Diversity and Conformity at PwC
The official video presentation of the PricewaterhouseCoopers UK GLEE Network features a number of openly gay and lesbian members. This is hardly surprising, given that GLEE stands for Gays, Lesbians and Everyone Else. What is a surprise, however, is the number of ‘straight’ members featured in the video, some of them holding very senior positions at PwC. Since they are not attracted to homosexual practice themselves, what induces them to give such ringing endorsements of homosexuality, presenting it as a highly desirable value-adding aspect of diversity? One would certainly not wish to accuse any of them of insincerity. After all, senior executives in the finance industry are well known for their high ethical standards, and most people have long since forgotten how the ‘Big Five’ became the ‘Big Four’.
But do they really mean what they say? Let’s face it, if they betrayed the slightest degree of resistance to this commandeering of their organisation to promote these particular sexual ‘preferences’, they would be out on their ear faster than you can say ‘meme’. People in other organisations have been known to lose their jobs for criticising their employer, and PwC’s strictly obligatory code of conduct includes the ominous question ‘How would it look in the newspapers?’, so reminiscent of the ingrained ‘Disclosures to the press should be a last resort’ attitude so heavily criticised elsewhere. And being such top people, they do have a lot to lose.
One can’t help thinking of Commander Jeremiah Denton, who at a televised press conference famously praised his North Vietnamese captors for their good treatment, while slowly blinking his eyes in Morse code to spell out the word ‘torture’. Is it possible the GLEE video reveals more than its makers intended? To answer this question, it might be helpful to make use of knowledge gained from communications science and linguistic text analysis.
For example, linguistic text analysis claims that when people know what they are saying is not true, they reference themselves less, talking more about others, often using the third person, to distance and disassociate themselves from the statement they are making. Do we see this happening in the PwC video? Let’s take Shelley Peterson as an example. She’s a Senior Consultant at PwC and is on the GLEE@PwC committee. In her endorsement of the network, she immediately shifts the focus away from herself and onto her teenage daughter: ‘What being at GLEE@PwC has meant to me is it’s enhanced my relationship with my teenage daughter. As a direct result she’s now on her school council ...’. Then there’s Kevin Ellis, UK Managing Partner at PwC and Executive Board Sponsor for GLEE@PwC: ‘I’m a member of GLEE, as the Board representative for GLEE, and I’ve been a Board representative for GLEE for the last three years.’ Is it unfair to observe that with these words Kevin Ellis – albeit unconsciously – distances himself from the statement he is making, shifting the focus away from himself and onto the Board?
As we have seen, linguistics text analysis claims that when people know what they are saying is not true, they talk more about others, often using the third person. The case of Lance Armstrong provides an interesting example. With this in mind, it is instructive to listen to Sarah Churchman, PwC UK Head of Diversity and Inclusion. She doesn’t use the third person, but after introducing herself in the first person singular as ‘I’, she immediately changes to use a string of first person plural forms: ‘one of our people networks ... we want to bring ... to celebrate our differences ... if we bring ... to our client ... we’ll add more value ... to our client ... good for our people ... we want to create ... where we’re all highly engaged ... doing our best ... performing at our optimum level.’ Compare this to PwC Executive Board Member for People Gaenor Bagley, who scores highly here by owning her statements and talking about herself using a string of first person singular forms: ‘What I really like about GLEE ... for those of you who know me ... diversity is a really important part of my agenda ... what I mean by diversity ... I think that’s what we mean ...’. The contrast is striking.
On the subject of being unwilling to own one’s statement, PwC Executive Board Member Ashley Unwin is so cautious in his that he doesn’t actually manage to tell us if he is gay or ‘straight’. Is he afraid to admit to having a female wife and children, in case this is thought to be provocative? In any case, from PwC’s point of view they would do well to keep him out of the limelight altogether, as he is better known as the ‘Chief Spending Officer’ and husband of ‘Austerity Mum’ blogger Lisa Unwin. And at £500,000 a year (before those juicy financial sector bonuses), he really does have a vested interest in making sure he looks after his job. In fact, one might even venture the opinion that this PwC Executive Board Member is a jobsworth. So much for adding value to the client. Meanwhile, PwC Senior Associate Danielle Kirkwood is apparently eager to tell us that GLEE is ‘about promoting and recognising that we do not need to conform to a specific stereotype to succeed in our profession.’ Has it ever occurred to Danielle that if she doesn’t conform to the GLEE stereotype she will never succeed at PwC? I think it has.
