By Melissa J. Anderson (New York City)

At PricewaterhouseCoopers, diversity means openness – about oneself and about accepting others’ differences. The company explains that “open working relationships are stronger and more productive.” Openness about difference allows colleagues greater opportunities to learn about one another, and find common ground.

Jennifer Allyn, Managing Director, Office of Diversity, explained that GLBT inclusiveness is often overlooked within diversity programs, because “the gay dimension of diversity is invisible.” That is, people can’t usually tell if someone fits into this group simply by their appearance.

“Five to six years ago, PwC convened a board of GLBT partners to advise our diversity team, to make sure GLBT staff feel included and welcome at our firm,” Allyn explained. “The advisory board is made up of very visible role models” – role models for both GLBT individuals, as well as PwC employees at large.

Mike Poirier, a member of the GLBT board explains, “As a gay partner, I’ve witnessed tremendous positive change for GLBT professionals over the course of my career. I’m very proud of the firm’s focus on this aspect of diversity and know that our effort to engage straight allies is changing our culture.”

“I am Open”

Recently PwC has produced a book – I am Open – created by the GLBT advisory board, Allyn, and the PwC diversity team. Allyn explained, “it serves as a vehicle to bring people together to have a conversation and includes stories to share best practices across the company.” The book details professional relationships between GLBT and straight individuals at PwC, showing how GLBT openness encourages teamwork, builds professional relationships, and improves productivity within the firm.

For example, within the book, Michael Ai, Associate in Campus Recruiting in the Los Angeles office, writes, “A good indicator that someone is open to learning about your life is how much they’re willing to share about their own. Generally, if people are willing to share parts of their lives, that makes me more open to share part of my life.”

Allyn explained “Openness comes down to integrity and credibility – who you are and what you bring to the firm.”

PwC’s GLBT inclusiveness program requires effort on behalf of straight individuals, as well. As I am Open advises, “It often requires taking the first step, taking a chance and putting yourself out there. It may mean sharing something personal about yourself and being comfortable asking others about their lives as well.”

Allyn continued, “Some really simple advice is, first of all, to use inclusive language, like inviting people to bring a ‘guest’ rather than a ‘spouse’ to company social functions.”

Furthermore, “The big message is to be visible,” she said. For example, one way of showing that someone is “open” might be displaying the book in their office. “I think it’s becoming part of our culture,” Allyn continued. “We need to make sure to talk about this dimension of diversity.”

The Business Case for GLBT Openness

PwC prides itself on its internal diversity – which it believes helps reach a diverse clientele, as well – improving delivery and quality of service.

In I am Open Stephen Connelly, Partner in Assurance at the Washington Metro office writes, “My biography – which goes out to clients and is included in proposals talks about my being the chair of our GLBT Partner Advisory Board and that I’m the partner champion of our local circle. I think that sends a clear message to our clients that I’m a much more well-rounded professional and that PwC is dealing with the broader business issues that our clients are also facing.”

Scott Greenfield, Partner in Assurance at the New York office, writes, “Quality comes first. But diversity is really important too. It aligns us with our client who’s also very diverse and allows us to deliver at the highest level.”

He continued, “I think PwC has taken responsibility for promoting the realization that this is the kind of business environment we’re in today.” As diversity and inclusion become more important in the business environment, companies, like PwC, that integrate that openness into their culture will thrive.