4 tips for organizations looking to build on their culture of inclusion

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About 20 years ago, professional services firms realized they were facing a potential problem. They needed more talented people who stayed longer with their firms. The number of accounting graduates wasn’t keeping pace with demand and half of the new recruits were now women, many of whom were dissatisfied with a male-dominated culture and the lack of work-life flexibility.

That realization spurred action and professional services firms, by and large, have made intentional strides in their diversity journeys over the past couple decades. Many organizations placed an emphasis on recruiting diverse talent and helping create more equitable opportunities for diverse leaders to grow their careers.

But progress has been slow. PwC’s Global Diversity & Inclusion Survey shows while 63 percent of business leaders believe their organization regularly communicates about D&I, the messages aren’t resonating or connecting because less than half of employees (42 percent) agree. And while 87 percent of respondents in our Diversity & Inclusion Benchmarking Survey identify D&I as a stated value or priority, nearly half (42 percent) of respondents feel their diversity is actually a barrier to their career progression within their organization.

In the days and months following George Floyd’s murder, many executive leaders were more vocal and took tangible action on D&I. My own firm swiftly responded with six new actions we’d take to fight racism. Other business leaders also sought to collaborate in combating this societal issue. CEO Action for Diversity and Inclusion, the largest CEO-driven business commitment to advance diversity and inclusion in the workplace, has increased its signatory base of CEOs by 40 percent in the past five months.

The C-suite in particular is feeling a greater need to come together to learn, collaborate and make bolder commitments and investments in D&I. Today, we will welcome nearly 500 CEOs and 800 chief human resources officers and chief diversity officers across 36 sectors and industries around the country to our annual CEO Action Closed-Door Session to talk about how to keep D&I at the top of the business agenda during a global pandemic and a divisive post-election climate.

As part of the evolution of CEO Action over the past four years, and more recently as PwC US’s chief purpose and inclusion officer, I see how many barriers to inclusion we all still face. It is a struggle every day with old festering issues and new challenges.

External dynamics influence workplace dynamics, and many beliefs are polarizing and at odds with one another. It is important to me that all of our people feel a sense of belonging and the freedom to share their core identity, and that thought motivates me to do more.

Creating the depth of an inclusive culture that demonstrates and activates a diverse workplace is an intentional effort. There are a few things I have learned within a professional services structure that can make sustainable change a reality.

1. Understand what we’re solving for.

Social and racial societal injustice can be pervasive, complex and personal. This is a difficult and often not well addressed topic that compels individuals to voice their beliefs, ideas and solutions at a grand scale. In working diligently to respond, at times we should put all the voices and opinions to the side to analyze data that can tell us where we need to focus our efforts to drive meaningful change.

The data will help show us where we can better support equitable experience, opportunity and progression across genders, races and other aspects of diversity. We need to keep peeling back the layers of the onion to help investigate societal systemic issues, behavioral challenges and cultural differences that all play a role in determining how we can foster a culture where all can succeed.

2. Find and become an ally.

I am particularly passionate about the power of allyship and am committed to doing more personally to become a better ally — going beyond mentorship. Too often, leaders (myself included) try to be superheroes with pearls of wisdom rather than being an active part of the solution.

An ally is someone who uses their power and privilege to advocate for and support people in less advantaged positions. Allyship is about fostering a culture of belonging through solidarity — a strategy for collective power, inclusion, collaboration and equity. It is about taking barriers down, not moving them or going around them, giving your place in the room to someone who otherwise would not get the opportunity, and positively altering the journey for someone else in a less privileged position.

Becoming an ally takes powerful self-reflection, challenging your own assumptions and galvanizing around the progress, experience and journey of another person with the same focus and conviction that you put behind your own. I am still learning and growing as an ally and aspire to serve that role with effectiveness and conviction for many before my journey is over.

3. Take stock of what’s making an impact, and refine it.

In our industry, innovation and the pace of work bring the idea that we should keep reimagining and creating new products and services. A lot of this thinking will help advance D&I too. But we also don’t want to entirely abandon thoughts and ideas from the past that we were not ready, or brave enough, to launch.

For example, employee resource groups and affinity groups can be really powerful, and many of us have had them for years. Perhaps we just need to reimagine how they are brought into the business and given the power to make decisions that can make them more effective — not changing the groups, but helping remove obstacles to their success or giving them new access to business decision makers.

4. This is personal — you’ll need resilience, thick skin and safe spaces.

When you dig into the weeds, you uncover truths that may need to be addressed with intentional interventions. Voicing concerns and confronting the change needed can often lead to uncomfortable discussions as not everyone wants to face the issues, often feeling blamed for shortcomings.

I had a personal, transformational moment last year. I was onstage at an event, talking about how women have made so much progress in professional services. A woman in the audience stood up and asked if I meant progress for white women. I realized, I did mean that white women had made progress, while Black and Brown women still faced countless barriers. I had to look in the mirror and acknowledge that I could be a better ally to people of color.

To help you turn around any personal shortcomings, you need a trusted group of people around you who will catch you when you are feeling down — when you receive emails that criticize your actions, criticism about your intent or challenges about the resources that should be dedicated to the D&I agenda. Build a cadre of colleagues, friends and family who will push you back into the game with more conviction to make an impact. Many PwC leaders and CEO Action peers have been there to push me, and I thank them.

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