A Day in the Life of Claire Stokes, PwC

Company: PwC
Years in Consulting: 20
Job title: Partner
University: Durham University
Degree: Anthropology BA (Hons), MBA
Location: London …and South Coast

Tell us a bit about your career journey, have you always worked in consulting?

I started working in personal /leadership development and moved in to more organisational development and change working as an internal consultant in the NHS. At the time Andersen Consulting (which became Accenture) was the pre-eminent organisation in developing change management consultancy and I applied as a junior manager in the government team.  Much to my surprise I was accepted. I was even more surprised when I realised I was the first experienced hire that they had taken on in my part of the business. I assumed I'd stay for a couple of years (that was 20 years ago!) but it turned out that I really enjoyed project work, I loved the chance to work with different organisations, I always seemed to be working with great people who I learned a lot from. More by accident that design I moved more in to business transformation and then in to programme management.  The next job always looked really interesting – and usually it was.

I moved to PwC 6 years ago as I felt that the opportunities there were more in line with my career aspirations. My work at PwC was initially with the MoD and then with the NHS. 2 years ago I moved in to a totally different role as the lead partner for Risk and Quality across our Consulting business. That has presented a whole range of new challenges – but I still work on really interesting projects with great people, so I'm still enjoying it – and I'm still learning!

As a woman in Consulting, what are the challenges you have faced and how have you overcome them? 

When I started in consulting, there were very few women at partner level.  That has changed – but not enough yet.  I have been fortunate to work for both men and women who gave me opportunities based on my skills and attitude and I have never felt held back because I'm female (that was not the case in one particular job in my early pre-consulting career).  In fact when I was working with the Ministry of Defence and associated industries about 10 years ago, I realised that being about the only woman in that market meant that everyone knew who I was – even if I didn't know who they were!  A slightly unexpected positive at the time!  However, I do remember an internal senior meeting where I was the only woman in a meeting with 25+ men and suddenly realised that I was not questioning why?! So I decided at that point that one of my personal goals would be to help other women realise they had potential and to be confident in putting themselves forward for roles that would help them develop. I hope that there are a few women (and men) out there who would say that I had stuck to that promise!

How do you manage work/life balance?

I’m not sure I do on a day to day basis! The “to do” list is always impossibly long and seems to get longer!!  However, I can be ferociously organised! I also try to have a couple of non-negotiable items e.g. Friday nights are absolutely time for my husband and I to catch up with ourselves – and I am really selfish about that time!! I also try to go to yoga one evening a week and get to the gym at the weekend. Small things but they can make a big difference.

Who is your biggest inspiration?

I could name a number of people I have huge admiration for and who I have taken inspiration from in different ways. They are all very grounded and have a real sense of who they are; are genuinely interested in people; have a good sense of humour and a sense of perspective. When I spend time with them I come away feeling I can tackle the world!

What is the best piece of advice you have received?

“The worst thing you will ever do is not consult.” We deal with really complex and difficult situations and consulting with your colleagues always helps unravel problems and get the best ideas. I’ve come back to this advice time and time again.

Advice to young consultants?

When I reflect back on my career, I'm conscious that I always tried to make the most of the opportunities that were presented to me. I have never had a hard and fast 5-10 year plan as I would be concerned about painting myself in to a corner and being closed to opportunities. Having said that, I do think you need to have a sense of identity and know what you are good at – know the industry you want to ultimately specialise in, develop some deep skills and expertise alongside the general consulting attributes and ways of working. We always seem to be directed to “fix” the things we aren't good at and I wonder whether we actually should spend more time becoming really exceptional at the things we are good at (whilst acknowledging we might need back up in some aspects!).

One of the jobs that I was most proud of was one I wasn't expecting to do, didn't really think I was going to enjoy it, didn't particularly want to go and work in Newcastle for 2 years etc etc. It turned out to be unbelievably hard work, but with a fantastic team and some great clients and we were all pulling together to turn around a major recovery job. I also loved the north east. We really achieved something special on that job and I will always look back on it with very fond memories.

This interview was published as part of the Young MCA Summer 2014 e-newsletter.