PwC's CSR Leader: "I had to accept that some people weren't going to come to the table or invest in this"

PwC's CSR Leader: "I had to accept that some people weren't going to come to the table or invest in this"

In 2007, Shannon Schuyler, an executive at PricewaterhouseCoopers (PwC) wrote a white paper for the company's leadership emphasizing that PwC needed someone to oversee their CR efforts and give them direction. Schuyler also candidly pointed out that while the accounting giant had done some impressive things for both their people and the community, their efforts weren't necessarily focused. And they were notably absent in the environmental field.

Three months later, the job was hers. Today, as PwC's Corporate Responsibility Leader, she leads a seven-member department that focuses full time on spearheading the firm's CR efforts. Additionally, her team works with people in the field within 19 markets and 80 offices, who comprise of diversity leaders, HR, and administrative heads. They also work with geographic marketing teams, who take care of local community outreach.

We sat down for a conversation, which covered PwC's CR mission, how her team is helping rebuild and redefine the company's strategic focus, as well as her personal journey which has managed to connect her experience in executive recruitment with a passion for youth education.

From Recruitment to Corporate Responsibility

I started with what was topmost on my mind: Why the transition from recruitment to 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," she said. As Schuyler further reasoned, because CR had to do with employee belief and culture, it would eventually rest on her as well—and to catalyze that, she'd rather be the one in charge.

She added, "I 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."

The message for her was clear: "We've definitely seen that companies go further if they're a good corporate citizen and founded on general business ethics."

Jobs in CSR

The underlining theme that emerged from our recent Job hunting in CSR series pointed at a distinct disconnect between recruitment needs and student demand for responsible business practices. I asked Schuyler whether the firm was committed enough to embedding a responsible culture to start discussing their initiatives at the pre-hire stage.

"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. 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. We are 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."

Business school vs. undergraduate

Schuyler also pointed out a distinction between the conversations happening at the undergraduate level and the business school level. At the undergrad sophomore stage, she said, the focus was on active engagement from the get go. PwC initiates outreach by holding events to address student questions and by inviting them to events that are "specifically focused around volunteering and sustainability in the broadest context and get them engaged from the beginning."

On MBA campuses, the firm fine tunes its strategy to be more career-centric. "They are more focused on environmental sustainability and what that looks like and how that translates into different careers for them, based on their background," she said. Regular readers of this space will remember Boston University MBA graduate Ashley Jablow's interview, where she emphasized that it was conversations with faculty, peers, and company officials that helped define her focus toward corporate responsibility.

For PwC and Schuyler, candidates like Jablow present a necessary shift in approach from holistic to strategic. "They get to make connections between ethical behavior, what an organization is doing and how they fit in with all this," she said.

Finally, she reiterated, "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."


Next: How PwC is changing the rules on leadership development training and encouraging corporate citizenship by focusing on employee engagement and executive involvement

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