PwC's chief purpose and inclusion officer shares how the company's promoting allyship in the workplace with a new employee toolkit

  • Shannon Schuyler, chief purpose and inclusion officer at PwC, told Business Insider many of the company's employees were incorrectly using the word "ally" interchangeably with sponsor, mentor, and coach.
  • In response, Schuyler and Joel Howell, a senior manager in PwC's Office of Diversity, created the "Allyship Toolkit" — an optional resource for employees to embrace the active ally model when they're ready. 
  • The initial toolkit is designed to help coworkers recognize what being an ally means, prepare for uncomfortable situations, and reflect on their privilege. 
  • "It's not a self designation. It's up to those people in the disadvantaged groups to put the label of ally on you and to say, 'Yes, this person is my ally and has demonstrated those behaviors,'" Howell told Business Insider. 
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Soon after the death of George Floyd, Shannon Schuyler overheard many of her colleagues declaring, "I'm an ally." Having been PwC's chief purpose and inclusion officer since July 2019, overseeing the company's diversity efforts among 55,000 employees and 79 offices, Schuyler worried that they didn't fully understand the word's meaning. 

For instance, white coworkers began asking if they could join PwC's Black inclusion network as allies, but members of the group were reluctant to allow them to join without a full understanding of what they were willing to do to support the group's members. 

Many employees also seemed to be using the word ally interchangeably with words like sponsor, mentor, and coach, Schuyler told Business Insider — but being an ally has a different meaning and requires different behaviors. 

"An ally is someone who would fight alongside of you, not someone who would just walk next to you," Schuyler said. 

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Joel Howell, a senior manager in PwC's Office of Diversity, also noticed that employees were increasingly talking about being an ally at work, so the diversity office decided to create an "Allyship Toolkit." 

Incidentally, PwC started this journey more than two decades ago when leadership recognized the need to focus on how it attracts, develops, and advances its employees, Schuyler said. PwC's first chief diversity officer took the helm in 1999 managing a total of 14 professionals. Today, the office has 32 staff members.

"We wanted to make sure that individuals were clear on the definition and what those behaviors look like," Howell said. "It's not a self designation. It's up to those people in the disadvantaged groups to put the label of ally on you and to say, 'Yes, this person is my ally and has demonstrated those behaviors.'"

The 3 pillars of PwC's allyship program

PwC's Allyship Toolkit was introduced to staff on October 30. To draw attention to it, PwC produced an internal podcast that featured two partners talking about their own experience of being an ally and the role an ally played in their lives. The toolkit introduces staff to the definition of allyship, includes an activity on privilege, and provides resources for individual reflection and group discussion on the topic, Schulyer said.

The toolkit's three key messages are:

  • Ally as a verb means "using power and privilege to advocate for and support people in less advantaged positions."
  • Expect your assumptions to be challenged and, at times, to feel uncomfortable. 
  • When you understand and own your privilege "without shame, blame or judgment," work teams can cultivate an environment where everyone has a true sense of belonging.

The goal of the program is to create a behavior model for allyship among employees that will eventually lead to more visible action as well as allyship being embedded into PwC's coaching, development, mentoring, and sponsorship programming, Schuyler said.

However, unlike PwC's antibias and inclusive leadership trainings, which PwC began rolling out in 2015, the firm's allyship training isn't a mandatory requirement. Instead, it's up to inclusion groups, work teams, and groups of colleagues to request allyship training. 

"Being an ally is not something you can mandate that someone does — that's not the way people will take actions related to taking down the barriers," Schuyler said. However, she added, PwC plans to embed elements of allyship into its D&I curriculum, as well as its other programs and initiatives.

This initial toolkit is only the first step. "Our first goal is to make sure our people are aware of and fully embrace the active ally model," Schuyler said. For now, PwC is keeping the details of Phase II, which will include a virtual component, under wraps, but plans to release it in the third quarter of 2021.

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Being an ally is uncomfortable

Both Schuyler and Howell want their colleagues to understand that being an ally is hard — and that feeling discomfort is part of the journey. It requires "deep personal reflection about what they have done, but more importantly what they have not done, in order to fundamentally get at the systemic racism," Schuyler said. 

One of the hardest parts of this is understanding that even with the best of intentions, your actions might not be perceived that way, Howell said. For instance, when Howell encountered a coworker who uses an electric wheelchair, he opened the door for her, but found that his actions weren't appreciated. 

"I was just trying to be polite," Howell said. But, he added, "she was not happy because for her, she wanted to show she could do things that individuals didn't think she could do."

Schuyler has also had her share of uncomfortable moments. "When I picked up the phone to reach out to some of my Black colleagues, who I haven't known, to have a conversation about things that are going on and to offer support, I had a couple of hang ups," she said. 

Initially, Schuyler took those calls personally. But other Black colleagues urged Schuyler to keep trying. "This isn't about you, don't internalize it," she said. "You need to be resilient because not everyone is going to be ready for you or comfortable with you."

Being uncomfortable should happen every day, she said. "If you're not in a place during one of your conversations every day where you're not feeling sure about it, then you're not testing your ability to be better, because to be better and to be an ally you have to ask things and be put in situations where, one, you haven't been before, but also you don't know the outcome," she added.

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An ally uses their power to fight for others

PwC isn't the only company where employees are claiming to be allies but their colleagues aren't feeling supported. A recent survey of 7,400 US adults conducted by Lean In and SurveyMonkey found that although more than 80% of white employees view themselves as allies to women of color at work, only 45% of Black women and 55% of Latinas say they have strong allies in the workplace.

Those survey results don't surprise Schuyler. "As white women, many of us tend to believe, because of the struggles we have gone through as white women in the business community, that we understand the challenges and barriers that are in play for everyone who is diverse," Schuyler said. "We think we're all in the same boat, but we're not," she added.

Recently, there was discussion of moving one of Schuyler's Black colleagues, Clarissa Clark, a PwC assurance director, from an office in Florida to a location in California and then deciding whether to promote her. "I made the call to say she's not moving," Schuyler said. "If we can't make sure she gets to the next level, I'm not making her move across the country." 

Clark told Business Insider she wasn't just relieved she didn't have to move across the country, she also knew that there was someone who had her back. "I felt I couldn't speak up about it. I felt that I had to trust the process," Clark said. "The best thing about having an ally is someone going to bat for me in conversations that I don't even know anything about."

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