Linguistic text analysis also claims that when making untrue statements, people tend to use a more convoluted sentence structure, inserting unnecessary words and irrelevant but factual sounding details in order to pad out their claim. We have already referred to Kevin Ellis, PwC UK Managing Partner and Executive Board Sponsor for GLEE@PwC. It is legitimate to ask if this description is reflected in his statement: ‘... our USP as a business is being able to provide unique solutions for clients, and every explanation of uniqueness comes from the team, and the ability of the team to be totally diverse. Having a diverse team, with people from all the people networks, gives us the opportunity to have a diverse solution, a unique solution, and again that really emphasises our USP as a firm.’ Pretty convincing stuff. Here’s another example – compare ‘straight’ Danielle’s statement with the one immediately following from gay Chris: ‘GLEE for me is about embracing the weird and wonderful things that make us all unique, it’s about promoting and recognising that we do not need to conform to specific stereotypes to succeed in our profession’ – ‘Hi, I’m Chris, I’m a member of GLEE@PwC, and I’m gay. It’s about finding the right mentor, and someone who truly appreciates the challenges of being gay in the workplace.
With non-conformist views such as the ones I hold, it looks like there isn’t much chance of my being offered a job at PwC. Mind you, PwC do say that to solve important problems they need diverse talent and that they want to hire and nurture professionals ‘who are willing to challenge the status quo, who think differently from one another’. Which brings me to the elevator experiment and the Asch paradigm. Watch the whole video and enjoy – I’m the guy at 4:44, and more than one person, including several human capital and recruitment specialists, have told me so. There’s another of us at 4:51 – but how many are there at PwC? When it comes to serving the client’s interests, we are priceless.  
We are the ones who know there are obvious limits to the benefits of diversity, choice and personal freedom, or as Barry Schwartz has said: ‘if you shatter the fishbowl, so that everything is possible, you don't have freedom, you have paralysis. If you shatter this fishbowl so that everything is possible, you decrease satisfaction. You increase paralysis, and you decrease satisfaction. Everybody needs a fishbowl ... the absence of some metaphorical fishbowl is a recipe for misery, and, I suspect, disaster.
This leads me to make a statement of my own: I find the sexual practices promoted by the Terrence Higgins Trust, including deep throating, piercing, CBT, vacuum pumping and watersports as well as rimming, felching, scat and fisting, unnatural, revolting and degrading to human dignity. To borrow the words of the narrator in the elevator experiment: ‘like a normal human being’, and ‘that is not normal human behaviour’. There are many accounts of how smearing with human excrement and eating human excrement have always been seen as signs of the most profound degradation, and the victims of these shameful deeds as deserving of the greatest pity, while urinating on another human being is also naturally understood to be an offensive and insulting act, unacceptable even when done to an enemy. I wonder how my views would go down at GLEE@PwC, where, according to Raks Patel, ‘you can really say what you think and feel’.
Raks Patel’s presence in the video should provoke further questions. She’s ‘straight’ too, but as well as being a member of GLEE@PwC, she’s a representative of the Peter Tatchell Foundation. PwC’s shareholders ought to ask how it is possible that an organisation like that has been allowed to penetrate what is one of the world’s leading professional services networks, hijacking it to promote its own agenda. You see, while  the  letters ‘GL’ in ‘GLEE’ set the context as one of sexual ‘preference’, the letters ‘EE’ stand for ‘everyone else’, and in the video the word ‘EVERYONE’ is written in capitals. And while I consider Peter Tatchell’s agenda [see here and here] to be more than merely revolting, and while I am clearly not the only one who thinks this way [see here, here, here and here], PwC is laying great emphasis on embracing diversity and inclusion among its employees and fostering the ‘behavioural change that will drive an even more inclusive PwC workplace.’
But around the world not one of PwC’s 195,000 diverse, difference-celebrating, optimally performing, value-adding staff has flagged this up.

Peter Nicholson

16 March 2015