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PwC’s first chairwoman pledges to focus on firm’s culture

Consulting giant PwC’s board has voted in a chairwoman, Tracey Kennair, for the first time, and she has pledged to use her reign over its governance processes to narrow the firm’s gender pay gap and better entrench diversity metrics.

Ms Kennair, a technology consultant, is also the first company head elected from her division, in a move she says is “symbolic” for PwC’s shift from a global accounting leader to a multidisciplinary professional services outfit.

New PwC chairwoman Tracey Kennair said she and her governance board would make diversity and equity targets central to partner pay. Eamon Gallagher

Her appointment comes as a PwC partner who allegedly held male-only events with colleagues, where they rated the attractiveness of women in their office and visited strip clubs, leaves the firm following an investigation by law firm Ashurst.

It also follows a report by rival consultancy KPMG showing that Australia has made scant progress on reducing the gender pay gap in recent years, with the total difference in earnings between men and women amounting to $1 billion a week.

Ms Kennair said she and her governance board would make diversity and equity targets central to partner pay, which she hoped would “provide a message all the way through the organisation as to what is important to us”.

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“We’ll cut and dice the remuneration of our partners to ensure there is equity and fairness based on the level you may be at, your location, your gender, your diverse cultural background, your tenure,” said Ms Kennair, who started her career as a graduate at PwC more than 25 years ago.

“That’s the things we’ll [consider] to ensure that we’re being fair to all our partners and ensure there’s no discrimination, conscious or unconscious.”

Focus on wage data

Targets for gender and cultural diversity would continue to guide promotions, and would be revised constantly as old goals were met.

“We had targets around partner admissions – 40 per cent male, 40 per cent female, 20 per cent from any gender identity – and we’ve evolved that so now the target for our whole population is 40/40/20. It’s how you continue to evolve and push yourself as an organisation ... that’s where you get that change.”

Ms Kennair said promoting data around the gender wage gap would be key to meeting and advancing targets for that metric, noting that both PwC and corporate Australia had an increased “consciousness” of the issue.

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Regarding the PwC partner who allegedly took part in the yearly men-only gatherings, Ms Kennair said she was “surprised that behaviour was still happening”.

But she said misconduct was not uncommon in large organisations – more than 8000 people work in PwC’s Australian offices – and the big test for big employers was how they responded.

“What’s key is how we react as an organisation, and we’ve made it really clear that that behaviour is not acceptable ... to the market and internally,” she said.

“You need to make sure that you’re reacting quickly but that you’re doing it well, so that you’re investigating if you need to and you’re making conscious and precise decisions and that you’re communicating clearly.”

A strong response to such incidents was needed to foster the sort of inclusive and purpose-led workplace culture demanded by junior staffers, which was crucial in the face of crippling skills shortages.

“A key thing for us is to attract and retain talent, and we need to do that with more than just dollars,” Ms Kennair said.

Hannah Wootton reports on professional services and legal affairs for the Financial Review. Connect with Hannah on Twitter. Email Hannah at hannah.wootton@afr.com

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