View from the Top: PwC's Corporate Responsibility Lead Shannon Schuyler
Shannon Schuyler is the Corporate Responsibility (CR) Leader at PricewaterhouseCoopers and a member of the board for the firm's foundation. She oversees the actions, programs and initiatives for the firm's internal strategy around PwC’s four CR pillars: Marketplace, Community, People, and Environment. In an interview with Vault's CSR Editor Aman Singh, she discussed her journey from recruitment to starting the firm's first corporate responsibility team, defining the agenda, how initial failure has led to a gradual evolution of stakeholder engagement and team relationships, and why increasing student demand is compelling employers to modify their on-campus hiring strategies and outreach.
You've been in recruiting for a long time. How did that evolve into Corporate Responsibility at PricewaterhouseCoopers (PwC)?
I've been with PwC for 13 years and have had seven different roles since starting—from marketing and sales and client service work, to campus and experience recruiting, global HR to overseeing our 'Great Place to Work' effort, starting our alumni relations campaign, and now in corporate responsibility.
Three years ago, I wrote a white paper for PwC leadership essentially saying that we needed somebody to oversee the emerging area around corporate responsibility. Over the years, PwC had done some impressive things both for our people in the diversity realm as well as in community outreach, but the items weren't necessarily focused. These initiatives were not yet brought together in a compelling story, and we hadn't done anything significant related to the environment.
So, I put together what I thought could be a role that would bring these things together, and after three months – be careful what you wish for – they asked me to do it! It has been an incredible journey ever since to figure out what corporate responsibility really means to PwC and watching how it's morphed into today's interpretation.
Why corporate responsibility?
When we look at corporate responsibility, one of the cornerstones of it is the marketplace dimension, which focuses on our ethical conduct and governance toward the market and our clients. Especially after the last couple of years of turmoil that the financial services industry has seen, it has become even more important to ensure that responsibility is at the forefront of not just what company leadership is saying, but also what every single employee believes.
If you don't have good governance, then you can have all the volunteer programs in the world, give money away, get rid of Styrofoam cups, but not have the necessary basis for who you are as an organization.
I also think that organizations, especially in the
economic sense, have taken a few steps back lately. This is a combination of
ensuring that, not only are you doing the right thing from a social and
environmental perspective, but that you're truly reinforcing those actions from
a business perspective to regain trust within the industry, and of course, with
clients and other stakeholders in the marketplace. We've definitely seen that
companies go further if they're a good corporate citizen and founded on general
Several sustainability executives and experts say that without direct access to the C-suite, it is tough to get anything off the ground. Are you in a direct reporting role to PwC leadership?
I definitely agree with that. I report to the vice chairman of our firm. He's in charge of strategy, and therefore corporate responsibility and innovation. Together, we have a direct line to Bob Moritz, the U.S. Chairman, and talk to him quite frequently about different things that we hear—whether it's the ramifications of the oil spill or additional signatory opportunities through the UN Global Compact. It's just a very open dialogue of how things are evolving internally and externally, what the marketplace looks like, as well as how our people are doing.
Open communication is definitely huge. I spend a significant amount of time with Mike Burwell, our chief financial officer, talking through the different activities that we do, the financial ramifications of investing in green and the different types of environmental sustainability projects. What does that look like in the short-term? What we would need to invest? What does that look like from the perspective of long-term savings?
The more that you interact, the more you not only have leaderships' ears but also their willingness to communicate broadly. That really is a support system that is invaluable to organizations and the overall success of corporate responsibility.
I want to get a better insight into your team. How big is your team? Does it mostly come from employees willing to volunteer their time toward CR?
I have seven people who work specifically around corporate responsibility who focus on it 100 percent of the time. In addition, we have folks in the field within each one of our 19 markets – and within that, our 80 offices–who are designated as diversity leaders, HR leaders, administrative leaders and geographic marketing leaders. This is the team that typically handles community service.
Together we work collaboratively to set the strategies, processes and activities that will make our CR initiatives come to life in each market. This is especially important because each community's needs and resources are different, and accordingly, their sense of corporate responsibility. Through this web, our efforts become truly nationwide in scope.
