Cutting a Path for Diversity

Amity Millhiser, PwC US’s vice chair and chief clients officer, came up in the firm through the M&A division. M&A has never been a gender-diverse industry, she said, describing going into meeting rooms with about 20 bankers and lawyers who were all male. “We would have these working groups and I could never remember anyone’s name.” It was easy for them to learn hers, though, because she was the only woman.

Yet a situation like that has its advantages, said Millhiser: When you’re the only diverse person, “you can bet everybody’s going to remember you.”

A self-described advocate for women in leadership, Millhiser was named one of the California Diversity Council’s Top 50 Most Powerful Women in Technology in 2015 and one of Silicon Valley’s Women of Influence in 2012. She is also a 30-plus-year veteran of PwC. Millhiser shared leadership wisdom and career advice at a recent Wharton talk sponsored by the Wharton Leadership Lecture Series and McNulty Leadership Program.

Another advantage to being “first” or “only” in an organization is that you have the chance to make your own rules, Millhiser said. She became the first female partner in her division in 1995 and was the first to have children. There was no maternity leave policy in place, so Millhiser created one.

“It comes down to dress code, behaviors, policies — you have the opportunity to be there and to set the stage…. That’s fantastic. Most people have to follow whatever has come before them,” she said. (About the maternity leave policy, she quipped, “I should have been far more generous. Everybody after me got stuck with the one I wrote.”)

There are various ways one can be seen as different, Millhiser said. For example, she experienced being an expatriate American, working for 17 years in PwC’s Switzerland office. She was the founding partner there of PwC’s Center of Excellence for US/European cross-border deals. She strongly endorsed the idea of taking a position that involves living abroad, calling it one of the greatest experiences of her life.

“Take the risk, do not over-analyze it. Do not try to think about how it’s going to contribute to your career…. You cannot calculate [exactly] what the return [will be].” Millhiser said when she started PwC’s deals team in Switzerland, M&A was not as attractive a prospect as it is today. “I will tell you at that time we didn’t even have a business. I didn’t even know what I was building,” she said. But someone asked her if she could do it, and she said yes.

“To be able to lead, motivate and inspire teams, you have to understand where they came from. You can’t be tone-deaf to the environments they go home to at night, to the families that they’ve been raised in.” That kind of awareness comes through travel, according to Millhiser.

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