“Now we’re on the hook”: PwC’s inclusion chief lays out why the Big 4 firm laid out its diversity stats in “uncomfortable” detail and how other companies should follow suit

  • PwC released a report last month highlighting its diversity data as well as its strategy for improving diversity and inclusion at the firm. 
  • The 52-page report is one of the most public, detailed ways a professional services firm has worked to address diversity and inclusion in the workplace, and it has already helped PwC identify areas of improvement.
  • The report was released two years early after the killing of George Floyd by police this spring prompted the company to participate in conversations of racial justice happening across the country.
  • Visit Business Insider’s homepage for more stories.

In the spring, accounting firm PwC was planning to release a more detailed diversity report by the middle of 2022. Then, the killing of George Floyd by police in May sparked conversations about racial injustice in and out of the workforce.

“We saw the overwhelming responsibilities companies have to have to be part of this change,” said Shannon Schuyler, PwC US’s chief purpose and inclusion officer. “We have to have a voice talking about systemic racism, privilege, and supporting racial justice in ways we as companies and individuals may not have before.”

PwCs sped up its timeline and on August 26 published its first-ever Diversity and Transparency Inclusion Report, a study of diversity data across its 42,000 US employees and its strategies for furthering its diversity initiatives. Since the report was published a month ago, Schuyler said it’s already made positive changes internally and externally but that there’s still more work to be done. 

“We put 52 pages out, and we’re going to see progress,” she said. “We just have to do things differently than we’ve been doing them.”

How PwC’s diversity data was falling short

Before 2020, PwC each year compiled an internal diversity update focused on three data points: the percentage of women and people of color on its US leadership team; the percentage of women and people of color in its overall workforce; and the percentage of women and people of color in its new partner classes.

For the 2020 Diversity and Inclusion Transparency Report, it released 14 data points to the public.

The resulting document highlights both the ways in which PwC has made progress in terms of diversity and inclusion, such as with pay equity and recruitment. Just under 50% of the firm’s entry-level hires during the last three years have been women, according to the report, while the percentage of new hires that are people of color has also remained around 41% during the last three years. The demographics of PwC’s experienced hires have also remained consistent, with women making up 44% of experienced hires in 2020 and people of color making up 51%.

Read more: The top US companies putting women on their boards, promoting minorities, and proving their diversity efforts aren’t all just talk

The report also showed where PwC needs improvement, such as gender and racial diversity at the management and director level, retaining marginalized employees through promotions, and employing women and people of color to global engagement partner roles. For the global engagement partners, who manage Fortune 500 accounts, 14% are women, down from 15% in 2019, and 10% are people of color, up from 8% in 2019.

Schuyler explained that the firm previously kept its diversity data brief private because despite spending time and money to invest in diversity programming over the years, its numbers weren’t improving enough. 

“People became more comfortable talking about diversity and inclusion, but not changing their behaviors,” she said. “So this was really about taking a step back and realizing that in order to create change, it has to be really data-driven.”

“This is our societal responsibility”

That meant picking apart each aspect of a PwC employee’s journey through the firm, from recruiting to successful partner to leader, and trying to pinpoint how that succession might look different if you were a white man or a Black woman or another person of color.

Schuyler said she was initially worried that the firm might receive external backlash for some of its poorer metrics and that internally, firm employees expected more from PwC. But, “the data is what the data is,” she said, and it was still important to put it out into the world.

“This is our societal responsibility,” she said. “With the size and scale of our organization, we have to open up and say, ‘This is where we are,’ so we can be part of the dialogue with what’s happening in society.”

5,700 employee emails helped shape the firm’s strategy

While completing and publishing the Transparency Report was a big job, Schuyler noted that it was only the first step to making PwC and the professional services industry a more equitable place. Since the report was published a month ago, the firm has homed in on specific areas where it was underperforming, such as the racial and gender makeup of its global engagement partners, and began succession planning to fill open roles more equitably. 

PwC is also continuing to invest in areas it is already doing well, such as in recruiting. The firm’s internship class during the last three years has been about 50% female, while the percentage of people of color has improved from 40% in 2018 to 46% in 2020, according to the report. Schuyler said the focus is now on continuing that momentum — PwC is beginning a support program in November for new associates at the firm — while applying what’s working in certain areas to parts of the firm that aren’t doing as well. 

Read more: ‘Diversity’ and ‘inclusion’ are the emptiest words in corporate America. Here’s what we really need to dismantle systemic racism in the office.

Schulyer added that PwC was able to start addressing issues identified in the report so quickly thanks to employees across the firm. After CEO Tim Ryan released six action items this spring to stand up against racism. Schuyler said leadership received more than 5,700 emails from partners and staff with suggestions on feedback mechanisms, inclusion training and collecting more data — many of which ended up in the diversity and inclusion strategies outlined in the Transparency Report.

“We focused on the ideas that aligned with what our people care about, so now we’re on the hook,” she said.

By making its report public, PwC is also on the hook with its clients and with peer firms. Schuyler welcomes that role if it helps the industry become a more equitable place for historically marginalized groups.

“We have to realize it’s okay to not be where we want to be and it’s okay to share and be transparent,” she said, adding that she hopes PwC’s report and commitment to future work will inspire other firms to collect their own diversity data and “get comfortable being uncomfortable.”

“Let’s come together as an industry and determine ways to understand best practices in terms of diversity,” she said. 

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