Bentley's PreparedU Project is periodically presenting profiles of companies that are helping themselves by helping women to thrive. Here, Jennifer Allyn, managing director of diversity at PricewaterhouseCoopers, shares how her company creates a culture of open dialogue about what women need to succeed in her organization.
As a truly global organization with more than 184,000 employees across firms in 157 countries, PricewaterhouseCoopers is uniquely positioned to send a major message to the business community whenever it makes a commitment to diversity. In addition to launching the Aspire to Lead series with Sheryl Sandberg of LeanIn.org, PwC was also named one of the 100 Best Companies of 2013 by Working Mother; one of the top 50 Companies for Diversity in 2013 by Diversity Inc.; and one of the 2014 Best Places to Work for LGBT Equality by the Human Rights Campaign.
In the United States, 48 percent of PwC’s 39,000 employees are female — many of whom have been hired directly after graduating from Bentley, which PwC considers one of its top recruitment campuses. So we sat down with Managing Director of Diversity Jennifer Allyn to find out what makes PwC a company where women thrive.
Bentley: Why is PwC one of the best places for women to work?
Allyn: Over the last decade, we’ve invested a lot in our people efforts to be a great place to work for everyone, not just women. Bob Moritz, PwC’s U.S. chairman and senior partner, is very focused on inclusion, because the intellectual capacity of our people to solve problems for our clients is our capital. Women are a key part of our talent pool, and we know we can’t run this firm without women.
Bentley: What is “Aspire to Lead” and why is PwC sponsoring it?
Allyn: Aspire to Lead is the PwC Women’s Leadership Series, which includes a number of programs and workshops designed to provide students and new professionals with tools to help them build leadership skills. We were thrilled that Sheryl was involved, perfectly timed because she had just published Lean In for Graduates. (The live webcast and videos with top PwC female executives on topics such as Communicating with Confidence and Focusing on Feedback are available on LeanIn.org.)
Bentley: Do you feel women are properly prepared for the workforce after graduation?
Allyn: Our women do very well, particularly at the entry level. PwC is very clear about the technical credentials we’re looking for, and it’s very competitive. We emphasize that you may have been the superstar on your campus but everyone here was an A student, so how do you differentiate yourself? College can be a very egalitarian place, with women in the majority and in leadership roles, so what do you need to do to have that in the workplace, too? How do you signal your ambition?
Bentley: How do you mentor your female employees to succeed?
Allyn: Everyone has a coach, and all of the senior members have coachees. It’s a cascading effort. We’re really an apprenticeship model, where the career is learned on the job, with the client, doing the work, so the diversity team is focused on acknowledging our own blind spots in cultural differences. Sheryl’s book was great for navigating through these messages that people may be interpreting differently, or biases they might not know they have. We talk about cultural dexterity, the need to be able to work with people of all different backgrounds — wherever they were born, their sexual orientation, age, etc. — and why gender dynamics is a big piece of cultivating leadership skills.
Bentley: In what ways do you work to inspire confidence and encourage your female employees?
Allyn: We highlight the internal role models we have through an intranet site called Women Up Front. There are 15 partners on our U.S. leadership team, and five of them are women. That’s the most it’s ever been, and 30 percent is a very meaningful number in terms of critical mass and tipping point. Our CFO is a woman, our general counsel is a woman. We just did a panel discussion at Bentley to share how different all these women are — different personalities and styles, strengths and experiences — and how there isn’t just one path or one stereotype for becoming a woman CEO. Careers are long. When you come in at 22, you’re not thinking about what your leadership role might be 30 years from now, so telling those stories is important.
Bentley: Do you have any formal or informal support or mentorship programs in place?
Allyn: We have affinity groups where women meet to get peer support about their career, an informal series called Candid Conversations, where we talk about work and motherhood, gender and negotiation, race and gender, and keep the dialogue completely open. We even have an internal initiative called White Men as Diversity Champions. Everyone has a part to play in inclusion, and we want everyone to achieve according to their own potential, to see where their ambition will lead them, and never to think they can’t succeed for some reason.
Bentley: What else should we know about why PwC is a progressive workplace and one of the best places for women to work?
Allyn: Women and men just get different messages about their careers. Don’t be worried about obstacles before you encounter them, like work and motherhood. People are so anxious about those issues now well before they even have children. We have lots of working mothers moving up the ranks, and amazing benefits like backup child care services, flexible work arrangements, off-ramping and on-ramping programs, and generous maternity and paternity leave. One size does not fit all, and the balancing act changes over the course of your career.
Melissa Massello is a freelance writer, former startup executive, and serial entrepreneur passionate about supporting women’s leadership and gender equality, both in business and at home.
Companies Where Women Thrive Series
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