Diversity toolkit

Business leaders give unique perspectives on creating a diverse workforce

Diversity Toolkit Interview

Ian Powell

Ian Powell

Chairman and Senior Partner, PwC

PwC is a multinational professional services network. It is one of the world’s largest professional services networks operating in 157 countries and employing more than 195,000 people. Ian is the Chairman and Senior Partner of PwC in the UK and a member of the Global Network Leadership Team.

Interview - Levelling the playing field

Ian has vivid memories of the very first session of PwC’s Women’s Leadership Development Programme, where it had assembled 40 of its top leaders – many, it hoped, destined for partnership.

During the first coffee break, a number of delegates approached him: "Why are we here?", "Why are we being treated differently?" The delegates’ concern was that they were being given an unfair advantage.

He hadn’t expected such objections, and spent time emphasising that this wasn’t about positive discrimination, it was about levelling the playing field and giving everyone – men and women alike – a fair opportunity.

From that point on the tone was set. The programme has become a key way by which PwC keeps and develops senior women, with many more entering the partner promotion programme.

It has been important to collect data on how the women are progressing through the programme. If there is any sign a female candidate is moving away from the process the issue is identified and discussed at Board level, returning always to the question: Are we creating a level playing field? Everyone knows the Board is absolutely behind this, so it sends a ripple through the organisation and keeps everyone focused.

Whenever PwC has panel interviews for partners, time is taken, every time, to set out the rules of engagement to the panel, to make them stop and think about what they are asking and what they are thinking, so every candidate gets treated in the same way. This may seem simplistic but it has had a huge impact, as people are far more thoughtful and engaging and aware of their own potential bias.