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Dispelling myths about teenage pregnancy

I’m delighted to share my journey from teenage mum to Chartered Accountant. When I was 10, I moved to Ireland after the breakup of my parent’s marriage. I had spent the previous ten years living between London and Nigeria with my family. This was a challenging transition for my mum. She had just left my dad and needed to figure out how to manage three children aged under 10 with another on the way all on her own. Unknown to us at the time, she had also been suffering from depression since she was a teenager. Unfortunately, it was all too much for my mum to handle and she felt she had no one to ask for help. This led to a breakdown in our relationship and I became homeless for the first time at age 13.

It was a very scary experience sleeping in hostels as a 13-year-old girl. Normally you have to leave the hostels early in the morning then return to try to get a bed before they all fill up in the evening. I lived in a homeless emergency accommodation for nine months but I got a stable bed in the accommodation after a number of weeks, so thankfully I knew where I would be sleeping each night. I moved into a residential care home at 14. It was run by amazing people, but this was still a very turbulent and lonely time in my life.

In March 2008, five months before my 15th birthday, I found out I was pregnant. I was terrified mainly because I was going to have to leave this care home where I felt safe and cared for. I was scared to tell anyone but I confessed within a few hours to the manager of my care home. I was very lucky that the proprietors and manager made the decision to convert the purpose and function of my care home so they could help me raise my child while I remained in education. That decision is why I can write this blog post today.

Being a teenager in school is a very nerve-racking experience for someone who is a “normal” teenager, never mind when you are the only person of colour in your class. I had struggled with this difference since I was 10 as Ireland was not as diverse then. This made me extremely self-conscious and the idea of them finding out I was also a pregnant teenager made me decide to drop out of secondary school (high-school).

My care home remained extremely supportive and they paid for me to have private tuition lessons while I was pregnant which meant I could re-sit the important Junior Certificate exams I missed when I had my son (the Junior Certificate is an educational qualification awarded in Ireland to students who have successfully completed the junior cycle of secondary education). To this day, I am still shocked that I managed this. I was a worried and self-conscious teenager living in care and sitting in these tuition classes with a room full of 14-15 year olds with my huge baby bump. But I got through it because I had to make a better life for my son, and education was how I was going to do it.

I had my son, Liam, in December 2008, and at 15, I returned to education in a new school. This designated disadvantaged school was more diverse. I felt the teachers had become so used to dealing with young people with complex home situations that they tried to manage their expectations and encourage them to aim lower rather than higher. On one occasion, my maths teacher tried to sway me in a different educational direction. This was clearly because, as a young mum she felt I was never going to finish school, let alone make it to university. I'm really happy that I did not let her line of thinking influence me.

My care home supported me in every way they could while I finished school, whether it was dropping my son Liam to crèche in the morning so I wouldn't be late for school or babysitting so I could get a couple of hours sleep before school. They were always there for me. I am so thankful for them for that. I completed my Leaving Certificate (the university matriculation examination in Ireland) and gained entry to Dublin City University to study Accounting and Finance. While I was over the moon, I did not underestimate the mountain ahead of me.

As I was turning 18, I had to move out into my own accommodation with my son. Thankfully, a number of advocacy groups lobbied for an aftercare package that meant I did not have to worry about accommodation and childcare while I completed my undergraduate degree. It was tough dealing with the guilt of my son growing up without me being around as I worked to achieve my goals. I saw all my friends having a very different college experience than me but I knew that I was incredibly lucky to have this opportunity.

I knew working in a Big Four firm while completing my exams would be tough with a child and busy season, so I decided to pursue a Masters in Accounting after completing my degree. With a masters, the number of exams I would have to take whilst working would be reduced and hopefully make the triple juggle of managing the start of my career, pursuing my professional accounting qualification and being a mum a little bit less challenging.

The day I graduated from my undergraduate degree, I had a job offer from two Big Four accounting firms and I just couldn’t believe it. PwC Ireland was the obvious choice for me because I felt right at home here during my interview. It was a massive motivator for me during my masters knowing I had this amazing job waiting for me at the end of it if I just put my head down and focused on passing my exams for the year, which is what I did.

After joining PwC, I put ridiculous amounts of pressure on myself to not only be like everyone else but to do better. I missed school plays and had friends bring my son to appointments all because I wanted to prove myself. My managers always made it clear that I could work as flexibly as I needed, but I constantly refused this offer. I remember doing a parent-teacher meeting by Skype and my manager asking why didn’t I just attend in person? The answer is I don’t really know.

I regret missing all of those events for two years while I put my career first all because of the irrational fear I had of being labelled as a single mother who couldn’t cope. I didn’t have flexibility in school or college. It just seemed so weird to me to have this offer now especially given I did not know anyone else who was at my grade level who also had a child.

During my second year when I was training, I put even more pressure on myself to balance study, work, and my son. For example, I would study at lunch times during busy season to have a head start because I knew I couldn’t cram it all in at the end, my home life did not accommodate that. Passing my Final Admitting exams to Chartered Accountants Ireland was the second best day of my life (Liam’s birth was the first). I couldn’t believe I had actually done it. I couldn’t believe this triple juggle was finally over.

When I wasn’t in survival mode anymore post exams, I could finally see that my amazing little boy really needed his mum. He really needed to see me at the Christmas play and to have my help with his homework. This was when I decided to start accepting the offers of flexibility. I would discuss my weekly work goals with my senior or manager and made sure the work was done so I would be able to enjoy the school play and story time at bedtime. I became so much happier in my personal and work life. This flexibility actually made me eager and willing to take on more work and additional responsibilities.

I can’t go back in time to make up for all of those lost moments in my son’s life. However, I can learn from my mistakes. I am 24 years old. ‘It is a marathon, not a sprint’ are words I have come to live by. I am so thankful for everyone I’ve worked with at PwC who have supported me. I know that this is an organisation where I can achieve my very ambitious career goals while not having to sacrifice important moments with my son. I hope other mothers see this post as an opportunity to start taking those offers of flexibility without self-imposed worry or guilt, no matter what age they became a mum.

I would be lying if I didn’t share that I’ve felt the stigma of being a teenage mum on many occasions throughout my life. And I was worried how this might manifest when I began working at PwC, in particular because I also felt so different because of my race and experience of growing up in care. I recently asked the partner who hired me why he made the decision to hire me. His response was because he knew that I was different and could see the benefits this difference would bring to his team. I hope sharing my story debunks some of the myths people continue to have about teenage mums. For me, being a teenage mum made me even more hard working and determined to succeed in life, for both me and my son. In the words of C.S. Lewis, “Hardship often prepares an ordinary person for an extraordinary destiny”.

