Veterans Advocacy Leader, PwC US
Chris Crace leads PwC’s (No. 5 on the DiversityInc 2016 Top 50 Companies for Diversity list) ongoing commitment to investing in diverse talent, which includes implementing an enhanced strategic roadmap and operational model for attracting, hiring and retaining veterans as well as military spouses. In this role, Crace also collaborates with leaders of the firm’s Veterans Affinity Network to mentor new and existing veteran team members, and increase their opportunities for personal and professional development.
Crace served as a Captain in the United States Marine Corps.
Q: Why is your company focused on recruiting veterans? Describe your veterans’ recruitment/outreach initiatives.
A: When veterans finish their military service, all the skills they have learned bring real world experience to the workplace. These skills and abilities — leadership, communication, problem-solving, teamwork, decisiveness under pressure and flexibility — are the same skills needed to be successful at PwC, and other businesses. At PwC, we recognize that different skills and experiences can help enable better business offerings. I and the firm’s leaders are working to provide our veterans with opportunities to grow as an individual, to work flexibly, to build lasting relationships and to make an impact in a place where people, quality and value mean everything.
We’re trying to create a holistic approach to our veterans recruiting and advocacy strategy at the firm — one that not only attracts veterans, but strongly retains them once they have made the transition to our firm. The components include a strategic roadmap that focuses on enhancing current operations and amplifying existing programs designed to mentor and support our veterans, specialized training for recruiters hiring managers to demystify veterans’ résumés, a veteran internal referral campaign, increased presence at recruiting fairs and strong mentoring options for both prospective candidates and new hires to assist with their transition.
PwC has been very aggressive in its initiatives and outreach and has a very long list of organizations it supports, not only through dollars but also time and effort. A lot of what we have in place today is connected to PwC’s Veterans Affinity Network, which started six years ago.
Once I came on board as a dedicated person for veterans outreach, we took advance of the momentum and the good practices that were already in place and put a laser focus in some very specific areas. We developed the roadmap for success that I just mentioned, containing all of the areas we wanted to incorporate and improve upon.
We’ve been able to do some incredible work over the last year and a half, not only putting a lot of veterans to work but also developing some unique programs. We are now focused on specialized on-boarding for transitioning veterans that takes them through their first year, so onboarding through assimilation. It includes mentoring, focus interviews and a lot of things that are supported by the firm.
Q: Are veterans recruited for leadership positions, and if so, have you had success in this area? Describe please.
A: Typically we don’t bring veterans in at the manager and above levels; we bring them in at the associate and senior associate levels. They come in and get an opportunity to assimilate and learn. Our thought process is that based on their merit and backgrounds, they’ll be uniquely set up to advance. I’ve seen it firsthand with myself and my wife. PwC promotes based on your work and abilities, not based on how long you’ve been with the firm. My wife has been promoted three times, I’ve been promoted once and we’ve both been with the firm for a little over two years.
Because there is so much to learn, bringing them in on the associate and senior associate levels gives them time to acclimate and advance on their own timeline. We feel this is better for them because they get more time to digest and assimilate to working within a professional service firm environment before taking on leadership roles.
All that being said, we do have retired senior officers that are hired in specific areas like cybersecurity and advisory business-process re-engineering at a manager, senior manager, even director level within the firm.
When it comes to leadership positions, we look at the whole veteran and the whole aspect of what they have done while serving and what will be expected of them in their PwC role. That includes leadership skills and technical acumen. We look at the whole picture and all of the skills that veterans have to come in and add value to the firm.
Q: Once veterans are hired, do you have programs in place to retain and develop them? Please describe in detail.
A: We’ve historically had our VAN, Veterans Affinity Network, as a main area of support for veterans who join PwC. Once they self-identify, this employee resource group reaches out, and with the chance to join. Through the VAN we use the buddy system, so as they come in, there is someone to welcome them and answer questions from day one. The VAN also has a mentoring program that allows our senior leaders to reach out and mentor more junior folks that are coming into the firm. Both have been in place for three years.
We recently added a specialized onboarding program for transitioning veterans. This is geared toward veterans who are just coming out of the military and this is their first job in the civilian sector. We feel those veterans need additional insulation and support as they move into a new industry and new way of working. The program is an opt-in opportunity and we work with their manager and HR leader to move through an established series of steps that are designed to help set up for success. Our focus is to make sure the steps are followed, and there is some oversight from HR to hold the manager or coach responsible for ensuring that the veterans are going through this more deliberate experience. The steps include what to do two weeks prior such as identifying a buddy, and reaching out to connect with them on day one, day two, month one, month two, etc., all the way up to the first year.
We also conduct a quarterly all-hands call to welcome new veterans and answer their questions. Additionally, we conduct check-ins to help the veterans open up about their experiences and identify red flags that may signal challenges transitioning into their role. In that one-on-one setting, we feel it is a much better place to have an open dialogue and it give us the chance to make a meaningful impact on these individuals.
Q: What challenge(s) has the company faced in recruiting or retaining veterans and how has it overcome those challenges?
A: We’ve gotten feedback that veterans appreciate the onboarding process, in particular the buddy system. But they’ve communicated to us that they want more time to observe and would like communications channels whereby they can pull information rather than searching for it to be more successful. This is something we’ve recognized and are remedying.
To me, it boils down to assimilation and the opportunity to understand the environments. Once veterans are in place, usually by the six month mark, and they are fully engaged with teams, we’re hearing positive feedback and that they are being leveraged effectively.
We don’t have a lot of challenges in terms of veterans being accepted within the firm. We’ve done a lot of work around veteran support initiatives as well as highlighting our internal folks, whether it is through internal communication campaigns or our external activities.
Q: Do you have a veterans’ resource group? If yes, can you describe how it has helped the company address or meet business objectives?
A: I’ve mentioned that we do have a Veterans Affinity Network, which started about six years ago by PwC Partner Mike Donoghue who oversaw this and many of the veterans’ initiatives. He did a great job bringing visibility to the great work that was being done and it caught the ear of the firm’s senior partner that oversees human capital. That spurred the appetite for more and for the creation of my position about a year and a half ago.
Since then, the firm has done a lot of work to move our VAN from an affinity group to a functional component of how we attract and support our veterans. The group has grown to over 1,200 members across the U.S. and there are various chapters that have been established in different markets. The group has a heavy focus on recruitment, referrals and setting folks up for success, as well support for the families of members of the National Guard or reserves that get called for active duty.
For us, the Veteran Affinity Network has become a key component to not only attracting veterans but providing a distinctive PwC experience, which includes a community of support and opportunities to leverage the unique leadership skills obtained during their military service.