Connecting Employee Purpose to Corporate Purpose with Shannon Schuyler of PwC

January 30, 2024

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Shannon is PwC’s US Chief Purpose & Inclusion Officer – a role that brings together unique insights and perspectives from her prior roles as Chief Purpose Officer and Responsible Business Leader to the Chief Diversity Officer role. Her role also includes oversight of this same function in PwC’s Mexico and Asia Pacific America territories, as well as our Acceleration Centers, spanning eight geographic locations. Shannon’s work activates PwC’s purpose to build trust in society and solve important problems and to create a fulfilling employee experience. 

Responsible for furthering diversity, inclusion and equity across the firm’s workforce, she connects purpose with belonging to create an environment in the firm that celebrates identity and intersectionality as a way to drive innovation and business value.

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John Shegerian: Do you have a suggestion for a Rockstar Impact Podcast guest? Go to impact podcast.com and just click Be a Guest to recommend someone today. This edition of the Impact Podcast is brought to you by ERI. ERI has a mission to protect people, the planet, and your privacy. And is the largest fully integrated IT and electronics asset disposition provider and cybersecurity focused hardware destruction company in the United States and maybe even the world. For more information on how ERI can help your business properly dispose of outdated electronic hardware devices, please visit eridirect.com. This episode of the Impact Podcast is brought to you by Closed Loop Partners. Closed Loop Partners is a leading circular economy investor in the United States with an extensive network of Fortune 500 corporate investors, family offices, institutional investors, industry experts and impact partners. Closed Loop’s platform spans the arc of capital, from venture capital to private equity bridging gaps and fostering synergies to scale the circular economy, to find Closed Loop Partners, please go to www.closelooppartners.com.

John: Welcome to another edition of the Impact Podcast. I’m John Shegerian, and I’m so excited to have with us today, Shannon Schuyler. She’s the Chief Purpose and Inclusion Officer at PwC. Welcome to the Impact Podcast, Shannon.

Shannon Schuyler: I mean, you could not have made me feel more welcome with that introduction, so I’m excited to have the conversation.

John: Well, it’s wonderful to have you. We’re connecting today. I’m in Fresno. You’re in the beautiful, windy city of Chicago. And I’d like to first ask you, before we get talking about all the important and impactful things that you and your colleagues are up to with regards to purpose and inclusion at PwC. I’d love for our listeners and viewers to learn a little bit more about you, Shannon, where did you grow up and how did you get inspired to get on this wonderful and important journey that you’re on at PwC?

Shannon: Well, it is such an incredible question, and I will take you way back to Shaker Heights, Ohio, where I grew up, although I was born in Canton, Ohio, so I am a lifelong football fan. I have been to over 19 football parades and induction ceremony. So I am the person for the Hall of Fame. If you have any questions or any questions about who has been inducted. And I grew up through there and it was no wonder why I ended up at University of Michigan working for Bo Schembechler for many years at that stadium.

John: Wow.

Shannon: Right. So with that, I ended up at PwC. I have been at PwC for 27 years, and when I look back, and it wasn’t until my 40s and already had been with the firm for a while to find out why I was here, it was really when I started to investigate my own purpose. And it was because of the wonderful women in my life who passed away way too early in my life that made me a really strong woman. And they were a first state and local lobbyist of the bank. Someone who started a nonprofit, someone who was one of 12 children. I never saw her without pantyhose. She was always working and cooking and great people who were caregivers. And I carry that on my shoulder every day and I’ve realized that that is why I do what I do and hopefully am able to see some change and some real sustainability in our actions.

John: I love it. And I love what you say your title is Chief Purpose and Inclusion Officer and that could mean so many things to different people and to different brands. What does it mean for you in terms of your role at PwC and what did they ask you to do and accomplish?

Shannon: And John, it’s such a great thing and I think first it’s a nod to PwC and other companies that you can kind of create where you want to go. And I think our organization, when purpose was really top the last five or seven years ago of saying, is this a marketing slogan or is it something that we truly believe will make us different and distinctive in the way in which our people look at their role will bring more meaning? And so the first part was saying we need someone to wake up every day just as we’re all stewards of the purpose, but someone who can say, how do we make it come to life? And our purpose to build trust in society and solve important problems? People might not say, oh my gosh, that’s a very large professional services firm. And so my role was to figure out how to make it that. And then when we look at inclusion, part of, when we look at those key words around important problems, it really is all those things that fall under social. And so what do we do for our communities? What do we do around diversity, equity, and inclusion? What do we do around environmental sustainability? So all those things fall under my bandwidth and the people on my incredible team who work to make that come to life every day for our people, for our clients, and for our communities. And we believe that that is what our purpose is.

