PwC taps deputy people leader Yolanda Seals-Coffield as CPO

Seals-Coffield tells HR Brew about flexible work at PwC and why she thinks it’s here to stay.
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· 5 min read

There’s a changing of the guard in HR at one of the country’s biggest professional-services firms.

Today, PwC announced the appointment of Yolanda Seals-Coffield as its new chief people officer overseeing the US and Mexico. Seals-Coffield will succeed Mike Fenlon, who has served as CPO since 2016. She has been with the professional-services firm for almost 12 years, having served as the firm’s chief employment counsel, president of the charitable foundation, and, for the past year, deputy people leader.

Fenlon, who will transition to chief future of work officer, told HR Brew by email that he couldn’t think of anyone “more capable, deserving, and inspiring” to serve as the next CPO.

“She’s a fearless leader, who brings empathy, curiosity, and innovation to everything she does,” Fenlon said. “I can’t wait to watch Yolanda continue to build on our culture of care and belonging, propelling choice and personalization to the center of our people’s experience here at PwC.”

When Seals-Coffield was second-in-command, PwC became one of the biggest professional-services firms to allow indefinite full-time remote work from anywhere. And this spring, she helped unveil the firm’s $2.4 billion investment in My+: an expanded suite of employee benefits, including 12 weeks of parental leave and two weeks of company-wide closures for employees to recharge.

Ahead of her first day steering the ship, she told HR Brew about flexible work at PwC and why she thinks it’s here to stay.

Road to remote. When PwC employees started working from home at the onset of the Covid-19 pandemic in March 2020, its HR leaders assumed the remote-work experiment would eventually come to an end. In fact, the firm planned on bringing employees back to the office at least part time by November 2021, but in September 2021, Laura Daily, PwC’s senior manager of communications, told HR Brew that the firm surveyed workers about their “evolving needs and wants.” Based on those responses—which initially projected 30%-35% of employees wanted to work remotely—the company developed its remote-work policy.

“We gave our people another opportunity this past summer to change their way of working, and we’ve been pretty consistent at about 20%-22% of our people want to be virtual,” Seals-Coffield said.

The firm, she said, is happy to provide workers flexibility—with some caveats. Remote workers are still expected to travel “up to three days a month” to their nearest office for project kickoffs or team events, and to clients’ offices for big meetings.

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“We want those folks to come in…for those moments that matter,” she explained. “So even in our virtual option, we anticipate that people will come into the office a couple of days a month.”

How does PwC compare? PwC’s embrace of flexible work wasn’t purely altruistic: In an increasingly competitive job market, remote work is attractive to potential recruits.

“Most employees want more flexibility—not less,” Brian Kropp, VP of research at Gartner, told HR Brew by email. “As some companies start to push hard on forcing employees to come to…the workplace, those that offer more flexibility to employees will have a recruiting advantage.”

Indeed, Seals-Coffield attributes a 20% increase in applications last year to the remote-work announcement. Since then, she said application levels have been stable.

PwC’s continued commitment to remote work stands out amid the post-Labor Day RTO push. Some 69% of midsize and large employers now require employees to be on-site for a specific number of days per month, with over 40% mandating in-person attendance at least two days per week, according to a recent Gartner survey.

But it’s not necessarily unique. PwC’s policy is comparable to  rival KPMG’s “Flex with Purpose” program, through which Katy Reddin Wiest, the firm’s associate director of corporate communications for the US, said the frequency of in-person meetings is determined by client and team needs and Deloitte’s policy of co-locating around “moments that matter.” Ernst & Young, on the other hand, hasn’t mandated that workers come back to the office, but has strongly encouraged their return since May.

When asked why PwC was bucking the RTO trend, Seals-Coffield insisted it wasn’t—it’s meeting its workers where they are. The majority of its employees want to be in the office at least some of the time, and those who don’t, she said, have proven over the past two years they could work effectively remotely.

“We are very lucky that over the pandemic we’ve demonstrated our ability to serve our clients very well virtually,” Seals-Coffield said. “We also recognize that many of our people want to be in offices, they want to reconnect…so the hybrid model is where the magic happens for us.”—SV

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HR is challenging. HR news doesn’t have to be.

HR Brew keeps you effective in the fast-changing business environment.