Deborah Somorin is a Senior Associate at PwC Ireland. Deborah completed an Accounting and Finance degree and Masters in Accounting with Dublin City University. She is a qualified Chartered Accountant and she recently began sharing her story to help change the stigma attached with youth homelessness and teenage pregnancy. Deborah recently founded Empower the Family, a not for profit company that will open student accommodation with affordable quality childcare for single parents aged between 18-23 in third level education. Deborah is also a board member on the board of directors for Chartered Accountants Support which supports members and students of Chartered Accountants Ireland. 

You can connect with Deborah on LinkedIn or follow her on Twitter at @deborah_somorin

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Raising awareness of premature birth

I’d always feared having children. The upheaval it would bring into my life, the worries that it would bring, and of course the fear of labour and all that it entailed!  However, after plenty of thought and discussion, I decided that I was willing to face those fears and start a family with my husband. In November 2013 I found out I was pregnant.  We rang in the new year of 2014 wondering what lay ahead, but with no idea just how things would unfold. I was due in July 2014, but in early May, at 29 weeks pregnant, I was admitted to hospital as my waters had started to break.  

The doctors told me I would remain in hospital until baby arrived – and that that could be a matter of days, or could go right up to my due date.  I resigned myself to playing the waiting game, and was pleased to make it to the 30 week mark while still in hospital with my feet up! However at 30 weeks and 2 days, Seb crashed into our world. The labour was traumatic – not because of the physical pain that I’d always imagined, but because of the emotional pain. I was petrified, willing my body to hold on to him for a little longer, but nature took over, and Seb was born 10 weeks early weighing 1.3KG (2lb 13oz).  

The second he was born he was briefly flashed in front of our faces so we could get a glimpse of him, then he was whisked off to the neonatal intensive care unit.  My husband and I were in shock, not quite sure what had just happened. I was taken back to a ward where other mothers lay with their babies in bassinets beside them - the nurse who took me to my bed swiftly moved the empty bassinet away from my bedside. I lay in shock for some time, crying at how I had not been able to physically hold on to that little boy in my body for any longer. I felt like I had let him down and my body had rejected him.  

Such was the guilt, and being fully convinced that he would not make it, I did not even want to see him, and it took some convincing (and a Polaroid photo!) for my husband to get me down to the NICU to meet our little boy.  The staff offered to let me hold him and I refused, thinking I’d hurt him, but they urged me to do so and the minute he lay on my chest I felt the rock in my chest dissolve, and instantly a sense of responsibility kicked in. From that moment on, I went into full mother mode, expressing milk to tube-feed him and educating myself on all the medical knowhow I needed to read his monitor and charts. Four weeks later,  at only 34 weeks gestation and just over 2kg / 4lb in weight, Seb came home. It was a tough road but we got him there, and now he is a smart, funny, active little boy, thankfully with no long lasting effects. He also has two younger sisters….


We debated risking a second pregnancy, worried that the same thing might happen again as I’d never been able to find out what exactly caused Seb’s early arrival.  I was assured that, while the same thing could happen again, there was every chance I could go on to have subsequent “normal” pregnancies. So, we took a chance on having a second “child”.  Within seconds of beginning our first scan the obstetrician assured me that it I would definitely be monitored very closely throughout pregnancy as there were two heartbeats!!!

It sounds ungrateful, but I was devastated.  I saw this as having doubled my chances of something going wrong and following the same path again.  At 28 weeks, I had to make a swift dash to the hospital knowing I was once again in early labour. There was no long wait this time - Zoe and Eve arrived less than 24 hours later, both weighing even less than Seb at 1.1Kg (2lb 7oz) each.  

We were in for a very rocky road.  While I didn’t realise it at the time, Seb had done everything by the book in the NICU - all he needed to do was grow. With the girls, no two days were the same.  We went through blood transfusions, meningitis scares, lumbar punctures, cranial bleeds...and all this with an 18 month old son to care for. But, once again, we had fighters on our hands, and 6 weeks later Eve got out of hospital.  Zoe came home 1 week later and we finally had all our family under one roof.


It's fair to say that 2014-2016 were the most challenging years of mine and my husband’s lives to date. The Irish Neonatal Health Alliance (INHA) asked me to share our story for World Prematurity Day in 2016 and I was happy to do so as I felt it important to raise greater awareness of the issues surrounding premature birth.

When the press interviews were done, my husband remarked to me that one of the things I’d commented on was how I felt robbed of my maternity leave. He was right. In Ireland, maternity leave commenced the day the baby was born. And, while most mothers got to take their baby home after a day or two in hospital, a large chunk of my maternity leave was spent abiding by visiting hours, peering into an incubator, asking permission to hold my baby, and feeding them via a syringe.  

Even when I got them home, I was unable to take my baby out or even have many visitors to my home as their immune systems were so vulnerable.  Having reflected on our experiences, I felt an urge to take action. I approached the INHA and together we lobbied the Irish government for a change in statutory maternity leave.  In October 2017, legislation was introduced to extend maternity leave in the cases of premature birth to include the time between the actual birth date and the due date. That was a proud day for me, and gave me a real sense of closure.  I finally felt I was able to put the trauma of the premature deliveries and the challenges thereafter behind me.

I’ve taken this opportunity to share my experiences:

1. Choose an employer that cares

When it comes to considering starting a family I think that it is really important that you’ve selected to work for an employer that values family. And when it comes to pregnancy and birth, it’s important to expect the unexpected and this is where working for an employer that cares is so important. One of the core global values at PwC is ‘Care’ and I really experienced this first-hand. The team at PwC Ireland were amazing.  There was endless support while I was off on leave, and on return to work (both times!) I was never made to feel that my time off had hindered my career development in any way.  They were happy to support me in my new life as a parent with a 4 day working week and there was never an issue with me taking time off for the many, many hospital appointments we needed to bring the kids to. It was a very proud day when the kids were strong enough to be brought into the office to meet all of the team.

2. Expected the unexpected

Pregnancy and birth is different for everyone. I recommend that anyone planning to or embarking on this adventure think and stay positive while being aware of any ‘challenges’ that might arise. While the general trend on one’s first is that they tend to go over their due date, worldwide a significant one in ten babies comes too soon. Should you find yourself suddenly in this position, it is good to have some pre-awareness of what lies ahead.

