PwC: The Importance of a Diverse Workplace and Empowering Women. My Story.

Originally published on LinkedIn by Bernadette Geis, US Asset and Wealth Management Leader and Global Engagement Partner at PwC. 

(Courtesy of PwC)

Today, we mark International Women’s Day — a global celebration of the social, economic, cultural and political achievements of women. First recognized in the US in 1908 and then worldwide in 1911, this celebration has come a long way in the last century. And as the first female US Asset and Wealth Management Leader at PwC, I’m deeply committed to being part of this journey.

Like many, my career path was influenced by my parents. My father, a military man, shaped my ability to adapt to change, a benefit from the many moves that come with a military upbringing. He also gave me the gift of humor and taught me how to interject levity into high stress situations–generally a much needed relief valve. It took me a while to recognize that my determination and comfort in taking risks was influenced by my mother, who grew a successful business as an artist while still raising four children and being a supportive military wife. These life experiences fueled my interest in raising my own four children to be adaptive to change, have a more worldly perspective and understanding of cultural differences and appreciate that with hard work comes even greater reward.

To that end, my career at PwC has enabled me to accomplish these goals. Often, my personal ambitions drove my career choices. Whether it was moving to another city (or continent), taking on a flexible work arrangement, or pursuing more challenging experiences, PwC was the enabler.

I always had my eye on the finance world, particularly investment banking, and I dreamed of a future in it. My mother reminded me that my gender might be an obstacle in the world of investment banking given that this was the 1980s and suggested I look for something with more stability and gender support. I excelled in accounting in school and felt that if I could somehow incorporate finance into that, well it would be a perfect marriage. That’s what brought me to PwC and to the financial services industry.

And just like most new associates, I had no idea where it would take me. I figured “I’ll be here for a couple of years” and move on. But as the years went by I found the challenges, diversity of experiences and being surrounded by incredible talent kept me excited and engaged. Then came the realization of wanting a big family along with my career. Thankfully, balancing those priorities was made easier through PwC’s flexible work arrangement, which afforded me the opportunity to work an 80% schedule. Four children and more than 20 years later, I can attest to the success of what was a progressive option for companies to offer employees at the time. I also had amazing female colleagues who embraced the arrangement and showed me the ropes. This schedule afforded me the opportunity to be home every night for dinner with the kids and keep my Fridays free from the demands of work. I was still able to maximize the experiences with the 80% schedule and continue progressing through the firm from manager to partner to practice leader.

Our first holiday card from Japan reflect the beauty of this amazing country.

I’m proud to say that working on a reduced schedule, with reduced pay, never held me back, not once. In fact, it enabled my talents of focus, drive and determination to shine. Still, I’d be lying if I said some colleagues didn’t make comments or roll their eyes when I ran out of the office to catch the 5 o’clock train, but I rarely let the snide comments and eyerolls get to me. After all, I was the youngest of four children with a pretty thick skin. And it was clear none of that mattered when it came time for promotions. I was fortunate to have leaders who recognized they were losing their highest performing talent to having children. Building diverse teams that included women and promoting those who most deserved the role was extremely important to them.

I started rounding out my experience within Asset and Wealth Management. I was slowly but surely adding every element of our practice into my resume. My thirst for change kept me excited (thank you again, US Marine Corps) and motivated me to think about my next client experience whether it is mutual funds, alternatives, real estate, service providers or corporates. I spent three years living and working abroad in Japan, an experience for which I am forever grateful and helped me understand Asset and Wealth Management beyond the borders of the United States. Eventually I realized I’d worked on every aspect of the business within the Asset and Wealth Management practice. The culmination of experiences both personal and professional have provided me all of the tools needed to take on this current leadership role.

Embracing the cultures of all the countries we visit has been a priority and I am proud of my kids adventurous palates.

When I made partner in 2000, we were proud that 15% of the partners in Boston were women, and that was ahead of other offices in the country. Our firm goal was to have women represent 35% of the partnership by 2006 — an ambitious goal. Well, we didn’t make that goal by 2006 and, as we stand here today in 2021, we’re still not there. That doesn’t mean we won’t get there.

In fact, the focus and attention on driving our Diversity and Inclusion (D&I) agenda is even greater. Our transparency report was one important step to be sure that we hold ourselves accountable for success. I am proud of the efforts we continue to make and hold myself individually accountable through my own leadership role and day-to-day interactions. While our partnership may not be as gender diverse as we originally planned, 50% of the leadership roles are now held by women and/or racially/ethnically diverse individuals, demonstrating that for PwC, the pursuit of diversity isn’t just about doing “what we’re supposed to do.” Studies and experience prove diversity is good for business. Inclusive teams lead to different perspectives, creative thinking and open collaboration. More and more, we’re sharing our experiences and helping our clients to embrace change on the same D&I path. Our experiences enable us to guide our clients on this journey; many of whom are truly embarking on it for the first time.

The D&I journey is certainly a challenge for an organization to take on, but we will continue to be bold, intentional, transparent and unwavering in our commitment. I speak more about this in our Policy on Demand episode, a wonderful conversation I had with some of our female leadership.

I am forever grateful for that team of leaders in the early ’90s who saw the talent drain and decided to do something about it. I can’t imagine my career — let alone my life and that of my family — had that leadership not existed. I am not done yet and neither is the firm. I’m looking forward to what’s next.