One mother’s crusade to change workplace culture for good

Fiona Wilhelm has carved out an extraordinary career identifying and focusing on customer needs, from the early days of web design, to driving digital demand at consulting multinational, PwC. Applying her ‘customer first’ ethos to the employee and workplace culture, this mother has broken new ground, initiating a PwC parent support group to put families first and drive real change in the workplace for parents and flexible working.

We love Fiona’s practical, contemporary take on the future of the workforce, the responsibilities of leadership and what to look for when buying new shoes!

Can you tell us about your career journey?
I graduated from Victoria University with a Bachelor of Design and started my career working in the film and advertising industries as a Film Location Manager and then later as an Art Director. This led to being headhunted for a digital agency, back in the days of building flash websites. I was an Account Director, and the early days of UX (User Experience Design) and Customer Experience were ropey – but I was lucky to learn from some of the best in New Zealand and London and found that ‘customer first’ is a natural and empathetic way for me to think about the work I do.

I have a career passion for constant learning, which is why working in consulting is the most rewarding job I’ve ever had – I get to work with some of the brightest and most inspiring minds in Australia.

You have a role at PwC which spans across Australia, NZ and South East Asia. What are the changes you are seeing in the job market that people need to adapt to? How does your role help people in this market in a practical sense?
The future of work isn’t just about big tech implementations or robots taking jobs, it’s about understanding that we actually need to ‘dial up the human’. By this I mean everything from employee engagement and reskilling, through to customer experience. Every touch point needs to be considered and should be an experience that adds value.

The key trends I’m seeing cross industry and cross market are, firstly, the demand for upskilling workforces to perform the tasks of the future from cyber security to banking. We’re seeing a big shift, with organisations recognising they need a workforce with a growth mindset that will help keep them innovative, stay differentiated and relevant. We are also starting to see the effects of the gig economy on business – people want flexibility to live more purposeful and meaningful lives.

We love your passion to drive real change and you are actively leading the charge for women and parents in the workplace. What are the changes that you’d like to see happen? What do you think companies need to do practically to better support working parents?
I think the biggest misconception from a human resources or organisation perspective is that parents want to be treated differently or given special treatment. They simply want to be empowered to make the right decisions based on their unique situations. My approach in creating the PwC Parent support group has been to create a forum for parents to connect and hear from experts – but the most valuable thing has been seeing parents connect and solve problems together by hearing each other’s stories. Sharing itself feels supportive because you realise you’re not alone in the struggles and juggles that parenthood presents.

Companies need to realise that they can be the facilitator of a better culture by simply connecting parents. Parents will then often solve their own challenges through knowledge share about topics such as flexible working.

I’m proud to say that our Head of Diversity and Inclusion, Julie McKay, saw the value in the PwC Parent group model and has written it into the PwC Diversity and Inclusion Strategy for next financial year.

What do you think the biggest barriers are for women to move into senior leadership roles? What can we do differently?
The biggest barriers I think are two things: building advocacy and reframing the status quo.

In terms of what we can do differently, firstly, I’d say back yourself – recognising that you are a woman and that you have a unique and valuable perspective is important. Too often I see women becoming more like men to fit in. We have enough of that already!

Secondly, stop thinking of leadership in a traditional sense. In 2018, we need to reimagine what leadership means. My personal leadership style goes back to a Gandhi quote I love which says:

The sign of a good leader isn’t how many followers you have, but how many leaders you create.

Finally, if you’re a woman in a senior role, like it or not, you have a platform and you need to step up. I see so many people squandering that opportunity to lead and be a great role model, not just to women but to break new ground for workplaces in general.

You have a gorgeous daughter who has just started primary school. How has your perspective on life changed since becoming a mother? Are you more or less ambitious career-wise?
I would say more ambitious! But I’m also very mindful that I include my daughter, Bella, on my journey, so she knows where I work and what I’m doing when I’m not with her.

Luckily for me, kids are a normal part of the office at PwC, so I’m planning to take her in for a few days over the July school holidays. I think more people should expose their kids to their workplaces – it’s a chance to give them another perspective on you and the value you add to the world.

How do you manage the juggle on a daily basis? How do you and your husband share the load?
Oh wow – no one ever said that the rigid timing of school days was going to be such a challenge! Child care was easier from a drop off and pick up perspective if you had early meetings. Again, I’m very privileged at PwC to have flexible working and a really fantastic manager who is very supportive of staff and families. My husband and I share the load and I do drop offs while he does pick ups – but there are times I need to travel where it gets tricky!

What is one career goal that you haven’t yet achieved?
I always thought I wanted to launch a brand – but more and more I’ve realised I love creating platforms for people to empower themselves. I am launching my website, The Upswing, in the next few months. I’m collating advice via useful aggregated content and resources to help women navigate the disrupted job market and get prepared for the future of work.

Favourite time of the day is… watching Grand Designs with a glass of wine after my daughter is in bed.

Instagram sites that inspire you… @lisamessenger and @nurtureherglobal – I’m going to their conference in Fiji in October with 200 other women, so love following the updates and hearing about the new speakers.

I’m happiest when… I’m getting on a plane – I love to travel for work or holidays.

I’m addicted to… planning holidays and Pinteresting!

Favourite wardrobe staple for work… black waxed jeans from Witchery and a white shirt and heels or trainers.

Favourite wardrobe staple for weekend… anything cashmere.

My role model is… Michelle Obama and Arianna Huffington – I love their authenticity and the fact that Arianna had the guts to rock up to a bank and convince the manager that he should lend her money to start The Huffington Post.

Heels or flats? Either – but my rule is, ‘If I can’t run in them, I can’t buy them!’

Discover more Real Stories from our Circle In community HERE.

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