3. Take one day at a time  

It is much easier said than done, but in this situation I had to learn to take each day at a time. I found keeping a diary really helped me in this regard, and now I can revisit it to remind myself how far we have all come. We also accepted all of the help and support offered by family, friends and colleagues.  We could not have gotten through any of it without their help and patience, for which I will be forever grateful.

4. Take what time you need

I’m lucky to live in Ireland, a country which provides 6 months statutory maternity leave, and even luckier that I worked for PwC Ireland who offered full pay for the maternity period. Still, despite this, our situation left me feeling robbed of precious maternity leave and that I would need to return to work before I or my babies were ready.  Other parents who find themselves in this situation may want to consider having a discussion with their employer to request more time before returning to work. Be it through paid, unpaid or sick leave and whether it can be offered or not, it is at least worth having the conversation.

5. Be kind to yourself

I really beat myself up, and I wish I had been kinder to myself. This was one of the toughest experiences I’ve been through, but it made me stronger. I honestly feel like I am more prepared to take on any challenges that motherhood may throw at me. I also feel like a more tenacious and confident person, little did I know that I would turn activist and be a big catalyst for changing how statutory maternity leave is offered here in Ireland. It’s an amazing feeling writing this blog (with three crazy kids upstairs asleep) knowing that we have all survived these experiences and that they’ve made us stronger.


Based in Dublin, Ireland, Mary McCluskey is Employee Engagement Manager with Permanent TSB with responsibility for engagement, wellbeing, diversity and recognition.

Mary is a PwC Ireland Alumni, where she was responsible for driving PwC’s CSR and Wellbeing programmes.

She is passionate about diversity and raising awareness of premature births. She is proud wife to Marc, and proud mother to Seb, Zoe and Eve…..all of whom arrived into the world in rather dramatic circumstances.

You can learn more about Mary here or find her on twitter: @MaryMcCluck
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Raising awareness of and sharing my personal experience with hyperemesis

Dear Gender Agenda readers, it feels very apt that I am posting this blog during the early stages of my maternity leave, the first in a series of blogs we’ll be bringing you focused on parenthood.

Our recent Time to talk research found that 42% of professional women worldwide are anxious about the impact of starting a family on their careers, and it seems this concern is valid. In the same study, 48% of recent mothers said their new parental status left them overlooked for promotions and special projects upon their return to work.

 

This June, I gave birth to my beautiful daughter Rosie, after what felt like the longest pregnancy in the world. Somewhat similar to the pattern of the findings highlighted above, I spent a lot of time thinking about the before (getting pregnant) and the after (being a mum); however, I failed to give much thought to the critical stage in between: the pregnancy itself.

I’ll admit, I was very naïve about pregnancy.  If I’m completely honest, I thought about having a big whopping belly, going without a glass of wine, and on the bright side, not having to deal with period cramps for nine months. That was pretty much the extent of the thought I had given to pregnancy.

We were very lucky. At age 37, we conceived naturally after 12 months and I knew I was pregnant immediately because my body reacted straight away.

At week seven it all really kicked off, I didn’t know it yet, but I was one of the 1-in-250 pregnant women to suffer with Hyperemesis Gravidarum. I’d never heard of Hyperemesis Gravidarum before my diagnosis. I expect most people haven’t heard of it, perhaps with the lone exception of hearing about the severe pregnancy-related sickness of the Duchess of Cambridge, Kate Middleton, as she suffered from it during all three of her pregnancies. This is why I am sharing my most personal and honest gender agenda blog ever – I want to raise awareness.

I want to help family, friends and colleagues understand what it was like for me to go through hyperemesis, and my hope is that talking about my experience may help those women who will experience it in the future. So here are five ways in which I coped with hyperemesis:

1. Just accept that you are really sick

My hyperemesis was severe, and I was told that there is no set time for how long it will last, it is different for everyone. Before I got pregnant, I could probably count the amount of times I vomited in my lifetime on both my hands. For me, throwing up is literally the worst. It was horrendous to find myself vomiting on average 20 times a day and retching what felt like every 15 minutes. After a few days, I had a basin beside me in bed because I did not have the energy to make it to the bathroom. I couldn’t eat or drink, even water came back up. Between week 8-10 alone, I lost nearly two stone.

Every scent set me off, I couldn’t even use hair or wash products in the shower. The smell or movement of my husband beside me made me vomit, bless him he kindly moved into the spare bedroom.

I made the mistake of putting a timeline on it. I kept thinking it’d be gone at 10 weeks, at 12 weeks, at 16 weeks…….. And I was very aware I was missing lots of time from work and very eager to be able to get back to normality. After my second hospital visit, I was put on medication. I can remember emailing my team the next day, thinking these tablets were the solution to all of my problems. I told the team I’d be back in work the following week. The tablets were great, and because they stopped the constant vomiting, I got a bit carried away with exactly how ‘functioning’ they made me. Needless to say, I was not back into work the following week. The tablets stopped about 80% of the vomiting, and about 50% of the retching, but I remained permanently nauseous and unless I was curled up in a static foetal position in bed, life just didn’t feel worth living.

It was 21 weeks before I was out of the horrendous stage and could do any sort of normal daily activity. And I was lucky, some women suffer for the WHOLE pregnancy.

What I learned during my experience  is to accept that I was really sick and not to set a mental timeline for my recovery. I had to ‘switch off’ and only do what I needed to survive each day. I should have told my husband, family, and work that I was really sick and that I didn’t know when I’d feel well again. I already felt bad enough, compounding it with the extra stress of worrying about returning just made things worse. 

In this regard I was so fortunate to have amazing support from all of my team at PwC.

2. Don’t let the guilt win

My experience with hyperemesis was not only physically awful. The part of the sickness that shocked me, was the impact on my mental health. In the midst of my first pregnancy, I expected to be overjoyed, but at about week 13, the emotions of the illness set in.

I felt so, so sick. I was physically weak, I’d lost so much weight. While the tablets gave me a ‘mini-lift’, despite their benefits, I was only able to take small sips of water and a single slice of dry toast a day. I wasn’t able to take any pre-natal vitamins, including the very important folic acid. When I was thinking about the baby, I was constantly worried about her. How could she possibly be thriving when I was so physically unwell and not giving her nutrition?

