Growing up in a working-class neighborhood in Boston, Tim Ryan, now chairman of PwC U.S., learned early on about the importance of respect and inclusion. But the moment that defined his heightened investment in diversity and inclusion didn’t come until his first week as senior partner, in early July 2016, which coincided with several fatal shootings across the country. “That’s when it really upped the game for me,” Ryan said.
Aware that employees were hurting, Ryan made a gesture he thought of as relatively unremarkable. “We simply sent an email out that day, and we said, ‘Look, we know something really bad happened. We know it’s on your minds, it’s on our minds; we don’t have all the answers, but we’re here for each other.’ That simple,” he said.
The response astounded him. He received more than 1,000 emails from employees, and the message that emerged was, for a firm that had been investing in diversity and inclusion for over a decade, it had missed the importance of conversation and understanding. Ryan made it his goal to close that gap. The result was CEO Action for Diversity and Inclusion™, which he and nine other CEOs from leading organizations launched in June 2017. CEO Action is now “the largest CEO-driven business commitment to advance diversity and inclusion within the workplace,” with more than 600 companies having joined the coalition less than two years after it started.
For Alberto Villarreal, a director within PwC’s advisory practice, the message Ryan was trying to get across really hit home. Villarreal first came to the U.S. from Mexico for college, and has been with PwC for 10 years. His background has proven to be an asset to him in his role at PwC, where he advises businesses all over the world, particularly in Latin America. “The fact that PwC has [these] forums…where we can communicate to each other, it’s something important. We feel safe in the company. I think it means a lot,” Villarreal said.
On a recent afternoon in Boston, Y-Vonne Hutchinson, a D&I expert and CEO of the company Ready Set, sat down with Villarreal and Ryan to facilitate an open-ended conversation between the two, who were meeting for the first time. This meeting was part of an initiative led by CEO Action, of which Ryan currently serves as the steering committee chair. The 600-plus CEOs committed to the coalition have pledged to create a trusting work environment where diverse perspectives are welcomed; employees can openly discuss diversity and inclusion topics; and an ongoing dialogue about different experiences and perspectives is encouraged.
Check out the video above, sponsored by PwC, to see Hutchinson lead the conversation between Villarreal and Ryan, in which they discuss their journeys, some of the obstacles they’ve faced along the way and how PwC is inspiring its own employees and other companies to make palpable change.
PwC’s new series, Beyond The Bottom Line, produced in association with the CEO Action for Diversity and Inclusion™, follows CEOs as they meet their employees face-to-face to discuss the issues that matter. With more than 600 CEOs committed, CEO Action is the largest CEO-led business coalition focused on advancing diversity and inclusion in the U.S. To learn more, visit CEOAction.com.
This article was paid for by PwC and co-created by RYOT Studio. HuffPost editorial staff did not participate in the creation of this content.