As I climbed a telephone pole to a high wire some 50 feet off the ground, I struggled to suppress my fear of heights. Perched precariously, I held the arm of one of our newly-admitted PwC partners while balancing and inching my feet along the wire to reach for a rope about eight feet beyond my grasp. Below, my fellow partners cheered us on: “Only a few more feet! “Don’t look down.” “Work together!” “You can do this!”
As a member of the firm’s senior management team, I join our newly admitted partners every year in Colorado Springs for this unique training. Although tethers and safety ropes eliminate any real danger, the combination of the 50-foot heights and the desire not to let each other down (or embarrass oneself), takes experiential learning to a new level. While I conquer my fears and gain a sense of connectedness from working with my new partners, the program also allows me to reflect on the importance of diverse experiences to a successful organization.
PwC is well known for embracing and celebrating different viewpoints and is a leading champion for diversity. We have found that diverse perspectives improve problem solving, cultural dexterity, strategic thinking, and ultimately (because we produce a stronger product) our bottom line.
While much of our focus on diversity centers on gender, race, culture and sexual orientation, we have also become increasingly attuned to the importance of diversity of experience. As our high-wire activities demonstrate, we value experiential learning for team building, but we are also interested in previous experiences our talent can use for the benefit of our firm.
This perspective is gaining wider acceptance. For example, Harvard political scientist Joseph Nye lauds the abilities of people he calls “tri-sector athletes,” who have public, private and non-profit-sector experience. His point, with which I agree, is that a wide range of experiences – even if they don’t fit neatly into those three categories — enables individuals to contribute new perspectives and deeper understanding to an organization.
At PwC, one need only look to the top to see the importance of diversity of experience. Our U.S. Chairman and Senior Partner, Bob Moritz, credits the years he spent in Japan with teaching him crucial lessons about diversity and cultural dexterity, and he attributes invaluable leadership and people skills to his tour in Human Resources.
To facilitate similar crossover opportunities, I created a public policy fellowship program to bring managers and senior associates from business units to our department for 6-18 month rotations. One of our last fellows, now a partner, helped educate my non-auditor team of policy experts about audit intricacies and how regulations and accounting standards play out on the ground. In turn, he learned about public policy strategy and legislative and regulatory processes. Both the fellow and my team benefitted from learning how different parts of our organization contribute to our bottom line and our business model.
Diversity of experience is especially valuable in senior public policy positions like mine, where strong strategic skills and an ability to manage competing agendas and perspectives (including political ones) are important. Approaching policy from different vantage points also creates strong, deep networks, another key component in a successful public policy career. The mentors, coaches and colleagues I have met through my different government positions have amplified my own diverse experiences by helping me to see the world through different lenses, while providing valuable advice and counsel.
The combination of skills and experience I gained while working on Capitol Hill, at the U.S. Treasury Department, and with the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission are, in fact, some of the reasons I have my current job. When I was hired, the firm — and the accounting profession — were facing a new world of regulation. There was no accounting industry precedent for issues like how proactively firms should work with regulators and how to combine new regulatory requirements with existing legislative agendas. My experiences gave me important insights and skills to help the firm develop a new public policy strategy.
Americans typically change careers multiple times, and today’s Millennials will do so even more than previous generations. When friends and mentees ask me for career advice, I often encourage them to diversify: to seek opportunities that will deepen and vary their perspective on an issue or sector; to consider organizations that appreciate varied experiences; and when interviewed by a prospective employer, to explain how their combined experiences will add value.
Whether you are just starting your career, evaluating talent as a business leader, or considering your next professional move prioritize diverse experiences. From the ground floor to the high wire, diversity of experience can make you more marketable and can add significant value to your organization. #