John: When did you actually take on that exact role?

Shannon: I’ve now been the Chief Purpose Officer for about five and a half years. I took on in addition to that our D&I [inaudible] with the firm about three years ago. So we’ve continued to say these things come together in such a pivotal way.

John: It’s so interesting when I started this show in ’07, it was a radio show way before there was podcasting, really. And then we got with the podcasting thing as soon as that became a thing in ’08 and beyond, and there was never, there was not back then any Chief Purpose and Inclusion Officer. How has that role evolved because that’s still a new title, a relatively new title and an important title. How has that evolved even in the five years that you’ve held that title at PwC?

Shannon: Well, the nice thing is, is now there’s enough people who have the title that we can have a very small cocktail party, not many of us sitting around that table, but enough to be able to say, it’s not necessarily the word, but it’s saying the why is important with all the changing issues in society, with all the changing issues within our business and within the world. It’s not about what we all do because in some cases we do similar things as far as skillset, but it’s why we do it. And truly understanding the responsibility as organizations that we have because that’s what inspire our people to work 10, 12, 15 hours a day. It’s knowing that the why, they’re contributing to something larger than themselves. And gosh, think about the world that we can live in if that’s how people go into their day versus just as transactions.

John: That’s true. And for our listeners and viewers that aren’t familiar with PwC, first to find Shannon and her colleagues at PwC, you go to www.pwc.com. What is PwC? What is its macro vision and macro mission that it makes their money from?

Shannon: PwC is an incredible global professional services firm. We have over 350,000 people across the globe and 800 plus offices in 130 plus different countries and territories. We specialize in things from technology, to our auditing, to tax, to consulting, to now we’re not just a service company, we’re also a product company across the different portfolio of AI and other areas. And we’re really an organization that looks and understands the responsibility based upon the footprint that we have that’s beyond just serving our clients but also serving our people and our communities where we live and work.

John: So, that’s it’s more than a multinational corporation. You’re around the globe, you’re a global entity. About how many thousands of employees do you have?

Shannon: We’re bridging on 330 to 350,000 people.

John: Okay. So with that said, it’s a massive organization. Talk a little bit about breaking that down. First of all, your team, your Chief Purpose and Inclusion Officer. So how do you then create teams and collaborate those teams and departments across a very, very large organization around the world?

Shannon: I think John, one of the most important things is people tend to want to put everybody within a little silo. And when you’re looking at these issues, it’s how do you bake yourself into every silo? And so before when people were thinking about their issues for environmental or where does their foundation sit or where does their D&I sit, it was separate little programs that happened. And if you want to actually make change at scale, you actually have to be embedded with each one of those and say, what is the business case for our people in finance to care, for our people in marketing to care, for our people who are delivering client service to care? And I think part of what we do is to make this everyone’s responsibility. It’s not a small group that tries to push these boulders up a hill. It’s saying collectively this is a part of our strategy. Our strategy is our purpose and our values. It’s not something that sits over on the side. So as we make our strategic divisions, as we look to actually say, what do we do today? It’s what we have that lens. And that suddenly makes these important topics like diversity and climate where they’re not somebody else as a company will deal with it, but each person takes it with them as something to make sure they’re looking at both of their teams as well as how they look at their clients in order to make sure that it’s real. It’s not just something that we put on paper.

John: So help me out here now, Shannon. There is a alphabet soup of acronyms out there now, ESG, the linear to circular economy shift that we’re living through. You have planet positivity, decarbonization or net zero, net zero waste goals. Where does all those ESG sustainability esquire type issues fall under and roll up to with regards to purpose and inclusion?

Shannon: For us, when we look at those things for the firm. So for myself, not necessarily what we do at our clients, because for our clients, we actually have teams that do that. But my team oversees that for the firm. So the firm, PwC, has a global and network-wide net zero goal around 2030. So we look at what we can do, so that and what we do and how we have our footprint and how we stay committed and how we report and how we make sure that we’re coming together for tangible actions, not just something that you put out in the media or the marketplace. All underneath the bandwidth of our organization. And we do it across all of our individual territories. As when you look across the globe, we have separate individual networks of firms and we come together to make this come to life globally.

John: So help me out here. So there’s a duality that’s on, an ongoing duality that’s managed at PwC. One is talking the talking, walking the walk for PwC itself. Secondarily, it’s then inspiring and coaching and leading and servicing your clients to do the same.

