By Melissa J. Anderson

According to Maria Castañón Moats, Chief Diversity Officer at PwC, simply acknowledging diversity isn’t enough to unlock its benefits – companies must engage with diversity to really experience its value. “I’m getting out there and talking to different people in practice about why it’s important for us to engage with each other when it comes to diversity,” she said.

“Think about behaviors – like inclusion. We need to understand not only how we are similar, but we need to understand how we are different.”

“Taking an interest in that difference and leveraging that makes us better as a team,” she explained. “If we could all behave as advocates for one another, think of how powerful that would be.”

Career at PwC

Moats grew up in El Paso, Texas and graduated from the University of Texas at El Paso in 1990. “I left El Paso, which is huge for a first generation Mexican American. I went to Dallas to work for a huge financial institution. Then I joined PwC’s audit practice in 1994.”

Ten years later, she became a partner. “Making partner is one of my proudest professional achievements. And it’s not only how I felt that day, but the emails I received that day congratulating me, the people on my team and the partners – it was very special to me.”

Then, in 2009, Moats was asked to be a partner in the national office in assurance. That meant moving her family – her husband and her son, who was three years old at the time – to New Jersey. “I loved it,” she said. “I loved working in the national office and getting that exposure in the firm.”

Eighteen months later, she got a call from PwC’s leadership, to see if she was interested in taking on a client. “So I was doing both the national office role and the audit client role.”

Then, Moats received more exciting news. “In February of last year, we got a call that a baby had been born. We had been in the process to adopt for four years, and the birth mother had picked us.”

As the family was busy welcoming the baby girl, Moats received yet another exciting call. “In April of last year, Bob Moritz, PwC’s CEO, gave me a call asking if I would consider interviewing for the role of Chief Diversity Officer on the US Leadership team.”

“I thought it was the right thing to do,” she said. “As a first generation Mexican American and as a woman, I had benefitted from other partners sponsoring me. I know what it’s like when things are done well.” On the other hand, Moats said, “I wanted to think about how I could do the role and also be the mother I wanted to be.”

“So I told him that I wanted to work from home one day per week.”

Moritz responded, “Of course. But make it visible, make it known, and make yourself accountable.”

“When Bob announced that I was Chief Diversity Officer, I felt the same way as when I became partner. The emails I received – people telling me they were proud of me and asking what they could do to help – were wonderful.”

Currently Moats is particularly energized by her work to retain and advance diverse talent at PwC. “That’s why I’m focusing on behavior such as sponsorship and advocacy – I think that’s very powerful and will contribute to diversifying the leadership of our firm.”

Moats cites PwC’s Diamond initiative as a diversity program that has been successful. The program pairs talented minority senior managers with leaders at the firm. “We find them advocates and sponsors in leadership positions – and they’re not only assigned to them, but the leaders have to make sure the relationships happen, blossom, and continue.”

She continued, “That is paired with executive coaching. Over three years, over 200 people have been through the program and 26 have been admitted to the partnership since it began.

Work/Life Advice: Have Courage

Moats counts work/life issues as some of the biggest challenges that women – including herself – face. “When I think about what is it that I want to do, it’s serving clients and taking on larger roles with clients – as well as taking on a leadership role. And I ask, ‘what does that mean in my family and for my support network,’” she explained.

“Overcoming that challenge means having conversations with those around you – describe where you want to go and your aspirations. Have the courage to have those conversations.”

She continued, “Sometimes people opt out of having those conversations. But you’d be surprised how willing people are to help out or remove the barrier or that perceived barrier.”

“My husband Brett has been incredibly supportive,” she continued. Now a stay at home dad, she counts him as a big part of her success. “I wouldn’t be here today without his support.”

In Her Personal Time

Outside the office, Moats is a board member of March of Dimes.

Before having her son, she was an avid tennis player, but now, she said, “My hobbies are building Lego sets and reading books!”