I was feeling either extreme worry about the baby’s health, or extreme guilt because I didn’t feel as excited as I should feel; the result was that I felt very, very low.

I hope my experience raises awareness of the mental side of hyperemesis.

Address the guilt - know it is normal to have the feelings that you will experience. On one hospital visit, I was very upset with worry and the doctor explained that the baby is literally like a little parasite sucking all of the goodness from me. And while it doesn’t sound nice to think of your little baby as a parasite, for me these were actually words to live by as I tried to contend with the worry and guilt.

Finally, I suggest having a confidant. I used to text one of my best friends all my really dark thoughts and concerns. My husband was worried enough about me without having to know what was going on inside my head. Having an outlet to get worries off my chest and be told my feelings were understandable and normal, was a massive help.

3. Figure out the tricks that will help you get through it

Family and friends will naturally want to give you advice, and much of it will be tips for dealing with general morning sickness. I tried it all -  none of it worked. For example, I’m not sure I’ll ever be able to eat anything with ginger for the rest of my life.

I tried everything, including acupuncture, but nothing worked.  Ultimately, I had to identify my triggers and experiment with ways to avoid them.

My own saliva was a trigger, which meant placing a towel under my head so I could literally just dribble prevented some vomiting bouts. My dentist gave me a special mouthwash because I was unable to brush my teeth for two months. I never opened the fridge and I stopped using all cosmetics. Having a husband who made no complaints about being shipped into the spare bedroom for months also helped greatly.

As my symptoms got less severe, I got better at knowing what to do to keep them at bay. I stuck with a bland diet, limited activity and avoided smells. From week 20-25, climbing the stairs in our house set me off, so after making the climb, I would sit down for five minutes and nibble slowly at a cracker. This helped!

4. Take what help you can get

For me, movement, smells, and general life activity escalated my symptoms. Professionally, I had to accept offers of help from colleagues and handover any work that I could. I didn’t know when I’d be able to return to work.

When it comes to the home, forget being able to keep house. No matter how independent you might be, don’t be too proud to take whatever help is offered.

5. Know that it will all be so worth it

Many people told me it would all be worth it in the end. If I’m honest, at times this advice felt a little patronising – how could they think ‘this’ could possibly be worth it? At the risk of sounding patronising myself, know that it will be worth it.

Does it make what you’ve been through any less awful? Absolutely not! But, when I held Rosie, my happy, healthy baby, it was worth every second.

 




My experience of pregnancy was a complete surprise. Pregnancy is different for everyone, some women sail through it while others find it traumatic, taxing and everlasting.

Hyperemesis was definitely the hardest part, but unfortunately it was not the only health battle during my pregnancy.  I was diagnosed with squamous cell carcinoma skin cancer at 8 weeks and had surgery at week 16 (rescheduled twice because of how ill I was). In the later stages, I suffered from severe pelvic pain (SPD), gestational diabetes, low blood pressure and a series of bladder infections. Lastly, I had a bad fall at week 27 and a leaking of my waters at week 31. All in all, I was sick and miserable for the whole pregnancy, with the exception of about 6 good weeks.

My overall advice when it comes to pregnancy is to expect the unexpected.

My recent pregnancy experience combined with the motherhood findings of our Time to Talk research inspired me to share this personal story and launch a series of blogs focused on parenthood. Join us for the next blog in the series which will share experiences and advice when baby comes early.

In the meantime I want to give a shout out to my husband Alan, my mum Rose and my best friend Maria, in addition to my amazing team at PwC, all of whom got me through those critical 40 weeks, and say a big thank you to each of them.

Aoife

Based in Dublin, Ireland, Aoife Flood is Senior Manager of the Global Diversity & Inclusion Programme Office for PwC with responsibility for the development and implementation of our network-wide global Diversity & Inclusion strategy.

She is a proud PwC female millennial and lead researcher and author of our ‘Time to talk: What has to change for women at work’, ‘Women unbound: Unleashing female entrepreneurial potential’, ‘Winning the fight for female talent’, ‘Moving women with purpose: Creating gender inclusive global mobility’, ‘The female millennial: A new era of talent’, and 'The PwC diversity journey: Creating impact, achieving results’ thought leadership publications.

Aoife is also co-author of our Global Gender Agenda blog. You can learn more about Aoife here or find her on twitter: @AoifeRFlood.
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Where are all the women in tech?

The lack of female representation in STEM and especially in leadership positions is a crucial barrier to gender equality. Women currently hold only 19% of tech-related jobs at the top 10 global tech companies, relative to men who hold 81%. Why do more women and girls not opt into careers in STEM fields, especially emerging tech?

Early engagement with STEM lagging for girls

The proportion of females to males who graduate with STEM-related degrees is out of balance. Cultivating an interest in STEM fields should start as early as possible. From an early age, behavioural design can help through de-biasing classrooms, changing how our children are taught, as well as through celebrating counter-stereotypical role models.

Work-family balance

In the workplace, the ‘leaky pipeline’ can further explain the lack of female representation in STEM jobs. There is a continuous haemorrhaging of women out of work as they exit their careers over time, especially as they become mothers. According to a recent PwC survey of 3,600 professional women globally, 42% feel nervous about the impact that starting a family could have on their career and 48% of new mothers felt overlooked for promotions and special projects upon their return to work. Across sectors and in the tech industry, women are concerned about the implications of motherhood and the flexibility penalty for their careers.

Given the need to foster the participation of women in our workforce, addressing the reasons that cause women to leave their employers, industry or careers more generally is vital. Businesses should support working mothers and nurture their careers through implementing flexible policies, allowing sufficient parental leave (for both parents) and promoting advancement programmes in a way that prevents potential biases and provides organisational solutions that work. To remain relevant, businesses will need to have a clear strategy to retain the right employees, customers, and partners, regardless of gender.

Gender equality is more than a moral imperative

We estimate sizeable economic benefits if we close the gender gap. For example, in South Africa, our calculations suggest economic growth spin-offs of additional 3.2% in GDP growth and a 6.5% reduction in the number of unemployed job seekers by closing the gender gap in both pay and representation by just 10%. Enormous economic opportunity lies in promoting gender workforce equality.

The benefits extend to the emerging tech industry as well. Emerging tech is only as well rounded as the people who teach it. It is a crucial field for women to help shape. If primarily half of the population designs technology, users are missing out on the insights of the other half. Fostering inclusivity will help introduce new viewpoints and new ideas to emerging tech.