Shannon: Absolutely. I think one of the things that we’ve realized in these areas we are our own best qualification. If we can figure out for PwC this global network organizations that’s there with so many different individuals and the complexity of our business model. If we can say we figured out how to be able to leverage data, leverage technology to be able to make meaningful differences in climate and D&I and how we manage our people and how we’re able to give back and monitor what we’re doing in our communities. We can help our clients to do that. And so we want to make sure that we’re doing this to ourselves first. Leveraging the expertise of our people so that we can really demonstrate it’s real and it can happen. And we can show you how that looks and how to make it happen and come into real life within your organization.

John: So you then have the ultimate credibility to then go out and do what you’re doing with all your clients once you’re doing it yourself?

Shannon: Absolutely. We really think that that’s incredibly powerful. And having our people then be able to talk about it, they’re not just talking about a service or a technology that they’re selling. They’re talking about how it worked for them every day.

John: So I get on an elevator in your beautiful city in one of your amazing skyscrapers. You get on the elevator and we trade business cards. And I look down at your business card, it says, Shannon Schuyler, Chief Purpose and Inclusion Officer, and I look up at you and say, how do you define purpose? What does purpose mean at PwC? Because purpose can mean a lot of things, to a lot of people, in a lot of different organizations. So we’re on the elevator and we’re going up and we only have limited time. So how are you defining purpose at PwC?

Shannon: I typically say that I am one of the incredibly proud partners that helps to be a steward of our purpose, to build trust and to solve important problems. And my team helps to solve important problems, whether it’s climate, whether it’s D&I, whether it’s solving community inequities. And I get to do that every day.

John: So help me out here. So now I say to you, Shannon, I know a little bit about PwC that has over 300,000 employees and you and I know everybody doesn’t agree on everything as we’ve seen more and more in our great country that we live in. So what makes you the glue? What makes you the inspirational leader that allows you to educate employees on the value of purpose and then create a firm and a culture and a DNA that is infectious?

Shannon: I think John, we say that again, this is about embracing our people and creating a culture of belonging that drives that meaningfulness. When people come into the organization, they actually do a purpose assessment for the first thing. We want them to know their purpose because the only way for them to be able to embrace a firm’s purpose is if they have one and they understand why it’s so important. We do that when they come in. This is about our people, this is about our people being able to self ID and say the things that are important to them before we even say, do this for the firm. That is a partnership that is really so true and so distinctive. And that is inspiring because they’re with us every step of the journey.

John: So you do this from an onboarding process and that way you know that once you bring them on and induct them to your culture, they’re going to know their purpose. They’re going to be able to then be your best evangelist and ambassador. And also member of PwC to inspire others to do the same.

Shannon: They are. And what we’ve found is having people be able to unlock what are the things that they care about? What is the things that drives meaning? They’re actually more innovative. So they’re not looking for a transaction. They’re not looking to come in and say, oh, the client has asked me to do these 10 things. I’m going to check it off. They’re looking to ask the right questions. They’re looking to be able to reimagine what is the right answer to look around the corner because that’s a part of who they are and what they want to be able to do. And that has been able to lead us to places that after 27 years, I never thought that we would be.

John: Is that an aha moment for a lot of those people? Have they been going through their careers and until they’re actually challenged to self-describe their own purpose and self-identify their purpose? A lot of them didn’t even know what their real core purpose is.

Shannon: Oh, listen, when I got named the Chief Purpose Officer for the first time in my 40s, I was terrified. I was like, oh my gosh, someone is going to be, so what’s your purpose? And I’d be like, I have none. I just am the Chief Purpose. I know our firm purpose. I don’t…

John: I have none.

Shannon: I know. And it was no, for me.

John: No, I can imagine. I mean, for all of us.

Shannon: I know.

John: It’s a great…

Shannon: So it’s self discovery for me to figure out mine. And then I realized that, oh my gosh, like that’s why my life is where I am, but now I can know it versus not.

John: And now you can inspire others to go on that same journey?

Shannon: Absolutely. And I think that’s invaluable.

John: For our listeners and viewers that have just joined us. We’ve got Shannon Schuyler with us. She’s the Chief Purpose and Inclusion Officer at PwC. To find Shannon and her 300,000 plus colleagues and all the impactful and important work they’re doing at PwC. Please go to www.pwc.com. What commonalities and insights have you gleaned over the last five and a half years doing the great work that you’re doing, that you see that you could share that has been the glue? So people can have a shared purpose and they can get through tough times, such as the pandemic and other tough times that hit as externalities hit us all on a regular basis. What are some of the commonalities and insights that you’ve gleaned yourself that you use and share with others that are your own learnings?

