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Diversity and Inclusion

Diversity and the case for transparency

Vulnerability is a necessity if we want to lead effectively.

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Business leaders who persevered through a trying 2020 got some affirming news when Edelman released its latest Trust Barometer in January. Not only is business, for the first time, the most trusted institution in the world, it also is the only institution seen as both competent and ethical. To be sure, the doubts about government, non-governmental organizations and the media reflected in this year’s Barometer are nothing to celebrate. But there’s also no doubt that today’s trust dynamics create an opportunity—and a responsibility in many cases—for business leaders to take tough stands on issues that affect society.

One critical priority: diversity, equity and inclusion (DEI). While many in the business community have been focusing on DEI for several years, the data indicate there’s still plenty of room to improve. In fact, I’d suggest that with trust in business running high, there has never been a better time to be transparent about our data as a way of holding ourselves accountable for the progress we seek to make, and that our people, investors, customers and other stakeholders expect from us.

Last year, we tried a version of this at PwC. On 26 August, we publicly released our diversity data, including racial and gender representation, at all career stages, for all of our offices in the United States. While we were proud of progress in some areas, such as the progress we’ve made in diverse recruiting of late, we were admittedly disappointed by some of the things that data said: our representation of women and racially and ethnically diverse people at senior levels is not what we would like, and we also wonder how many people in communities that self-identify (such as those who are LGBTQ+, who are veterans or who experience disabilities) felt comfortable doing so.

Believing that transparency can contribute to progress, in 2020 PwC shared detailed data on the diversity of its US employees

Gender and diversity in selected roles, share of PwC US employees1

Entry-level hires
Racially/ ethnically diverse 40%
White 58%
Chose not to provide (2%)2%
Partners and principals
Racially/ ethnically diverse 16%
White 82%
Chose not to provide (2%)2%

50%

of PwC US leadership team are women and/or racially/ethnically diverse individuals

Although some of the numbers gave us pause, they ultimately made us even more determined to go faster. Transparency grounds everything, and shining light on where we can improve makes tough challenges impossible to ignore. That was certainly the case for us. In the months following the release of our data, we found:

Stakeholders care. Our people appreciated our candor. So did our clients, and many other companies; my partners and I have received hundreds of requests for advice from other organizations looking to share their numbers. This was gratifying, but that wasn’t the important thing. What mattered most was that the enthusiasm of our stakeholders, particularly our people, gave us energy to accelerate our efforts. We wanted to, not out of fear of how it would look in the future if we did not progress as quickly as we wanted to, but because it so obviously mattered to so many people who matter to us—and because we were confident we could do better. 

We’re working harder and smarter. We were working hard prior to the release of our diversity data. But we’re working harder now—and smarter, in part because of how we tackled the data collection and reporting effort. We didn’t just say, “Here’s where we are, and here’s where we want to be.” We also collected data about the employee experience, and used that to help generate ideas about credible, new interventions to enhance experiences, improve retention and create more direct paths to leadership. 

For example, we are focusing intently on the way we handle deployment around client engagements so that our people—with a particular emphasis on our women, Black and Latinx employees—are experiencing a variety of challenging assignments, which, our data tell us, are correlated with advancement and retention. We’re also strengthening our relationships with Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCUs), Hispanic Serving Institutions (HSIs) and community colleges. And we’re reviewing requirements for four-year degrees as prerequisites to join certain parts of our businesses, to help us to more readily source talent and, in some cases, decrease obstacles that a four-year degree may present to those from underserved communities. Importantly, too, we are focusing on fostering a culture of belonging rooted in thoughtful introspection, with an emphasis on allyship and critical dialogue so that everyone at the firm can reach their full potential.

We’re more outcome-oriented. As we move with fresh energy, we’re innately aware of the difference between activity and outcomes. Both are important, so when people ask me how we’re doing, I say we’re encouraged, but our results show us that we are not where we want to be yet. What will the results of our next promotion cycle, six months from now, show? How about the following one, which is 18 months away? The fact that we’ve started down the road of transparency makes these checkpoints very real—and for me, very exciting.

In a sense, we’re simply providing the same kind of scorecard for our diversity efforts that we’ve long provided for our day-to-day operations. Said differently, DEI should be treated like any other business issue, and we are treating it as such. Most organizations that stay in business for meaningful periods of time do so because they are living, learning, evolving entities. We want that same spirit of adaptation to pervade our diversity efforts, at all levels, because everyone can see exactly how we are doing.

People, myself included, often describe diversity as a journey. I suppose that’s true, in the sense that it’s not the work of a moment; at PwC, we’ve been at it for more than two decades. But it’s also a business issue that demands focused attention, testing, learning, scaling what works and stopping what doesn’t. A journey can sound like a grand adventure with no known destination. That’s not diversity, and business leaders aren’t just along for the ride. They’re navigators, who set direction, check progress continuously and turn around when they hit dead ends. They also need their people up and down the line to do the same, because course-correcting involves a multitude of actors. There’s no substitute for clear, widely shared information in that endeavor. Uncomfortable though transparency may be at first, I’m convinced that vulnerability is a necessity if we want to lead effectively on diversity—and as the business community has the greatest share of trust we’ve had in recent memory, now is the time.

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Tim Ryan

Tim Ryan

Senior Partner and Chairman, PwC US