How This Woman Uses Tech to Develop Leaders — Not Followers — In the Workplace

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Sarah McEneaney, Partner and Digital Talent Leader at PwC. Photo Courtesy of PwC.

Sarah McEneaney, Partner and Digital Talent Leader at PwC. Photo Courtesy of PwC.

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Sarah McEneaney has a favorite career adage, handed down to her from a professor in business school: Beware of the once-in-a-lifetime opportunities that come along every single day.

 “When people are moving at very high speeds (at work), they tend to want to jump on whatever objects or opportunities appear cool and shiny, but I think it’s important to pause and think first,” McEneaney said. “What are the things you can take on and really have an impact in doing?”

 Prioritizing impact makes sense for McEneaney. As a Partner and the Digital Talent Leader at PwC, she’s had ample opportunity to see what true impact can look like, both within the firm and in its communities. In fact, one of the things she’s enjoyed most about her career at PwC — which has taken her to PwC network firms across the world, from Sydney to London to Boston and, now, Chicago - is the platform it’s given her to create change.

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As McEneaney noted, “We have initiatives at PwC that are very visible on a national and global stage.” McEneaney cites gender equality, education, and entrepreneurship as the causes dearest to her and explained further,  “For example, through our Access Your Potential initiative, we’re investing over $300 million to reach youth in underserved communities, providing  financial literacy, technology and career skills, and we’re also a global HeForShe sponsor. These are causes that align with my personal interests, but also with the work that’s important to the firm and its purpose.”

Through efforts like Access Your Potential and CEO Action For Diversity and Inclusion™, whose steering committee is led by PwC US Chairman, Tim Ryan, the connection between leadership and altruism at PwC is clear. And for McEneaney, it’s a connection she instills to others through her management style.

“What I really encourage among my team is the concept of servant leadership, and that our role as leaders is to serve and support the business and not just tell people what to do,” she said. “I have a responsibility -- and the privilege -- to develop future leaders.”

One illustrative way “servant leadership” has been impactful is through PwC’s digital transformation efforts and journey, in which McEneaney plays a critical part.

“My current role and title — which has definitely been the most rewarding of my career so far — is actually a title I came up with myself: Digital Talent Leader,” she said. “We’re on a multi-year journey at PwC to digitize our business, and given that we’re a knowledge organization, digitizing our business starts with our people.”

In keeping with that sentiment, the firm recently launched a digital skills initiative called the Digital Accelerator Program, which McEneaney leads. For the over 1,100 PwC employees participating in the first cohort of the program, in addition to taking digital-intensive classes, they apply new skill sets in priority technologies to engagement teams and internal functions, helping to automate processes and discover insights to improve the experience for PwC’s clients and people. 

“My role is very much about having our workforce be able to operate in an increasingly digital world,” McEneaney said, adding that participants represent “all levels” of prior digital experience. “Regardless of where someone may be, we want, at a minimum, our people to be digitally upskilled to a solid baseline level.” 

Not only does prioritizing continued digital learning make business sense for PwC, it also enables a more advanced way of looking at career opportunities for employees, something McEneaney herself has benefited from at the firm. 

“This is a place where if you want to have several different careers, you can do it all within the one organization… and technology provides a great access point for those opportunities,” she said, adding that the “autonomy and flexibility” at the core of the firm’s culture also helps. “I’ve had six or seven career pivots in my time at PwC, and it’s been really neat to build on my experiences and apply my skills in different ways. Who knows what careers will even be available 10 years from now?  Everyone is really on board with that idea, and that’s exciting to me.”


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