What can we do to advance gender workplace equality?

Experts tell us that biases exist in our daily lives and behavioural measures, or ‘nudges’, are one instrument in our collective toolbox to correct for gender imbalances in education and work. They offer low-hanging fruit to promote female representation in emerging tech and establish new foundations for inclusive economic growth.

Nudges in school and higher education

The tech industry boasts many exceptional female leaders. It is crucial to celebrate these role models and bring attention to them, especially for girls at a young age. It is hard for young girls to aspire to something they cannot see, and the mantra applies ‘seeing is believing’.

We can cultivate an early interest in STEM-related fields by bringing attention to female role models in STEM careers. Research shows female learners are more likely to continue their studies in a STEM subject when they had a female STEM teacher. Further increasing the fraction of counter-stereotypical people in positions of leadership solves a chicken and egg problem - it can change men’s and women’s beliefs about what an effective leader looks like and challenge many of the biases that hinder gender equality.

Nudges in hiring

In the hiring process, gendered language in job ads can preselect applicants, denying firms the possibility of exploiting the full potential of the talent pool. A job ad for a teaching role at a primary school that refers to the ideal candidate as ‘warm and caring’ will likely attract fewer male applicants than if the ideal candidate had to offer ‘exceptional pedagogical skills’. The same principle applies to emerging tech jobs. The language used in emerging tech job ads represents a barrier women face in partaking in the emerging tech revolution, as well as derails efforts by organisations looking to benefit from the full breadth of available talent.

The simple solution is to purge gendered language from job ads. First impressions also matter in recruitment sessions, where the presence of women speaking on technical subjects is a crucial driver of female audience engagement. These nudges are especially important as women consider more factors than men when screening jobs – in particular, cultural fit, values, and managerial style.

Nudges in career development and progression

In career development, gender differences in self-confidence play a crucial role. Many firms ask their employees to evaluate themselves and then to share these self-evaluations with their supervisors. Self-assessments entrench gender biases through anchoring, where women will generally underrate their performance, which serves as an unconscious, low reference point for evaluators. The easy solution is to do away with self-assessments wherever possible, or at least to avoid sharing self-assessments with evaluators ahead of performance reviews.

Nudging for prosperity

We can bring more women into tech by realising that an interest in these fields should be cultivated from an early age and understanding why women opt out of careers in STEM. Simple nudges like bringing attention to female role models, purging gendered language from job ads and avoiding self-assessments can change the context in which we make decisions and sustainably correct gender imbalances in the workplace.

The benefits are clear: economies and businesses can thrive by deploying the full potential of their workforce, women and men alike, to drive prosperity in the face of the next digital revolution.

Find out more and explore the full 16 nudges we recommend for more #WomeninTech by downloading our report.

By Maura Feddersen and Nina Kirsten, Economists at PwC, Strategy&

Maura Feddersen is an economic consultant with PwC Strategy&. She develops economic tools to help organisations position themselves optimally in relation to continuous shifts in their economic and regulatory environment. Maura analyses economic trends in the global and domestic economy and provides regular media commentary on the strategic implications of these trends. She is passionate about behavioural economics and consumer sciences and their power to improve business success and enhance policy effectiveness. Maura is a co-author of PwC’s thought leadership ‘16 nudges for more #WomenInTech’, where she explores behavioural measures to foster women in emerging tech, and writes regularly on how behavioural economics can solve problems in the public and private sectors.
Nina Kirsten is a Senior Associate at PwC, based in Johannesburg, South Africa. She is an economist in the Economics practice within PwC Strategy&. She has a keen interest in Behavioural Economics and is the co-author of ‘16 nudges for more #WomenInTech’, which explores several behavioural measures that can be employed to bring more women into the field of emerging tech. Through consulting, she dives deep into the cognitive processes that can be leveraged to unlock value within organisations.
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The sixth annual update of the PwC Women in Work Index shows that gains in female economic empowerment have been made across the OECD countries, but the pace of change remains gradual. Our index combines five key indicators of female economic empowerment: the equality of earnings with men; the proportion of women in work, both in absolute terms and relative to men; the female unemployment rate; and the proportion of women in full-time employment.

As in previous years, Iceland, Sweden and Norway remain the top three performers. The largest movers – Poland and Hungary – both saw a rise of three ranks with strong improvements in female participation in the labour force. Most countries have also achieved gains in absolute terms. For example, Spain saw one of the largest annual increases in its index score, due to an increase in the share of women working full-time, while the pay gap and female unemployment has fallen. Looking at longer-term changes since 2000, United States, the largest OECD economy has fallen quite significantly from 9th to 21st position. This is mainly driven by falling participation in the labour market and rising unemployment amongst women over the past decade.

The UK fell from 14th position to 15th as improvements in female labour market conditions were outpaced by other OECD countries. In particular, the UK’s pay gap (defined as the difference in median earnings between males and females) is closing only very gradually and is still slightly above the OECD average, while little progress has been made to improve female full-time employment. There are significant regional variations within the UK. London continues to perform poorly with the largest pay gap, mainly driven by its relatively higher concentration of businesses with high pay gaps such as financial services and professional services.

This year, we conducted an econometrics analysis to investigate the drivers of the gender pay gap across the OECD countries, using a dataset of 35 countries over 16 years. Our results showed that much of the pay gap is explained by structural factors, such as the tendency of women to work in lower paid services sectors or in part-time work and taking time off from work to care for the family, which remain persistent over time. We find that increased government spending on family benefits, such as childcare, can help reduce the pay gap as this can help support women returning to or staying in work. Countries with a larger share of female employers also tend to have lower gaps, which could potentially suggest that female entrepreneurship has a positive impact on gender equality in the workplace.

Our analysis points towards the important role that government policy can play in creating a more gender neutral workplace. Firstly, enhanced social support for childcare and family support can boost female participation in the workforce, particularly for full-time roles. We also found that generous lengths of paid maternity leave can worsen the pay gap and make it larger. This somewhat surprising result suggests that longer leave periods mean women spend more time outside of work, which could negatively impact their future earnings potential. Policies such as Shared Parental Leave (SPL) aim to correct this by levelling the playing field between parents, and encourages the sharing of caring responsibilities so that women can return to work. Some countries, such as Sweden, have introduced non-transferrable “use it or lose it” quotas for fathers and economic ‘bonuses’ for families that divide parental leave more equally.

