some nuggets that struck me:

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

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

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

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

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

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

What’s going so incredibly wrong?

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

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

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

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

Well, in my opinion – ask EVERYONE.

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

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


à bientôt,