I recently had the privilege of speaking to an amazing audience of women as part of the first ever Empowered Women #OwnYourPower leadership retreat – a day-long program that brought together a broad range of speakers from start-up proDonna Harris at 1776, to those working on new business models across industries. We heard from experts who are reshaping the media landscape, and from The Hon. Victoria A. Lipnic, an EEOC Commissioner, and Dawn Lyon fromGlassdoor who shared the real facts behind the gender and wage gap. We also heard from the always inspiring House Republican Conference Chair Cathy McMorris Rodgers about her leadership journey and why public service is so important, especially for women. Empowered Women founder, Mindy Finn, and her team, curated an interesting day, including afternoon breakouts where attendees and speakers worked together to develop several action items coming out of the day.
As part of the retreat, I was excited to share a few helpful tools for finding personal purpose and passion, as well as the value organizations can derive from a strong corporate purpose. At PwC, our corporate purpose is designed to help align talent around a shared mission of service. We believe this mission extends beyond the firm and includes our individual personal investments in our communities and the impact those investments have on society.
A few years ago, as I contemplated areas where I thought the firm and I could have a greater impact in the public policy and political engagement space, one area jumped out at me. In spite of PwC’s tremendous record and support of women both inside the firm and externally as well, we had not focused resources, effort or expertise to help address the gender disparity in Congress.
Today, 104 women serve in the US House and Senate combined. That’s great and it’s a record, but it’s only about 20 percent of the total, and a far cry from representing the 53 percent of the voting population in this country who are women.
So my team and I set out to understand this issue better and got input from Members of Congress, academics, and political consultants. In doing so, I became more and more convinced that PwC could play a bigger role and potentially have a real impact. I also became increasingly passionate about the cause on a more personal level.
The challenges impacting gender breakdown in congress are complex and multifaceted. But, at its most basic level, if more qualified women candidates don’t run, more women will not be elected. So we created a strategy based on PwC’s own experience and approach to creating a more inclusive culture, our own knowledge about politics and political giving, and input we received. We also established several new partnerships with talented leaders at NGOs who were also focused on this problem. Through this effort we saw amazing potential, and I also saw my personal passion grow.
While I’m under no allusion that a single organization, or person can move the needle and close the gender gap in congress, I do know that a single organization – setting an example and working together with other organizations and with other passionate, committed individuals – can. And, that is what we’ve been trying to accomplish.
Our work in Washington represents but one example of the way we are thinking about purpose at PwC, and how we are working to align this important element of our culture across the firm.
As I worked on my remarks for Empowered Women, I thought about this notion of purpose and the specific practices and tools that have been helpful to me as I refined my passion and ultimately decided to leave my amazing job at PwC to devote myself more fully to pursuing my passions – passions that have grown and evolved over time.
Here are seven core tools that I have found particularly helpful:
1. Spend the time to understand who you are and what matters most to you. Capture what you love, what you don’t, your hopes and your dreams. Really think about this, and – most importantly — write it down. Understanding this is critical to staying centered and focused and it provides a critical road map as you grow and evolve. There are a number of terrific resources to help you do this. I love the book “True North” by former Medtronic CEO Bill George, and its accompanying workbook, as well as Robert Kaplan’s “What you’re really meant to do: A Roadmap for Reaching Your Unique Potential.”
2. Develop a process for regular reflection. Just like physical exercise and brushing your teeth – the discipline of regular reflection is important for good mental health and clarity. It will keep you on track and help you guard against losing your way. And, it works in tandem with #1. Some people meditate, but for me I write a few lines each day (more when I have time). I focus on what I am grateful for, what I’m proud of, what I need to work on, etc… As part of this, I also focus on how I talk to myself. If I write something negative, I try to immediately reframe it in a positive way. Doing both helps me stay more positive by channeling the negative into a positive. And, this practice has the added benefit of getting the negative thought out of my head so I can see it and deal with it more objectively.
3. Push yourself and take smart risks. Taking risks helps you grow, and helps you develop confidence (and, you need confidence in order to take risks). It’s an important cycle that enables you to keep growing by challenging yourself.
4. But, when you take risks and when you push yourself, be prepared to fail, and be ready with a set of tools that help you recover when you do. Those “recovery tools” will help you reframe and bounce back faster. Suggestions #1 and 2 are essential here. For me, they are the tools that help me channel and redirect a negative voice that is often inside my head, or my tendency to “ruminate” in an unproductive fashion.
5. Collect and maintain a diverse team of personal advisers – [I call mine my “personal board of advisers”]. These are people who can challenge you and help you see yourself more clearly and objectively, and who offer you different perspectives. Joanna Barsh writes brilliantly about this concept in her book “How Remarkable Women Lead: The Breakthrough Model for Work and Life.” These advisers can be “mentors,” but don’t get hung up on labels. It’s perspective, input and insight that is most important here. And, be sure to seek people who have different political views than you. That will make you smarter and your arguments better!
6. Constantly seek information and opportunities to learn and to grow. Knowledge will inspire you and help you see and understand the world from different perspectives. This will help you develop stronger strategic and problem solving skills.
7. Set aside time to give back beyond your job. Find causes that align with your interests and use those to not only give, but also to help you learn new things and to fine tune your leadership skills. These experiences can also help you understand your community on a deeper level.
These are the tools that work well for me. When I first started a process of written reflection I was amazed at how something so simple can have such an immediate and profound impact. Taken together, these tips have worked well for countless people who have developed their own personal strategies based on these concepts. I hope the same will be true for you.
Laura Cox Kaplan is an Empowered Women board member and Principal-in-Charge of U.S. Government, Regulatory Affairs & Public Policy at PwC, LLP.