Businesses also have a big responsibility to provide both men and women equal opportunities to reach their full potential at work and close the pay gap. The recent introduction of mandatory pay gap reporting in countries such as the UK and Australia helps push businesses in this direction. Early disclosures reveal how far we have to go to close the gap, but greater transparency will hold companies accountable to take action and gradually motivate change. Furthermore, there is a serious need to “fix the leaky pipeline” to improve female representation in senior positions, such as providing more flexible opportunities for women in higher-paying and higher-skilled roles, or encouraging women to return to work following career breaks with “returnship” programmes. This can help build a pipeline of female leaders, with clear benefits: evidence shows that gender-diverse boards representing diversity of views can improve business performance.

The gains to closing the gender pay gap are substantial – US$2 trillion for the OECD – a massive prize to be achieved.

Authors:

Yong Jing Teow 
Economist
Tel: +44 (0) 207 804 4257 

Saloni Goel 
Economist, PwC United Kingdom 
Tel: +44 (0)7730 596332

Swati Utkarshini 
Economist, PwC United Kingdom 
Tel: +44 (0)7843 370811

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In March, we released our Time to talk research – focused on professional women age 28-40 from across the world, it made one thing clear – we are seeing rising levels of female confidence and ambition.

Women are more confident and ambitious than ever. 82% are confident in their ability to fulfil their career aspirations, 77% in their ability to lead, and 73% are actively seeking career advancement opportunities. Furthermore, they have strong leadership aspirations, with 75% of women saying it was important to them they reach the top of their chosen career, namely obtain a leadership position. Women are confident, ambitious and ready to progress.

Women are also more proactively pursuing their career goals by actively negotiating for raises, promotions and seeking out the experiences seen as critical to career advancement. And our survey shows it is working – there is a strong positive correlation that the women who negotiate are getting what they ask for, in particular with regards to high-visibility projects and stretch assignments.

But we aren’t quite there yet. When promotion opportunities arise, women still have big strides to make in actively pursuing such opportunities and making their career aspirations known. In fact, 44% of women would expect their hard work to be recognised as a symbol of their promotion aspirations and for their employer to approach them about the promotion. This is all well and good, but working hard and being really good at your job does not necessarily ‘a-promotion-tap-on-the-shoulder’ make.

This approach leaves a number of women open to getting stuck in their career risks. For example, assumption risks, the assumption that they are happy and content in their role and as they’ve never vocalised it are not interested in progression. Or not being front of mind risk. If Peter, Michael, John and Elizabeth have all been in the boss's office vocalising their desire to progress, then right or wrong, despite Anne’s perhaps equal or better performance and potential, it will often be the case that she is simply not the first name that jumps to the boss's mind when a promotion opportunity arises.  

Furthermore, a substantial 39% of women said they would apply for the promotion, BUT only if they met all of the job criteria. This insight is not news.  I’m sure we’ve all had personal experiences where we’ve been hesitant to put ourselves forward or say yes to an opportunity because we don’t feel we quite tick all of the boxes required. Or perhaps we’ve seen this manifest in the workplace with women providing the ‘I’m not sure I’m ready response’ while men on the other-hand tend to be much more brave in saying, yes ‘I’ll give that a go’ or ‘I don’t meet all the role criteria but I know I can do it’.

A mind-set shift is required, a promotion in itself means you are progressing, that you’ll be doing new things and developing new skills. So why would you wait until you could do it all already before putting yourself forward. I call on women not to think about the ‘well I’ve no experience in certain areas’ factor that is holding them back, and instead to think ‘oh great – they’ll be the new areas I’ll get to develop and I know I have the potential to do it well’.

The Time to talk research shows a much smaller margin of women, 17%, would put themselves forward for the role even if they didn’t meet all the criteria. Vocalising career aspirations and removing the expectation that you need to be 100% job-ready for a more senior role are two career tips for women that will hopefully help this 17% figure rise.  

PwC’s Time to talk report shares an ecosystem of three elements which are crucial for organisations to create an inclusive working and talent environment where both women – and men – can succeed. But achieving career potential is a two-way street, with an onus on both the employer and the employee to play their part.

For more tips on how women can change their behaviours and habits to support their career progression aspirations tune in to the strategy+business recent podcast featuring Marshall Goldsmith and Sally Helgesen discussing how female professionals can change self-limiting career behaviours. Take it from me, it is well worth a listen. You can also find out more by checking out their How Women Can Succeed by Rethinking Old Habits book excerpt.

Let’s all play our part in making this rising female career ambition less career aspiration and more career reality.  

Aoife

Based in Dublin, Ireland, Aoife Flood is Senior Manager of the Global Diversity & Inclusion Programme Office for PwC with responsibility for the development and implementation of our network-wide global Diversity & Inclusion strategy.

She is a proud PwC female millennial and lead researcher and author of our ‘Time to talk: What has to change for women at work’, ‘Women unbound: Unleashing female entrepreneurial potential’, ‘Winning the fight for female talent’, ‘Moving women with purpose: Creating gender inclusive global mobility’, ‘The female millennial: A new era of talent’, and 'The PwC diversity journey: Creating impact, achieving results’ thought leadership publications. Most recently Aoife also co-authored PwC’s crowdfunding focused Women unbound publication.


Aoife is also co-author of our Global Gender Agenda blog. You can learn more about Aoife here or find her on twitter: @AoifeRFlood.

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Did you know we’re seeing a tidal wave of organisations across the world injecting greater urgency into their efforts to tackle gender imbalances in the workplace? But with progress so slow, what has to change for women at work and how can organisations deliver diversity strategies that will drive real progress?

To celebrate International Women’s Day this year, PwC is releasing our new research publication Time to talk: What has to change for women at work, as we aim to help answer this challenging question, shape the debate, and help accelerate change – both at PwC and in business at large.

The report shares the views of over 3,600 professional women working in 27 different industry sectors and from over 60 countries around the world.  And specifically focuses on women in the pipeline, age 28-40, because it’s at this stage that we start to see female representation gaps widen and the challenges of combining personal and career priorities increase.

   

Two clear messages shine through, firstly: that women are more career confident and ambitious than ever, they are ready to progress, and secondly: that employers still have a lot of work to do to capitalise on this female potential and drive change.  

