Barbara Harvey from Symes Group interviews Joe Short on the very important work he is heading up at PwC to support our society's most vulnerable.
Joe Short a partner at PwC, is passionate about supporting the most vulnerable Australians through his work in the company’s Commissioning and Contestability practice. A true empath and voice for diversity, Joe shared with me his vision for a more accepting and responsible society. It’s a big chat and we covered massive topics of diversity, prejudice, gender stereotypes, work/life balance and the perplexing quandary of why women’s clothes don’t have pockets!
As a Partner leading PwC’s Commissioning and Contestability practice, Joe’s keenness for establishing great partnerships across government, the private sector and not for profits has seen organisations and stakeholders come together to deliver outcomes within the health, human services and justice sectors.
“I’m really passionate about making meaningful differences in the lives of those who need the support or assistance,” says Joe, who is motivated and heartened when a great partnership creates positive change. “In my work I see a huge amount of strength and capability, time, passion and investment in organisations who are desperate to make an impact and improve the outcomes of our most vulnerable Australians.”
It’s important work and needed more than ever. “The true mark of a community or country is how you look after your most vulnerable,” states Joe. “Our society needs to do better when it comes to supporting members of our community who need help."
Despite his obvious passion and dedication for ensuring vulnerable Australians have the support and assistance they need, Joe admits his career started on a different trajectory. “It chose me rather than I chose it! Which is unusual for people in human services sector.” Born and raised in the UK, Joe’s queasiness at the sight of blood meant that the family tradition for medicine wasn’t for him! Instead he pursued studies in management consulting, “I’ve always been interested in strategy, business and how things work together and also really interested in partnerships.”
Work life balance
After moving to Australia eight years ago with his Australian wife, he has navigated a successful career in two of the world’s top tier consulting firms, but the dual demands of being a hands on Dad and a Partner in consulting have offered the biggest challenges. Joe has two young children and both he and his wife have full time successful careers.
“It is a massive constant challenge. The honest reality is it’s a roller coaster!”
Consulting work by its nature is not an easy fit into structured family routine. “There’s no steady state to slot it into. So work life balance is fundamentally a fluid concept. It's also important that I think about my physical and mental health and ability to be effective. Every day is different and brings its own surprises, so I am often kept on my toes!” Joe’s attitude to maintaining the balance, is to work within the environment you are in and to be practical. “You have to grab the balance when you can grab it. When it's busy and everything is going on, the opportunity to take time away from work is limited, but when that’s not the case, I’m all for embracing the free time and getting my balance back where it belongs."
Taking responsibility for your own work life balance, understanding your limits and being firm about your boundaries is key to maintaining work life balance, Joe argues. Boundaries and expectations are two words he uses interchangeably with work life balance but he concedes those in senior roles must understand the responsibility they bear when setting expectations with their direct reports. “All too often, the ability for a junior person to say ‘no I’ve got too much on’ is limited.” So those in senior roles have a responsibility to set clear and realistic expectations.
Company policies are extremely significant in creating a culture that fosters work life balance, Joe adds. “There are lots of great things at PwC which help with work life balance- all roles are flexible, there’s no dress code, and working remotely.” To name a few.
Joe cites a detachment from work being important too and for him this includes his passion for cinema, playing soccer, collecting street art and spending time with his family. “I love street art, graffiti and I have collected great pieces from the UK and Australia.”
Prejudice in the workplace
With great hopes for a more inclusive society than in the past, Joe’s insights into prejudice, its causes and how to navigate a workplace where prejudices exist are illuminating. “As someone who has grown up as mixed race, I’ve always been aware of prejudice and peoples’ beliefs. The unfortunate reality is that prejudice exists throughout the workplace, as it exists throughout society. It would be naive to think that it doesn’t. It’s an unfortunate consequence of some of those innate beliefs some of us have learned or been taught either consciously or unconsciously throughout our lives.”
Of course the concern with the reality Joe paints conjures questions such as: How can we protect minorities from that prejudice? How can we ensure prejudice doesn’t take place in the workplace if it is innate with so many people?
Joe has a simple view. “I hope that people can move away from those beliefs, but I’m quite realistic that that might take time for some and others may never get there. What I do think is important is that interactions do not reflect those beliefs – particularly when at work. Those who do still have unacceptable views really need to challenge themselves on them in order to move forward." He is pragmatic about the reality of such a request. “That’s a hard thing for a lot of people to do, particularly when views are entrenched over time. It will take time for some to change their thinking.”
Gender diversity is a topic Joe has strong opinions about. As a role model in the industry for gender equality, Joe’s opinions are regularly sought out. Joe forewarns that the damage caused by gender stereotyping (intentional and unintentional) is equally damaging for women and men in the workplace.
“if you reinforce my role as a man in one direction that reinforces the role of a woman in another direction. The man taking out the rubbish… the man changing the light bulb, those stereotypes are in many ways are as powerful and damaging beliefs to hold in both directions…I think that raises interesting questions around what might we consider cultural norms.”
Joe offers that attempts at reversing traditional roles, help men on many levels.
“When my daughter was born, I took three months off to be the primary carer. It was a real eye opener in that it changed my fundamental beliefs around what you can and can’t do working part time. Around what’s achievable. It was a real reality check for me.”
Prior to this hands on experience Joe admits he was less understanding of individuals working part time/raising young children and their capabilities and accessibility on non working days. The experience of being a primary carer meant he shifted his expectations of others.
He encourages more men with children to take some time away from work to be the primary carer. “Every man that I’ve known that’s done that role, has come back with a different perspective of diversity and around looking after kids and working, so I think it’s a really powerful experience and will only be created when more men do that.”
And speaking of children, gender conditioning via children’s clothing is a bug bear for Joe. It’s the pockets that really bother him or rather the lack of pockets for girls and women. Boys' and men's clothing are abundant with pockets, but girls and women clothing often don’t have pockets. Women’s clothing sometimes have a fake pocket. “What does that mean?” he asks baffled, “that women don’t have anything important to collect?” I was perplexed by the question and since our conversation I discovered that the issue of women’s pockets in fashion has a long history in the gender debate, which is why it’s so great to have people like Joe holding Partner roles in leading firms. He’s not afraid to ask questions, some simple and obvious but difficult ones too.
So finally what’s next for Joe?
“That’s a really good question. I have to think about this answer!” he says with a big laugh. “I have been with PwC since 2017 and I was brought over to lead and help build up the commissioning practice. I am really focused on doing that, and establishing a leading team that works on some of the most complex and challenging problems facing vulnerable Australians. At the moment my focus is making sure what we do at PwC is as good and impactful as possible. Outside of this, who knows? Early retirement is always appealing?” he says with a laugh.
Something tells me Joe’s ambition and quest to serve vulnerable Australians will stave off retirement for a very long time and considering the impact Joe’s work has, that’s a good thing. Thank you Joe for a terrific conversation!
Barbara Harvey for The Symes Report Blog.