INTERVIEW: Shannon Schuyler, Chief Purpose Officer at PwC, on CEO Action for Diversity & Inclusion

Inclusion Without Exclusion

Adaptability is one of the mainsprings of diversity. While much needs to be done to neutralize our biases and unleash untapped talent – Shannon Schuyler, Chief Purpose Officer of PwC, is already hard at work developing the one asset she feels will help ensure deep-level diversity and inclusion throughout the organization. In recent years, Shannon has worked alongside PwC’s US Chairman Tim Ryan to drive the strategy for CEO Action for Diversity & Inclusion, the largest-ever CEO-driven business commitment to advance diversity and inclusion in the workplace. It’s an ambitious and inspiring initiative.

The HR Digest: Can you tell The HR Digest readers about yourself and your role?

Shannon Schuyler: I have the privilege of serving as PwC US’ first Chief Purpose Officer and am also the firm’s Responsible Business Leader and President of the PwC Charitable Foundation.

In my role as Chief Purpose Officer, I am responsible for activating PwC’s Purpose—to build trust in society and solve important problems – into our core business strategy so that it drives how the firm engages its people, clients and other external stakeholders for greater societal impact. Overall, what purpose is really about for business is bringing humanity into the products and services that you have to optimize your impact. And impact these days needs to go far beyond revenue generation, into what organizations are doing for society. It’s about moving from being transactional to being transformational.

When I took this role, I also realized that I was probably going to be asked about my purpose. But I had never really thought a lot about what my personal purpose was before. After weeks of pondering and focusing on it, it was in a place where I least expected – my purse. Carefully tucked in my wallet were four playing cards – and as I held them, I recognized my purpose.

At the age of 22, I put the first card in my wallet when my mother passed away. Over the next five years, more women in my family passed away– aunts, grandmothers– and I added three more cards to my wallet. These were women who were a part of and led a very matriarchal family; women who always sat at the head of the table and were no longer there. So, all of their passion and strength and sassiness and classiness and joy and disruption was now part of me. I realized that in my entire life, I was being led by the power they instilled in me and was using it to make my way in the world, and be a positive influence. My purpose is to honor their legacy.

Through that experience, I realized this role isn’t only about the firm’s purpose, but understanding how personal purpose and organizational purpose come together. Ultimately, the purpose is about people and the relationships we make and sustain to have an impact both individually and collectively. People want a sense of meaning and a sense of belonging so that they can actually be transformational, and they need an opportunity to figure out where they can achieve this. It matters because 7 out of 10 people will now leave their organization if they do not have that sense of fulfillment. I spent my time leading a culture where people can find themselves and what their purpose is, so they can understand why their skill is important and valued.

CEO Action for Diversity & Inclusion, Atlanta Summit

The HR Digest: Can you point to any single defining moment in your career?

Shannon Schuyler: In 2007, I wrote a business case on why PwC US needed a corporate responsibility leader to pull together its global environmental and charitable efforts, and it changed the track of my career. Despite the world being in the midst of a financial crisis, and businesses across the board focusing on profitability, PwC saw the value in what I presented and I went from a national alumni relations role supporting our recruiting strategy to a job that I helped design.

Not only was I able to chart my own path professionally, but I have been able to lead major change during the past decade that speaks to the evolution of the firm. From streamlining annual giving to focus on education and access to opportunity, to boosting the impact of the PwC Charitable Foundation and shifting our business strategy to one that acknowledges that doing something good for the world can also be good for business. That one opportunity opened the door for so many experiences and responsibilities in my career – including the role as Chief Purpose Officer.

Too many times we sit back and wait for opportunities to come to us; but having the courage to pitch a different way to do things led to one of the biggest defining moments in my career.

The HR Digest: You have been critical in pushing for progress in diversity & inclusion (D&I) in the workforce. What spurred your interest and passion for the topic?