 Rising female confidence and ambition

Women are more confident and ambitious than ever. 82% are confident in their ability to fulfil their career aspirations, 77% in their ability to lead, and 73% are actively seeking career advancement opportunities. Furthermore, they have strong leadership aspirations, with 75% of women saying it was important to them they reach the top of their chosen career, namely obtain a leadership position. Women are confident, ambitious and ready to progress.

Women are also more proactively pursuing their career goals by actively negotiating for raises, promotions and seeking out the experiences seen as critical to career advancement. And our survey shows it is working – there is a strong positive correlation that the women who negotiate are getting what they ask for, particular with regards to high-visibility projects and stretch assignments.

More work to do: An ecosystem for change

And while there is a lot to be positive about, this is not yet translating into the levels of advancement it should and there is a huge amount of work employers still need to do. The report identifies an ecosystem of three elements which are essential to creating a more inclusive working environment where women – and men – can succeed. But these won’t be effective in isolation. Organisations need to focus on all three elements simultaneously to create real change. These are:

  • Transparency and trust matter. A lot.
  • Support networks and advocacy go a long way. Women need strategic support.
  • Life, family and work. There are grave concerns regarding flexibility and motherhood penalties.

We’d like to invite you learn more about what has to change for women at work, the career aspirations of women and the ecosystem for progress by visiting www.pwc.com/timetotalk.

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Today is World Mental Health Day and in the spirit of advocating for this day, and for greater awareness and de-stigmatising of mental health every day, I am choosing to share my personal experiences with a global audience both inside and outside of PwC for the first time via our Global Gender Agenda blog. 

My name is Anna – I live in the UK with my husband Mark, my 3 year old son William and a very crazy puppy called Rosie. I am a Partner in the Assurance practice in the UK, a mental health advocate and I had post-natal depression after my son was born. My experiences with mental health illness started before then – as my Dad was unwell when I was young and my sister suffers from anxiety. In my client-facing work I also work with many mental health care providers so it touches both my personal and professional life and it is something I am extremely passionate about.

It probably goes without saying that having my son William was life changing – in so many wonderful ways (he has a wonderful cheeky personality that always makes me smile!) but it has also been incredibly challenging. For a long time I thought I was just sleep deprived (William is a terrible sleeper) but once he got to 18 months old and I still wasn’t feeling ‘normal’ I knew something more was probably not right – but it took several discussions with a wonderful member of the coaching team at PwC to really get me to realise I needed some help. For me, not ‘normal’ was waking up in the night despite being very tired all the time, not being able to concentrate due to what I describe as ‘brain fog’ in addition to physical symptoms such as achy arms and legs. Over the past year I have had lots of support from my GP, a psychiatrist, a psychologist and a coach at PwC – and everyday it gets a little better!

My role as a mental health advocate in the firm has played a really important role in my recovery – it gives me an opportunity to support others, listen to them, and signpost how they can get help to get well again. For me it means something good has come from the challenges that I have personally faced.

People often ask for my advice on how to manage mental health but the truth is I am not expert on managing mental health – I only know what works for me. What I have learnt over the years is that it is different for everyone and it changes over time. What works for one person may not work for another. For me it's lots of sleep, making plans to take time away from the everyday (getting on a plane for a holiday is really important for me, as is sunshine!), lots of laughter, and cuddles with William - and reading trashy novels. For others its exercise, hobbies, or spending time with friends.

My only piece of advice for anyone who reads this, is to work out what works for you – just one small thing – and to build that into your day to day life. Plan it and commit to it – we all have mental health and we can protect it.

For me the most important thing organisations (including PwC) can do to support employees with mental health is to talk about it – so eventually mental health is considered in the same way as physical health. The stigma associated with mental health means people are reluctant to ask for help or talk to their friends or colleagues – fearing that they will be seen as ‘not being able to cope’ or ‘crazy’. If we could change this – I believe people would ask for help sooner and get better quicker. We would all ask for help if we broke our leg – having a mental health illness is no different and let’s face it – we employ people for their brains!

At PwC UK, all of our mental health advocates are Partners, with first-hand experience of mental health problems, who want to make a difference to the way we think, feel and talk about mental health in the firm. I believe this approach means we can make a real difference to our people. What I think our people want more than anything is to know that they ‘aren’t the only one’, that they’re ‘normal’ and that ‘it will get better’, and I promise – all of those things are true!!

I know this isn’t an easy topic and not everyone is comfortable talking about it – but my plea is that if you are willing to share your experience – then please do in whatever ever way works for you – as you will have a massive impact on those around you.

Click here for background on our mental health and wellbeing agenda in PwC UK: https://www.pwc.co.uk/who-we-are/annual-report/stories/green-light-talk-mental-health.html

Anna Blackman is Partner at PwC, based in Southampton in the UK. She joined the company in 2001, following studying for a degree in Geography at the University of Portsmouth.

Anna specialises in providing assurance and accounting services to public sector organisations - with a particular focus on the health sector. She leads the statutory audits of a number of Foundation Trusts and CCGs as well as working in the role of Head of Internal Audit for two Foundation Trusts. Alongside assurance services, Anna supports public sector organisations with business planning, long term financial modelling, accounting advice, due diligence, clinical data quality, and board/organisational development.
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Sitting with my team in an auditorium in New York just over a week ago, I was proud, surprised, frustrated, inspired and humbled by the words spoken at HeForShe’s third anniversary event.  And I wasn’t the only one.  The first words, PwC’s Global Chairman, Bob Moritz, uttered when he stepped on stage recognised the work put in by many teams across PwC; “I am simply the voice to describe what we’ve done and humbly, we have much more to do.”  We have come a long way since aligning our existent diversity strategy with HeForShe three years ago, but there is still a journey ahead.  

It was my first time attending a HeForShe event since becoming Global Diversity and Inclusion Leader this year.  And I was reminded of a great piece of advice I was lucky enough to receive very early in my career.  When I was an intern, my manager advised me to “always speak the truth.”  As an auditor, even the smallest inaccuracy or untruth, can hurt a client relationship and the integrity of your work. 

On the face of it, this sounds simple. For me, truth and trust go hand in hand.  Applying this advice, has been a necessity to develop strong and lasting relationships in every area of my life - with clients, colleagues and friends. 

However, ‘truth’ is not the most powerful part of this advice, neither is it the most challenging.  The power lies in the action of ‘speaking.’

When it comes to diversity and inclusion, saying nothing is saying something and it’s the wrong thing.  HeForShe reminds us of the power of speaking up and the deafening impact of silence.

