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Where Politics, Public Policy and Business Meet: Diversity Matters

06/02/2015 10:41 am ET | Updated Jun 02, 2016

As the campaign for 2016 gets underway, many wonder whether the election of the country's first female president will be a real possibility. Others rightly wonder why there aren't more women running and why there are still so few women in Congress.

While there's been some progress to date with a record number of women holding seats in Congress -- 104 between the House and Senate -- this number still falls short of where it should be.

Indeed, the lack of women holding positions in elective office in the U.S. government mirrors corporate America, with only 18 percent of corporate boards appointing at least one female board member. Yet, studies consistently show that teams and corporate boards produce better results when the talent around the table is diverse (in terms of gender and race, and in terms of perspective and experience).

Fortunately, boards have begun to recognize the importance of diversity, with almost 80 percent of board directors (both male and female) surveyed in PwC's Annual Corporate Directors Survey reporting gender diversity as "somewhat" or "very" important. It's clear that diversity helps companies be more open-minded, more efficient and more innovative, and one could argue that the same is true for Congress and the American political system.

In an attempt to try to move the needle on diversity, we retooled our political giving and outreach strategy to do more to support female political candidates running for Congress. We created programs that strengthen the pipeline of talent, complimenting the approach we are taking internally to increase our own diversity.

First, we looked at our political giving related to women incumbents and viable female candidates. Like most major companies, the partners of PwC have a political action committee that supports candidates who are running for Congress on both sides of the political aisle. We meet personally with candidates and members, evaluate the proposed timing of our political contributions, the potential impact of early money, and the potential engagement (or lack thereof) by the party committees (which typically decline to get engaged in contested primaries at a time when early money could really benefit female candidates). Studies show that female candidates have to work two or three times as hard as their male counterparts to raise the same amount of money, which further reinforces the impact early money can have for women candidates.

Second, we are bringing our voice to the issue by talking more publicly about our approach. Speaking out isn't always popular, but we recognized that without more candid dialogue, it's difficult to garner the attention needed to encourage others in the private sector to do the same. These changes might seem small, but, taken together they can make a substantial difference in creating greater awareness and ultimately in increasing the number of women members of Congress.

Third, we targeted a number of non-partisan NGOs like All In Together, Running Start and GlobalWIN, with whom we could work to magnify this important message. Through partnerships with these and other organizations, we are collaborating to develop a more systemic approach to a lingering bias that many women have: they just can't see themselves holding elected office or engaging politically. According to research by political scientist Jennifer Lawless, this bias is the most consistent factor contributing to women not engaging in politics and not running for office.

Fourth, we redoubled our efforts around mentorship to strengthen the pipeline of female talent, including developing our own program and curriculum at PwC to help expand the overall acumen of college-age women seeking a better understanding of careers in public policy. As part of the program, we introduce students to female members of Congress and to female executives in public policy.

Fifth, we are supporting senior congressional staff around topics like work-life flexibility, confidence builders and other impediments to success that often affect women.

With refinements to our approach to political engagement, we hope we can help increase the pipeline of talented women who want to engage in public policy and run for elected office. In conjunction with our broader efforts, our goal is to increase the number of women in Congress, and ultimately the number of women who run for President. By speaking publicly about this issue and our efforts, we hope others in the private sector will join us in efforts to make elective government more representative.