Welcome to our series of interviews with leading female CSR practitioners where we are learning about what inspires these women and how they found their way to careers in sustainability. Read the rest of the series here.
TriplePundit: Briefly describe your role and responsibilities, and how many years you have been in the business.
Shannon Schuyler: I am a principal and the U.S. Corporate Responsibility (CR) leader for PricewaterhouseCoopers LLP (PwC). In this role, I oversee the actions and programs that unite the firm’s internal strategy around social and environmental responsibility, aligning each initiative to PwC’s overall business strategy in order to increase employee engagement, differentiate the brand in the marketplace and drive operational efficiencies.
I have ownership of PwC’s U.S. CR goals, including a $160 million commitment to youth education with a focus on financial literacy called, PwC’s Earn Your Future; a $10 million annual commitment to pro bono services for nonprofit organizations; a 30 percent firm-wide carbon reduction goal by FY’16; and 100 percent staff and partner engagement in the firm’s culture of giving. I also spend time dedicated to the firm’s external client-facing practice, Sustainable Business Solutions, facilitating discussions with clients on their approach to CR. I have been with the firm for 16 years.
3p: How has the sustainability program evolved at your company?
SS: CR has always been part of PwC’s culture, but in the past it was more intuitive than it was strategic. Our people have always had an instinct to “do good,” but as recently as six years ago, we hadn’t yet come together to make consolidated and strategic investments to provide our people with the opportunity to unite and give back, be it to a cause, the environment or through the gift of time. We were missing a real opportunity.
So, in the midst of changes at our firm, I proposed a strategic plan that would form the foundation of how CR can be utilized to engage people, create efficiencies, and serve as a catalyst for growth, all while building on PwC’s long-standing commitment to strong values and ethical practices. Today, we approach CR in the U.S. through four areas of focus—Marketplace, People, Community and Environment—and we focus on three societal cause areas: youth education, climate change and social inclusion.
As a professional services firm, PwC’s number one asset is its talent. Employees today—especially Millennials—want to work for organizations that care and provide meaningful opportunities to make an impact both in and out of the office. Our strategic investments in CR-related efforts help enable and inspire our people, and reward us with a highly engaged staff that performs at its best and provides the companies we serve with the highest level of value and quality.
3p: Tell us about someone (mentor, sponsor, friend, hero) who affected your sustainability journey, and how.
SS: The scope of my sustainability journey at PwC would not be what it is today without PwC’s Vice Chairman—Strategy, Mitch Cohen, who is a mentor, a strong leader, and a friend. Having someone in a more senior role advocate for you and believe in you is critical for any professional. Mitch’s tireless advocacy paved the way for me to position our CR efforts as more than just a “nice to-do” but as a vital part of our strategic plan.
Equally important is his or her ability to challenge and push you to be better so that you can grow. I was recently admitted to PwC’s partnership—an accomplishment that reflects my commitment to the firm and to the teams with whom I have worked throughout the years. This achievement underscores the value that PwC places in our CR efforts and signifies that our work is considered an essential part of the firm’s mission and values. Mitch has played a huge and significant role in my journey, which fulfilled a personal dream of mine, and is helping our firm impact the lives of others.
3p: What is the best advice you have ever received?
SS: I can hear my father’s voice when I answer this question. While I carry a mental list of his good advice with me at all times, I’d have to say my favorite is: When you mess up, make it right.
It’s easy to accept praise. It’s much harder to admit a problem. Hardest of all is to roll up your sleeves and fix it. No one will execute a completely flawless career, and this reminds me of that. I also believe it’s important to think creatively and take risks. When I take a risk and it doesn’t work out as planned, I do my best to make it right.
3p: Can you share a recent accomplishment you are especially proud of?
SS: Along with my team, I am honored to have helped develop PwC’s signature commitment centered on financial literacy, PwC’s Earn Your Future — a $160 million investment designed to fill gaps within the U.S. education system and reach 2.5 million students and educators over the next five years. This substantial commitment, which leverages the skills of our people to improve the financial competency of students and teachers across the country, is groundbreaking. Seeing it come to life through the eyes of our people is an inspiration to me every day.
3p: If you had the power to make one major change at your company or in your industry, what would it be?
SS: Companies have a major role to play in addressing some of the largest social and environmental issues and mega-trends of our time. Education, healthcare, poverty and climate change, for example, are cross-sector concerns, and any given industry does not have the resources, network or intellectual capital to solve these issues and crises alone. If we all work together, however, companies of various sizes, industries and backgrounds can bring products, services and — most importantly — skills to the table to contribute to scalable and replicable solutions to these problems.
3p: Describe your perfect day.
SS: Our CR commitment is a perfect combination of engaging with and providing value to our stakeholders and communities. The days I recently spent in Belize teaching children about financial responsibility and leadership, as part of PwC’s Earn Your Future program, were perfect. The children’s enthusiasm reinforced my conviction that our CR efforts really do make a difference. If speaking personally, my perfect day starts and ends with my family. A simple stroll through the park with my husband, son and two dogs is really all I need to be completely content.