Shannon: One of the things I think is incredibly important is people all the times when you go through these types of changes, everyone’s like, oh, it’ll go back to normal. Oh no, it’s not just this group. It’s all going to go back. It’s not. And I think it’s the awakening that no, we are in a fundamentally different time with fundamentally different talent coming and looking for different things. And I’m incredibly proud that we have now put a billion dollars into looking at reimagining 170 year old company and how do we actually have our people come up in the organization? And so my plus, if you think about it, it’s like creating a climbing wall instead of a ladder. It’s saying, we want you to be able to show the way that you want to go through this organization. We’re not going to tell you. We want you to guide yourself based upon your purpose and how you want to be fulfilled in the skills that you want to be able to develop. And that’s incredibly exciting. And so I think first, letting people know it’s not going back, welcome, this is where you are and we’re going to now move on from here and digest that. I think the second thing is realizing that there is no sideline anymore. I guess going back to my roots of football and all of that. You can’t just hang out and pretend it’s going to go away. And you don’t have to say anything. Because your narrative is going to get written with or without you. You might as well be a part of saying what you think. And this is for leaders and CEOs and deciding what do you stand for otherwise someone else is going to write it for you. And I guess the third thing is we love to talk about all of these things that people perceive as side to the business as a journey. These things can’t be a journey. We can’t journey to diversity. You can’t journey to being able to deal with what’s happening to our planet. We have to be as methodical, as accountable, and as goal-driven with these types of things as we are with everything else we would do within the business landscape around share price, around new product development. And we need to make sure we’re looking at it in that lens. These are not the nice to haves. These are culturally and just for the planet and for just society to have to haves.

John: So interesting. Go back to what you were just saying, Shannon, about leaders and CEOs and your football analogy. So what you’re really saying, if I’m hearing you the right way, is that leaders and CEOs have to get active, they have to get active and be active proponents of purpose and also live their own purpose and inspire others. You got to get on the playing field. It’s not… you can’t sit up in the bleachers and think that you’re going to lead an organization by just observing.

Shannon: Absolutely. And you can’t just pretend that this is happening right here. You have to be able to look around the corner and hate to do another one, but you got to go where the puck is going. This is not about where you are now. It’s always interesting to me when people are in your crystal ball. What would 5 to 10 years look like? And I look about what I said three or four years ago, I never was like, well, you know what? There’s going to be a pandemic and we’re all going to be shut down. We don’t know what that looks like. But we have to force ourselves to know what won’t look like today. I know that much because so much changes. We have to be ready and agile to be able to move to the next spot and be wanting for that change because that change is going to guide us into the next evolution of who we are. And I think that’s different than where we might’ve been where leaders kind of hunkered down, didn’t want to say anything, didn’t want to lean in, and kind of waited for things to come. I think the game has totally changed.

John: Talk a little about… a lot of what you’re saying reminds me a little bit and a lot of what you are faced to do reminds me of two people, Anthony Bourdain and Dan Buettner. And why I say that is this Bourdain traveled the world, God rest his soul, and he under the guise of food, he brought us the social, cultural and political systemologies in the places as he enjoyed the food in those countries. But he shared a lot of what those people were doing there. And he showed the commonalities that we all have across the globe under the guise of food. But he also weaved in culture and politics and social conditions. Similarly, Buettner, when he talked about the blue zones around the world, he talks about purpose. And one of the things that help us live the longest and healthiest in those five blue zones around the world, I think they just added a six, which is Singapore is that terminology in Japan called ikigai, which is purpose. So are you sort of doing that same thing since you are managing and inspiring people of PwC from Dubai, Shanghai, Mumbai, and all around the planet doing the same thing with purpose. Are you taking that purpose, mission, and then using that as a way then to weave this culture and allow everyone to be the best who they could be and then inspire their clients to do the same?

Shannon: Well, first of all, John, just the fact that we’re having this conversation, you brought those two individuals up. I’m just honored to sit here and speak to you and have that done. But they are two individuals that I admire incredibly because they made it come to life. And I think what we have to do, and what leaders have to do is this is not something that’s unreachable. You should have within yourself a reason and a meaning and a purpose and find value in that. And there is inherently a different outcome that will come to you personally, those around you as well as the organization that you’re doing it for. And then the ripple effect of who that organization is supporting their community society more broadly. So I hope that within our organization we have people who are inspired to realize that it’s so much bigger and that we want to make sure they’re able to play in that, that just learning what you’re doing for a client. Yes, it’s that and it’s all these other things. When you do a pro bono project for a community person, you’re learning and you’re doing all these things. When you help mentor a student, you are doing that and you’re changing the outcomes of individuals across the globe. And that’s power. And we want people to realize the part of the ripple that they are. And collectively we can truly do things that others can’t. And we need to own that and be responsible for it, but also make sure that we’re investing and we’re driving it.

