Lessons on Leading With Authenticity, From a PwC Partner

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Lessons on Leading With Authenticity, From a PwC Partner

Photo courtesy of PwC

April 23, 2024 at 8:36AM UTC

Bringing your whole self to work has a different meaning for Leslie O’Harrow. That’s because, in many ways, work was what helped her to embrace her whole self — both in and out of the office.

PwC was actually the first place to support me,” O’Harrow, today a Tax Partner and co-lead of the firm’s national LGBT+ employee group, said. “I grew up in a small town, and I was not ‘out’ to my family or anyone before joining PwC in the New York office.” 

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It was 2005, and the first time she’d ever lived so far from home. Hungry for a fresh start, she decided that “from day one” she was going to be honest with her new colleagues about who she authentically was. Although she was nervous about the decision, O’Harrow says she was more “exhausted by the personal camouflage it took” to bring only select pieces of herself to the workplace. At PwC, it quickly became clear this kind of camouflage wasn’t necessary. 

“He didn’t even blink.”

A few days into her new role at PwC, O’Harrow was asked by her director whether she’d have a plus one at an upcoming work dinner. With a deep breath, she answered that, yes, she’d be bringing along her girlfriend. 

“He didn’t even blink and said ‘OK, sounds good, see you two at 8 p.m.,” she recalled. “I laugh about it now, but I was very shocked at the time. It was a non-issue. It didn’t matter who I was showing up with as long as I showed up. I felt accepted.”

Bolstered by this realization, she began to have similar discussions with other colleagues — and, eventually, with family and friends back home. 

“My confidence grew even more with these acceptances, and slowly I began to accept myself for who I was, which was something that hadn’t happened before those moments at work,” O’Harrow said. “The acceptance and support from PwC gave me the courage to have much more difficult conversations with close family and friends back in my hometown about my sexual orientation. I am grateful for the experience I had at the firm, which helped me with my coming out story, and cannot envision a more accepting place to work.”

Inclusion driving innovation

This backdrop of support and inclusivity doesn’t just benefit employees, but also the client experience. O’Harrow added that, in order for PwC to maintain its position at the forefront of an increasingly digital and ever-evolving future, its workforce has to reflect a “wide variety of backgrounds, skills and experiences.” The firm is committed to attracting (and retaining) professionals who bring diverse perspectives with them. And as the workplace continues to transform, PwC is providing its people the opportunity to digitally upskill with access to training on various diverse tools and technologies through its $3 billion New world, new skills digital journey. 

O’Harrow says she’s already seen the impact of the firm’s dedication to digital upskilling, evidenced by her team’s use of wrangling tools for data cleansing and bots for performing tasks that previously took hours. 

“It has been exciting to see our people embrace this transformation,” she said. “Seeing the staff on my teams demo their newest automation or tool, there is definitely excitement and pride in what they have accomplished. That energy and positivity has had an amazing impact on other team members — to encourage learning and growing your skillset — and on our team’s culture.”

Leaning into the reality of change

Encouraging change has long been a part of PwC’s culture. In her nearly 15 years at the professional services firm, O’Harrow has had opportunity after opportunity to help transform herself, personally and professionally. 

“The ability to explore different interests and career paths within one firm is PwC’s superpower,” she said. “The firm really seems to understand that a person’s interests and goals when you join may change throughout your career. PwC leans into this reality by providing opportunities  to move office locations, lines of service, departments or groups, in addition to providing short-term rotations, tours of duty, and advanced technology learning in specific areas of interest.”

For O’Harrow, that meant completing an 18-month tour of duty in PwC UK’s London office, enabling her to learn an entirely different territory’s tax system. 

“My tour of duty provided me the opportunity to gain international work experience and develop relationships with colleagues and clients who are still close mentors and friends today,” she said. “On a personal note, the experience helped me to grow into the person and the leader I am today. Growing up in a town of 3,000 people, my London experience provided insight into other cultures, styles of working and leadership.”

Ultimately, the brand of leadership that O’Harrow has personally honed during her time at PwC is exactly that: personal. 

“Crafting your own style of demonstrative leadership that aligns with the firm’s values and the PwC Professional are important facets when advancing to that next level,” she said. “Ask yourself what kind of leader you want to be, and borrow leadership traits that fit that definition from mentors and leaders whom you admire. I encourage you to craft a style that represents you and one that you can lean into because it is authentic.”


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