At the event, the HeForShe 10x10x10 IMPACT Champions used their voices to collectively speak up about the barriers to global gender parity, share what they’re doing to address these barriers in education, businesses and societies around the world, and celebrate individual and collective successes.

At PwC, we’re focused on having all of our people around the world work in an inclusive environment that encourages them to speak up and be themselves.  We’re developing a strong pipeline of diverse talent so that we can build on the gender parity achieved in the Global Leadership Team, and reflect our truly diverse network in all facets of the organisation.

To echo Bob and a number of the IMPACT Champions, we have made progress, but we have much more we want to do.  I for one, am excited about the challenge.  Little did I know as an intern, that the advice I received would stand me in good stead throughout my career.  And all these years later sitting in New York would once again spring to mind! 

Each and every one of us can have a positive impact by making the HeForShe commitment.  I’m happy to say, in just four days leading up to the event, almost 1,600 PwC people made theirs.  We can also create impact by proactively recognising and increasing our ‘gender IQ’ with our free Building Gender IQ online course, which takes only 35 minutes to complete.

So, I encourage you all to speak up and make your HeForShe commitment to be inclusive and value differences, because when it comes to diversity, silence says something.

Click here to watch the full HeForShe third anniversary event.

Follow Sharmila for more diversity insights and news: @sharmilaakarve

 

As PwC's Global Diversity and Inclusion Leader, Sharmila drives the firm’s global D&I strategy. She is passionate about creating a truly inclusive working environment across the PwC network, where everyone can bring their whole selves to work.

Based in Mumbai, Sharmila is also an Assurance partner with the India firm and has served as Assurance Leader and Risk and Quality Leader. In her free time, she enjoys spending time with her husband and daughter, practicing yoga and travelling.
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Authored by Stefanie Coleman

There’s little denying the benefits of D&I. With volumes of research promoting the gains of a diverse and inclusive workforce, it’s no surprise we’re seeing more and more organisations invest in D&I to achieve heightened innovation, improved financial performance and to attract top talent.

Why is it that despite these investments, many organisations are not seeing results? For example, PwC’s global D&I survey indicates that while 87% of participants identify D&I as a strategic priority, almost half (42%) still consider it a barrier to progression (for diverse employees). The answer to achieving results is to create sustainable movement, and this means:

  • D&I strategy alone is not enough -- it is brought to life through investments across the talent lifecycle. From workforce planning to offboarding -- and everything in between.
  • To generate a true culture of D&I, broad consideration of the concept is key -- it's not simply a matter of gender, race or age. But in addition, includes diversity of thought, experience and perspective.

While the answer is simple to say – it is harder to achieve. For example, PwC’s global D&I survey shows that of organisations assessing themselves against PwC’s D&I maturity model 40% rate in the lowest maturity category for creating sustainable movement and only 15% rate in the highest.

The talent lifecycle can be leveraged to cultivate a diverse and inclusive workforce, culture and mindset. And based on my experience consulting with clients in a number of industries and across multiple locations, I want to share some examples of how:

Plan & Execute – one global company has incorporated D&I targets into the design of their workforce plans – key to this was the cultivation of an age-diverse workforce in response to a retiring baby-boomer population.

Recruit & Select – some firms have leveraged technology to root out unconscious bias – 28% use a performance audition platform where candidates participate in a challenge and selection is solely based on performance. In the Middle East, like in other “ex-pat cultures”, it is common to recruit through global channels to attract a diverse workforce – in particular, where talent is imported from international markets and offered customised total reward packages (e.g., allowances, ex-pat benefits, etc). Despite these examples, PwC’s global D&I survey indicates that only 46% of respondents have adopted targeted programmes to recruit diverse candidates.

Develop & Deploy – in some firms (such as PwC), investments in targeted development programmes to further diverse populations is the norm – for example, leadership development programmes for high performing women or ethnic minorities. However, this is not reflective of the general trends where only 40% of participants in PwC’s global D&I survey have instituted programmes to develop a diverse pipeline of leaders, and just 45% provide targeted development opportunities to diverse employees. 

Measure & Manage – it is not unusual to see executives held accountable for D&I performance though executive scorecards. A number of publicly listed companies across the US, Brazil, and Australia are disclosing D&I objectives and progress in their annual reports. You can learn more about PwC’s scorecard, The Inclusion Index, in our Diversity journey publication.

Reward & Recognise – in the US, UK, Switzerland and Australia, pay gap analysis is increasingly common. This is often driven by legislative requirements such as the California Equal Pay Act and Australia’s Workforce Gender Equality Act (among others). In addition, several organisations perform D&I assessments on performance and compensation outcomes to detect and remediate potential patterns of inequality. Despite pressure and some evidence of D&I assessments, only 42% of organisations participating in PwC’s global D&I survey believe fairness is demonstrated in their performance and compensation decision-making.

Review & Transition –globally, the percentage of employees within large organisations participating in global mobility programmes has grown 25% since the turn of the millennium. We see several clients, across sectors, harness global mobility to foster D&I. PwC, as well, adopts a similar strategy. Separately, some organisations seek employee feedback from diverse talent upon their departure in order to better understand any unique retention considerations that may be relevant and insightful.

Engagement – the existence of affinity/employee resource groups (e.g., women’s networks, LGBT groups, or veteran communities) is commonplace in large, Western, organisations. These play an important role in the “I” of D&I, inclusion, by creating personal networks and a sense of belonging. PwC’s Diversity Journey highlights that our own experiences with LGBT+ networks (GLEE) have enhanced access to talent, developed more inclusiveness, enhanced engagement and built stronger relationships – but despite this, only 25% of participants in PwC’s global D&I survey are using these groups to support these outcomes. 

The return on investment in D&I has great opportunity through integration with business strategy and programmes across the talent lifecycle. When effectively integrated, D&I can be more than aspiration, but an enabler to organisational performance.  

Find out how your organisation’s D&I programme compares to other organisations in your industry and region by completing the survey. You’ll be joining over 800 organisations who have already taken part.

Stefanie Coleman is a director with PwC US’ Financial Services Advisory Practice. She has spent the last ten years advising clients on HR issues in North America, Europe, Australia and the Middle East. She currently advises clients within the financial services industry from PwC in New York City. Stefanie is both personally and professionally passionate about diversity and inclusion. Connect with her on LinkedIn (https://www.linkedin.com/in/stefanie-coleman-85299bb/).

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