It’s no small feat to change policy at a globally recognized professional services firm like PwC. But Shannon Schuyler, who has worked at the firm for fifteen years, and currently heads corporate responsibility, has helped to elevate PwC as a brand that cares about changing the world.
We were lucky enough to speak to Schuyler the week before Thanksgiving. She provided us with insight about finding different careers at the same company, and staying confident on the winding path that is life.
I’ve been at PwC for fifteen years. I never thought I’d be with an organization that long. But what has kept me here is my ability every few years to reinvent myself. It’s something that’s so important for women and girls to think about—you have the ability to own your destiny as well as your career.
What did you want to be when you were growing up?
I wanted to be a sports broadcaster. A key factor in my decision to attend the University of Michigan was their great football team—I grew up in a football family, who thought I would someday do play-by-play on ESPN. But life took me in a different direction. I followed a relationship to Europe and spent time in a small town in France. Although I could not work professionally, I taught gymnastics: this was still sports-related, but not the same as doing play-by-play. Outside of the sports angle, I was most drawn to gymnastics’ fast paced nature, the need to think on your feet, and the opportunity to visibly demonstrate subject matter expertise. I have included these things in every role I’ve had at PwC.
How long were you there for?
I was there almost a year before my mother became very ill. I came home to Cleveland to be with her. While I had never planned to be back in Cleveland, once I returned and started helping with my mother’s rehabilitation, I began thinking about career. When she passed away three months later, I was a bit lost. I had two options in front of me—move to Oklahoma to be close to my father, or move to Chicago and be close to my sister. I chose Chicago and my future career path changed again.
Is that where you first started working at PwC?
While I struggled a bit getting my first job in Chicago, I eventually secured a position doing senior level actuarial recruiting. Through this role I worked with PwC, and quickly made the shift to the firm. I soon realized that every three years or so I get an itch to do something different, and I was shocked to find that I could change my path so frequently at PwC. Early on, I realized that I’m a “starter” and a “fixer.” I come into situations that have not been developed or are broken, but once they’re up and running on their own, I like to move on to the next thing. First I was in recruiting, then in human resources, and then in sales and marketing. After these professional experiences and some personal changes, I decided that I wanted to be in CSR. As the firm did not have a cohesive practice, I wrote a white paper on why the firm needed a CR leader and what this position would entail. After a few months they said ‘good luck and go to it.’
What does corporate responsibility mean at PwC?
We demonstrate our leadership in terms of responsible citizens. We define responsible citizenship broadly—it’s about how we work with our clients, our suppliers, and external partners like the United Nations Global Compact and the Clinton Global Initiative. It’s about the development of our people—from recruits to alums—and building an inclusive culture and turning their interest into engagement. It’s about our communities and giving back, both in time and dollars. And it’s about our the environment and the role we can play in reducing our impact and contributing to a healthier world.
My days are never the same and I have an incredible opportunity to work alongside inspiring professionals who challenge me and support me to create real value for PwC.
What kind of compromises have you made for your career?
I have made compromises, but I’ve made them on my own terms. I have two dogs that are my life and have helped me through some really hard times. They’re a priority. I’ve given up things by working late, working on the weekends, and traveling a lot, but I feel as if I’ve made up for it by having so much flexibility—I can work from anywhere, at any time, and log off when I’m ready. I’m very much at peace with it. I have no concerns or resentment. I feel free as a professional.
How would you define passion in a career?
You have to decide what’s in your work that really drives you. Given my role, most people think I must be a treehugger or a donor to all charities. But what I’m passionate about in my position is that I get to make a huge contribution to our business and our brand. You also have to decide what resonates with you. You have to find something that not only makes you want to go to work, but makes you excited to go every day.
How is PwC helping to teach financial literacy for women?
We are big supporters of the Mind Research Institute, which teaches math in the context of spatial temporal reasoning, favoring it over memorization. That’s valuable especially for women and girls, because we reason. We think through what we do. Sometimes it hurts us, but we need every side of the story to get a right answer. If you learn math in that context, so many things are different. Both girls and boys end up exceling. And more girls will end up with careers in math and science. We also have created 22 modules on financial literacy that we teach in schools across the country. Sharing our financial skills with girls and boys at the middle school and high school levels helps start the cycle of savings and stop the cycle of debt.
What advice do you have for women in terms of personal finance?
There are always things that you can’t plan for, so you have to put yourself in a position where you are saving at a meaningful rate. If you’re not putting aside money regularly, then you are putting yourself in a position that is unsustainable in the long run. You don’t realize in the beginning of your career the winding road you’ll be on. You think that it will go in some sequential path. But it’s not like that. There’s a real excitement in building your own path, but you have to be able to fund it and support your efforts.
What would you say is the main difference between men and women in the workplace?
Men have a different experience because they’re more comfortable voicing their opinions. They ask for changes, for raises, for answers. They’re generally much better at embracing their inner confidence and faking their way through situations without letting anyone see them sweat. I lucked out with having some of that confidence and being able to use it when I’m behind the eight ball. It’s critical for all women to find that strength. You need to ensure there is real depth to your actions and recommendations—but even when well-prepared, you need to be ready to think fast, bob and weave, and leverage smoke and mirrors. That said, this might get you through the meeting, but if your entire strategy is based on faking it, then you don’t deserve to be there in the first place.
Do you have advice for young women?
Don’t underestimate your ability to create your own career, and your own future. Courage, self-confidence and perseverance go further than people give credit for. It’s not easy to believe that, but if you do, the rewards are huge.I also think there’s a value in taking measured risks.
I am not sold on the concept that people need to focus their careers on what they love and that money will eventually come. This doesn’t work for the vast majority. You need to let your skills guide you towards a role that will capitalize on your strengths and interests. You also need to be passionate and inspired by an aspect of your job, even if it is a small part of the overall position. You should find a way to make your own dynamic workplace.
Any ideas what you will do when you retire?
I’ve always wanted to open a flower shop! It would be great to have my dogs come in with me. I have no idea why that’s what I dream about, but I know that I would love it.