In a recent article for the Huffington Post, you discussed employee engagement and recruitment, saying that employees want to work for companies that provide them with the opportunity to give back to the communities where they live and work. Can you tell me more about that?
We definitely have an expectation that once you come to work at PwC, giving back, volunteering and being responsible leaders are inherent to your actions to be successful. For example, on day one of our orientation for experienced hires, we spend three hours discussing their culture and values, and how that relates to work responsibilities and who we are as a firm.
New hires also participate in a joint bike-building session, where they get to see firsthand our culture of giving back. Overall, the firm sponsors up to 500 different projects, and local offices engage in others related to team-building. We also give unlimited paid time off during the year to spend on any firm-sponsored volunteer activity and an additional 10 hours for people to spend doing something they want to do personally.
So at the end of the day, when we looked at our investment in community service and translated the time people could have billed to our clients, it was north of $30 million last year.
How does this tie into PwC's commitment to integrate CR in company culture in the pre-hire and hiring process?
Well, we definitely have a lot of general conversations with students on campus; we also do a lot of presentations. I go to campuses several times a year to talk to freshman business school students at NYU and the University of Michigan, as examples, about corporate responsibility. So it's not necessarily about the people that we've hired or are hiring, but a much broader explanation of what PwC expects—and even more broadly, that this is what businesses across the board are expecting.
Currently we're also working with colleges to figure out how to embed CR in the accounting and general business curricula, so that students truly understand that it's going to be a part of their job, no matter where they go.
Moving on to recruitment: While CSR has a lot to do with re-jiggering brand perception, it also has a lot to do with attracting the right talent who encompass an understanding of corporate citizenship. Have you initiated any direct dialogue with students during the hiring process or pre-hire?
For us, this topic comes across way more loudly and clearly from undergrads than it does from MBAs. The motivating factor about why talent chooses certain companies has evolved in the past years. Initially, people would make decisions based on the higher pay package. Five or seven years ago, it swung to the importance of work/life flexibility. Now, over the past two years or so, it's swung again toward what an organization will do to support individuals in practicing responsible citizenship.
We hear this frequently from students: What do you do? Who do you give to? What do you do around the environment? They want to know how they can get engaged when they start. They want to know what our strategies are.
For us, these conversations have become a really predominant focus of our outreach at the undergrad level. Starting with sophomores, we hold several events to address these questions. We invite them to events that are specifically focused around volunteering and sustainability in the broadest context and get them engaged from the beginning.
For example, at Michigan, half of the students who came to the presentation on corporate responsibility were MBA students. They're more focused on environmental sustainability and what that looks like and how that translates into different careers for them, based on their background. They also get to make connections between ethical behavior, what an organization is doing and how they fit in with all this.
The focus on doing good in a holistic sense is a lot stronger at that undergraduate level, while MBA students are looking at it in a more strategic context, i.e., how they can get involved in environmental sustainability and what that might look like for them considering the previous experience they've had.
In the same Huffington Post article, you discuss using service as a training and development tool for leadership at PwC. Is this something that is initiated by your team or the C-suite? And if so, are there any incentives attached?
Specifically at the leadership level, we have a couple of different programs: one at the senior management level called "Project Oasis" and another at the partner level called "Project Ulysses." Both projects—Ulysses is about 14 weeks and Oasis is one week—allow select high-performing partners and senior managers to go on community outreach activities in different places.
Senior managers go to Africa for a week. Partners can go anywhere, and those who go for 14 weeks really contribute to the local growth of a community or village, helping them with everything from water filtration efforts to how women can sell their goods in a broader market. They also work on how the community can become financially solvent and change the environment to make it more sustainable.
These partners are selected because we see them as the firm's future leaders. By participating in the trip, we hope that they understand not only our need to give back but also understand the complexities of what that looks like, especially when you cross borders. There's also the aspect of understanding what being in somebody else's shoes really feels like and understanding the different perspectives that are out there, along with the complexities and frustrations that might come with that.
Even though there's no additional compensation that comes from these exercises, there are critical skills being developed. Certainly they are able to take it as a leave of absence and they're paid throughout that journey, but the goal is that they translate their experience into what they do at the firm and leverage it to accelerate their career.
Some companies like ING, Akzo Nobel and Xcel Energy have started including a quotient for sustainability in their executives' compensation package. Any moves toward a similar model at PwC?
