By Fiona Wakelin
Please describe your journey to joining PwC.
Growing up in a township, I was very aware of the challenges of poverty and lack of opportunities. As a result, I was very focused on education as a catalyst for the change I wanted to see. Being a CA was my dream from a very young age, so when I was successful in my application for a PwC bursary, I was determined to make the most of the opportunity this provided.
I served my articles in PwC’s Banking and Capital Markets Division. I always loved a good challenge, and financial services wasn’t the most diverse arena at the time. This is why I was particularly intrigued to understand why that was; and there was no better place to find out than from within. I enjoyed my time in the banking and capital markets industry, and I loved the experience, exposure and support I got, all the way through to partnership.
Since your admission to the partnership in 2012, your client work has focused on banking and capital markets, and other industry group audits. Please describe your current role and responsibilities.
I’ve continued to focus on banking and capital markets, and highly-regulated industries within the consumer industrial products and services area, particularly multinational groups.
What I’m most passionate about in my current role, as a member of our South Market Area executive team, is progressing transformation, diversity and inclusion – in both our workplace and society. Given my journey, I understand the barriers to entry, and the obstacles that pose a personal challenge to succeeding in the financial services industry. I feel a responsibility to directly and positively impact the journey of the generations that follow.
How did COVID-19 impact you and your team?
There were both positive and negative impacts on my team. On the positive side, innovation was enhanced. It is possible to work differently, and that realisation has been accelerated and embraced. The biggest challenge was that boundaries were tested; we all had longer days but more than anything – we lost the personal touch to an extent. This made it more challenging to emphasise our culture and values when everyone was working remotely.
I think by now everyone is familiar with the themes relating to gender equality arising from the pandemic. We’re seeing these issues reiterated in our regular research around remuneration trends and women in work research. The evidence emerging globally from the latter is that the damage from COVID-19 and government response and recovery policies, are disproportionately being felt by women. In order to undo the damage caused by COVID-19 to women in work – even by 2030 – progress towards gender equality needs to be twice as fast as its historical rate. As PwC’s Inclusion and Diversity Lead, this is a priority for me.
As Head of Diversity and Inclusion for PwC, what have been some of your major accomplishments – and how do you think we can speed up the transformation journey in SA?
With this role, there is no personal accomplishment. I would emphasise that what we have achieved has been a team effort, supported by our values and advocated for by our leadership team. Some of the highlights have been the following:
- We have increased the number of female partners within the organisation, as well as the leadership positions occupied by females.
- We recently rolled out what we call the Inclusion Badge – this is a platform that will enhance inclusive leadership and therefore inclusion within the firm, with a targeted and progressive lens. Diversity and Inclusion remain a top priority for us.
- What is particularly close to my heart is ensuring that the firm has inclusive policies and targeted programmes that focus on new graduates entering our business, so they have a positive working experience.
Referring to the transformation aspect, there are multifaceted challenges and obstacles that directly impact transformation in South Africa. Most industries, including ours, have a mature understanding of these challenges and have implemented appropriate strategies to address them. Consistent application and continuous improvements to these existing strategies is the only way to ensure that transformation happens at a faster pace.
What inspires you about what you do?
I am inspired by the trailblazer leaders who have come before me; they inspire me to progress that which they have started. Working with young people and having access to agents of change also keeps me inspired and wanting to do more, be more and impact more.
How would you describe your purpose?
I see my purpose as being very aligned to where I began my personal journey. As a young black township girl, who has successfully scaled many obstacles, I feel privileged to be where I am. My purpose is to remove as many of those barriers, for as many women as I can, in order to see more young women lead in the corporate space.
How have you resolved the pain points in your career?
Mentorship and resilience have been critical to me accomplishing what I set my mind to. Having mentors from diverse backgrounds has helped shape my critical thinking, self-awareness and ability to impact and influence. I have accepted that oftentimes, pain points are catalysts for growth. Being resilient and able to learn from these is important for me.
What advice do you have for aspirant accountants?
- Work hard and celebrate each milestone.
- Understand that growth in this profession is a journey.
- Be self-reflective.
- Remember that each successfully navigated challenge increases your resilience.
If you had an extra hour in the day, how would you spend it?
I would spend half an hour reading more with my children, and the other half an hour watching cartoons again with my children – in my household, we believe in superheroes.
Please share any exciting plans you may have for the future
While we have accomplished significant milestones in ensuring that inclusion and diversity enjoy the prominence that they deserve at PwC, there is still much to be done. I look forward to building on the strong foundation that we have already established, in line with our purpose of building trust in society and solving important problems.
Do you have a message for our readership?
The role of business in society has changed dramatically. There’s greater focus on how organisations impact the world around them – affecting climate change, responsible investment, sustainable value chains, social mobility and inclusion and equality. Add COVID-19 and its associated challenges into the mix, and there’s no doubt that a focused societal purpose strategy is imperative for any business that wants to have a sustainable impact. This is a critical time for business, educators, government and other stakeholders to work together in a more agile, resilient and inclusive manner and to commit to a meaningful and sustained investment in societal purpose. We all have a role to play in this.
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