Shannon Schuyler: Thank you. Pushing the envelope on diversity and inclusion, and equity issues in the workplace and beyond are topics of great concern and interest to me and have been for more than a decade. It goes back to my role in establishing the firm’s Responsible Business Leadership function as well as the PwC Charitable Foundation. Through both of these experiences, I was constantly faced with the truth that we can’t begin to solve for societal problems if we can’t face their root causes. Finding and supporting innovative organizations that are disrupting the status quo, questioning conventional thinking and innovating strategies to overcome inequities and increase access to opportunity has played a major role in my professional experience at PwC and even more so on my personal life.

Thanks to a nonprofit board service role, I attended a class through Leadership Greater Chicago, where I met my husband, who is African American. Today, we have a biracial son who, as the only mixed-race student in his school, at one point experienced issues because he stood out from other students. This made me hyper-aware that he will forever be judged by his skin color and reinforced the need to address the disenfranchisement that some people face in life.

As a leader, I believe we need to do more than change a program or group; we need to fundamentally change the entire system.

Shannon Schuyler: In the summer of 2016, our society was in the midst of series of terrible tragedies–from St. Paul and Baton Rouge to Dallas and beyond–that were taking place across the country and were racially driven. When our US Chairman Tim Ryan started to bring the topic of diversity and inclusion to CEOs in various venues, which led to the insight that diversity and inclusion (D&I) is top of their mind for the business community, this community recognizes they don’t have all the answers and would benefit from others’ perspectives and insights. It was from there that the idea was formed.

He recognized that diversity and inclusion is not a competitive issue, but a societal issue that the business community–especially CEOs–can have a critical role in addressing. Rooted in the idea that we can have a greater impact if we work together, CEO Action is the largest CEO-driven business commitment to advance diversity and inclusion within the workplace. The CEO Action pledge focuses on three specific areas:

  • Continue to make our workplaces trusting places to have complex, and sometimes difficult, conversations about diversity & inclusion
  • Implement and expand unconscious bias education
  • Share best—and unsuccessful— actions on CEOAction for anyone to use to help advance their D&I strategies.

CEO Action is about to mark its second anniversary and the coalition has accomplished some amazing things to help CEOs dedicated to creating change together:

  • Expanded the reach of unconscious bias education in our workplaces and communities through the Check Your Blind Spots unconscious bias tour. The unconscious bias tour aims to increase unconscious bias awareness and education via 100 stops at workplaces, universities and communities, and engage one million people in-person and online. Unconscious bias education is a tool for diversity and inclusion strategies, but not all companies are equipped to roll out the training. So as the chair of the CEO Action Steering Committee, PwC invested $10M in the creation of a 45-foot customized bus with analog, virtual reality experiences exposing everyday bias along with a digital library, inclusion lounge and video confessional booth.
  • In order to make progress, both executive action, as well as individual commitment, are essential. To create an opportunity for individuals to personally act on diversity and inclusion, the coalition has created the I Act On pledge. The reason: while leaders have a responsibility to act and drive change, everyone plays a role in cultivating more diverse and inclusive workplaces, communities and society at large. The I Act On pledge is a personal pledge that any individual can take to commit to mitigating any unconscious biases, and act on fostering more inclusive behaviors in their everyday lives.

Brought together more than 150 organizations and 615,000 employees for candid conversations through the coalition’s Day of Understanding on December 7, 2018. One of the core commitments within the CEO Action pledge is to create a trusting workplace open to complex, and sometimes difficult, conversations about diversity and inclusion. As a part of that commitment, signatories held conversations focusing on key diversity and inclusions issues like race, gender, sexuality and more in their workplaces.