For people who are specifically responsible for those areas, yes, a portion of their compensation is tied directly to their progress in corporate responsibility. For example, diversity professionals are evaluated on diversity numbers. For our partners, we look at a balanced scorecard, which includes factors like staff turnover, etc.
Our U.K. offices have, however started including individual metrics like measuring your carbon footprint. Here in the U.S., we're not there yet. However, things like whether you're a green team leader on one of our green teams or you're a volunteer leader for any one of our activities do get factored into compensation [Read the complete PwC Profile on Green Programs in the Workplace].
PwC's most applauded initiative is its commitment to education. Can you tell us more about how that feeds into your current role in the CR department?
When I took over this role two years ago, PwC had been doing a lot of great things for different organizations, but our focus was a little all over the board. For example, three years ago we donated to 4,700 different organizations. This year (2010) we're giving to fewer than 1,200 organizations. The difference is that we're actually giving slightly more money, but to far fewer. This is because when we were giving everybody who asked $500, there was no measurement of impact. Now we're in a much different place, like a lot of organizations, and really looking to focus on a cause area so that we can make the partnerships something that both the organizations can count on, are multi-faceted and move beyond just check-writing opportunities.
As far as educational programs go, it's common within the finance industry to look at youth education with a critical eye and see whether students who are interested, in accounting, for example, use it to keep their personal finances in order. This is important not just because they will be our future workforce but also because some of them will also be our clients. Their actions have ramifications for all of us in the general marketplace.
For PwC, it's about looking at the life cycle of a student and asking, what are the opportunities? What could we continue to build on as a continuum? Would that really change what their education experience is, and ultimately, their success? It's not just how you do the equations, but how you're taking that and making it part of their life.
For example, externally, we partner with Operation Hope to get our employees and interns engaged in teaching financial literacy courses and mentoring students. Internally, we've created an Impact program, which focuses on how to mentor and nurture first generation college-goers in high school through the application, acceptance and process of starting college, when they have no one in their family who can show them the way.
Once students enter campus, in addition to elementary presentations and talking sessions, we engage in activities like working with accounting professors on curriculum and sponsoring new courses.
What has your personal journey been like at PwC from recruitment to client services and now in CR?
When people hear that this is my job, they tend to go, "Oh my gosh, that sounds like the greatest job ever!" And in a way, I'm like "Yes, it is!" But with those days come days of incredible frustration because you see so much that you want—that can be—done, and you can see all of the connection points between these things in your mind, but it's hard to get everybody on the same page.
One of the greatest successes—and it started with a failure—dates back to when I started the CR team. In the beginning I thought, here's this strategy around corporate responsibility, and I felt I saw it clearly mapped out in my mind: I'm going to get everyone to agree that this is what we have to do, get them to a table, and we're going to have a common platform that we'll work on toward building this organization. I quickly realized, though, that that was not going to work.
The next step, most importantly, was realizing that I needed to accept that some people weren't going to come to the table or invest in this, from a personal or a business standpoint just based off of my perspective alone. I needed to create four or five or, in some cases, seven different business cases for why each one of these people should come to the table. As long as I could get these different stakeholders engaged based on individualized perspectives of the value-add, they all would come. Eventually, there can be agreement that everyone might be doing this for a different reason, but, at the end of the day, it is something that's valuable for the firm, for my service offering, and for my business area.
This can, of course, take a long time, but that was the beginning. Today, the same people who had to be shown siloed perspectives are able to see from other people's point of view. I really see an evolution because now people are saying, “This is why I care about it most of all…”, but they also get why it's important from the human capital lens, the technology lens, et cetera.
This evolution was a great learning process for me.
For example, I'm passionate about youth education because I come from a
background of educators, but to realize that for some people there are other
issues that take precedence—that is where the ball drops and the evolution
begins. When we are forced to go back and figure out where the commonalities
lie, that leads to a lot of value and relationship building, as well as tons of
wonderful, challenging discussions.
For more career advice, news and commentary on how the evolution of corporate responsibility, sustainable business practices and ethical management are changing recruitment strategies and traditional career paths, visit Vault's CSR blog: In Good Company or connect with us on Twitter @VaultCSR.