John: Five years is a relatively short period. You are still a young woman, as careers go now and as age goes, I mean, Buffett is 93 and still…

Shannon: I know that makes me feel better every day.

John: And Charlie Munger is almost 100. He’s…

Shannon: I know. I got a lot of time.

John: Yeah. And they’re considered the best still investment people in the planet, they’re still at their best. So relatively young person. So what’s next? What’s next for you and your work at PwC with your colleagues? What are you the most excited about that you’re allowed to talk about and share with our listeners and viewers today?

Shannon: I will tell you I am incredibly proud of our firm and our leaders because they realize the value that we can bring and they realize that our people are the way in which we’re going to bring it. And I believe that we’re going to continue to lean in, whether it’s redeveloping after 170 plus years, how we develop our people whether it’s reimagining our pro bono efforts, whether it’s saying what are the next commitments that we can make around climate. I think we are ready to own the space and the responsibility that we have and our leaders are committed to doing that and committed to staying at the forefront. And that to me means the legacy of our organization. When I get to that 90 year whenever is going to be there. I believe those individuals who are coming up, the people that we hire every day, they are ready, they’re ready to take the reins of this organization, and we are building the foundation for them to be the next part of the legacy. And I’m proud of that. And inspired by what they do every day. The comments of our people over the course of the last two weeks, I’ve gotten about 1000 messages.

John: Wow.

Shannon: Of people who are going through things and we answer every single one individually. Every single one because every single person matters in doing that. And that means, one, they’re open with to sharing the good and the not good. They know they’re going to hear because we care and they know we’re in this together. And to me, there could not be a better organization that allows for all of that.

John: So wait, does your impact or whatever it’s called, impact or purpose report, the annual report, does it live on pwc.com? [inaudible]

Shannon: It will when it comes out, it lives on pwc.com. We’re thrilled to be able to share as transparently as possible because we believe in only sharing the data, can we make sure that we’re getting better and it is out there and we welcome everyone to look not just at the data but the stories and of the amazing things that our people are doing every day.

John: And with regards to purpose, is this becoming a bigger trend? When I started the show, Chief Sustainability Officers were just becoming a thing. It was more the anomaly than the norm is, are you seeing the Chief Purpose Officers now becoming more of a thing? And as you continue to evangelize that title and that importance of finding your purpose and for organizations to have a common purpose, are they anointing more people like you to be Chief Purpose Officers at the companies that you serve around the globe?

Shannon: We are. So we’re seeing more Chief Purpose Officers. And again, words matter, but also sometimes they don’t as much we’re seeing Chief Culture Officers. We’re seeing Chief Belonging Officers. It’s how can we come together and really determine what our why is in the spirit of knowing that that can only elevate the impact that we can have as well as the good that we can do. And I think it’s trying to say these things come together. We want to make sure that we’re sustainable as an organization, but to be sustainable as an organization, we have to make sure that we’re sustainable to elevate society and we believe we can do those together. And there’s a lot of organizations that also believe that.

John: I love it. Shannon Schuyler, you’re amazing. For our listeners and viewers that want to find Shannon and all the 300,000 plus PwC colleagues who are working on their purpose, inclusion and advising others to do so as well, please go to www.pwc.com. Shannon Schuyler, you’re always invited back on the Impact Podcast to share some more learning, some more wisdom, and more of your positivity. We need more of that in this world. Thank you so much for your time today, and more importantly, thank you and all your colleagues at PwC for making the world a better place.

Shannon: Thank you so much. You are wonderful. I will come back all the time.

John: This edition of the Impact Podcast is brought to you by Engage. Engage is a digital booking platform revolutionizing the talent booking industry with thousands of athletes, celebrities, entrepreneurs, and business leaders. Engage is the go-to spot for booking talent, for speeches, custom experiences, live streams, and much more. For more information on Engage or to book talent today, visit letsengage.com. This edition of the Impact podcast is brought to you by ERI. ERI has a mission to protect people, the planet, and your privacy. And is the largest fully integrated IT and electronics asset disposition provider and cybersecurity focused hardware destruction company in the United States and maybe even the world. For more information on how ERI can help your business properly dispose of outdated electronic hardware devices, please visit eridirect.com.