Shannon Schuyler: Every organization and CEO face their own challenges. But from a leadership perspective, I believe one of the biggest challenges any CEO – CEO Action signatory or not – faces is coming to terms with the elevated responsibility and expectations for how businesses interact with the world. Specifically, how CEOs engage in societal, moral or political issues, in addition to being accountable to various stakeholders and generating revenue. I assume that the vast majority of today CEOs didn’t realize the extent to which they would have to guide their company’s operations so as to publicly reflect their values. This is key in our current climate where consumers and employees now scrutinize all parts of a company – from political contributions to crisis response and community investment. Helping CEOs navigate the balancing act of expectations and giving purpose to their brand is a huge challenge. What’s special is that CEO Action creates a peer network for leaders to start to tackle this challenge by discussing their specific issues, find commonalities and tailor others’ lessons into actions that work for their organization.

Shannon Schuyler: I think there are many ways companies can commit to making progress, which include:

  • Setting big goals and demand aspirational behavior for your diversity and inclusion progress in the same way you would your business.
  • Using your influence to driving positive change, both in your organizations and your communities.
  • Holding your company and those you do business with accountable for the values you say you stand for.
  • Understanding that there is no one expert, perspective or solution on diversity

When it comes to engaging and empowering white males in the diversity and inclusion effort, I believe there are a few key actions that can help to empower, educate and inspire involvement. This includes helping them to understand how they fit into and how important they are to the diversity equation; to recognize that they – like all of us – have blind spots or unconscious biases to address; and to help remove barriers like fear or discomfort so they can be true advocates in driving change.

Shannon Schuyler: The measure for progress goes beyond bringing in more diverse talent. It comes down to an organization vocally and visibly demonstrating that diversity is part of its DNA or ethos. This happens when an organization is taking actions to effectively create and sustain an inclusive culture; when they understand that they must present their brand in a way that demonstrates the inclusivity of their organization; and when they model and reward inclusive leadership to drive enterprise-wide behavior change. That’s more than lip service.

Shannon Schuyler: I’m excited to say that during the week of June 10, CEO Action will mark its year-two anniversary, furthering its momentum and tapping into the power of the coalition by working together to drive change. This includes building on the dialogue CEO Action started with the Day of Understanding in December 2018 with a series of actions employees can take in and around our workplaces – like the I Act On pledge and hosting a CEO conversation to discuss how to take our efforts to the next level.

This article first appeared in the April 2019 issue of The HR Digest magazine.

Shannon Schyuler | Principal; Chief Purpose Officer; Responsible Business Leader; President of the PwC Charitable Foundation, Inc. PwC US

As PwC’s first Chief Purpose Officer, Shannon is responsible for infusing PwC’s Purpose—to build trust in society and solve important problems – into its core business strategy so that it drives how the firm engages clients and other external stakeholders for greater societal impact. In her role as Responsible Business Leader, Shannon delivers on PwC’s purpose by leading a commitment to help communities through Access Your Potential, a $320 million commitment to teach underserved students the tech and money skills they need to change the trajectory of their lives. By 2021, PwC will reach 10 million students with access to curriculum and will train 100,000 teachers and guidance counselors and mentor 10,000 students.

Shannon talks frequently about the growing role of business in addressing societal issues, and works alongside US Chairman Tim Ryan to drive the strategy for CEO Action for Diversity & Inclusion™, the largest-ever CEO-driven business commitment to advance diversity and inclusion in the workplace. She speaks often of how diversity and inclusion are two critical factors in helping companies achieve their purpose.

A sought after speaker and advisor, Shannon has a deep understanding of social innovation, supply chain and pro bono programs, sustainability, youth education, financial literacy, employee engagement and effective cross-sector collaborations. She is a board member of numerous charitable organizations, including The HistoryMakers Foundation; the National Environmental Education Foundation; Leadership Greater Chicago; Lincoln Park Zoo Board; Harris Theater; and JA Worldwide. Shannon is a graduate of the University of Michigan.

Photos: CEO Action

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Priyansha Mistry
Currently editor at The HR Digest Magazine. She helps HR professionals identify issues with their talent management and employment law. | Priyansha tweets at @PriyanshaMistry

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