Human on the Inside with PwC’s Sonia Clarke

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5 min read

We’re big believers in the power of human skills. But don’t just take our word for it – the evidence for excellence powered by human (‘soft’) skills is everywhere! In this engaging, ever-enlightening series, we speak with industry leaders, innovators and game-changers to learn a little about their personal career journeys, and how human-led strategies, philosophies and cultures are proving a force for good in their working worlds …

Welcome Sonia, and thanks for stepping into the #SuccessIsHuman Spotlight!

You’re a Director for PwC’s Future of Work practice – a growing division within the Firm.
In 1 sentence (ok, we’ll give you 3), what does your role entail?

Thanks for having me! That’s a very reasonable question – I do appreciate that it probably doesn’t sound like a real job. In a nutshell, I work with executive teams and boards to shape and articulate what their organisation will look like in the future. In practice, this looks like planning and facilitating collaborative sessions to help organisations understand and be inspired by future of work trends, and to apply the implications to their specific context. We work together to co-create their strategic narrative, agree priorities and take action.

You’ve been with PwC for over five years, but your impressive career prior involved stints at specialist communications and creative agencies, both in the UK and here in AUS. You’re also on the Board of St Kilda Legal Service. How does all this work speak to your personal purpose and what drives you as an individual?

Honestly, I don’t think I have a single-minded purpose. I’ve always just loved doing interesting work with talented people who are also nice (that part is very important). I’ve been extremely lucky to work in diverse teams consisting of many of these unicorns. I’m at my happiest when we’re working together to crack a really challenging project.

Tell us a little about your personal education pathway/s – what led you to where you are now? How closely do your formal qualifications match your current career?

Not at all. Not even a little bit! My Degree was in history and politics, with a smattering of philosophy and economics. I have almost never used this content in the workplace (although my colleagues do occasionally get ‘treated’ to one of these stories), but it did teach me skills like how to synthesise information quickly, how to form an argument, and how to persuade via the written word – all of which have been very important in my career.
Over the years, I’ve taken short courses both IRL and online to pick up specific skills that are relevant to my work – like strategic planning with AdSchool in Sydney, and marketing and business strategy with Wharton through Coursera.
I’m trying to take a more structured approach to this now, which really fits with what our team is seeing in the market overall. Individuals are taking control of their upskilling throughout their career, and thinking about lifelong learning rather than a single foray into formal education.

If you could share one piece of career advice to your 21 year old self it would be …

Take more risks. I started work at a time when we were still encouraged to get a solid graduate job and stick with it for years. It’s awesome seeing grads trying lots of things, setting up their own businesses, or driving change and innovation in existing ones.

Maximising the potential of individuals, communities and businesses through the power of human skills is the reason Maxme exists. Can you tell us a little about the role and / or value of human skills in your workplace right now?

Firstly, I love that you’re calling them ‘human’ rather than ‘soft’ skills. I think that’s a really clever reframe, because there’s still an assumption in some places that what we’ve referred to as ‘soft’ skills are inferior, or aren’t important. They’ve actually never been more important. Increasingly, we’re working on complex problems that we don’t know how to solve – so rather than relying on established technical skills or processes, you really need people who are creative, who can think critically, who can collaborate with different types of people and get the most value out of them.

Self Awareness sets the critical foundation for all Maxme learning experiences. With that said … what’s your strongest trait / personal super power?

Probably curiosity – I’ve always enjoyed learning about different skills, perspectives and experiences, so I really appreciate collaborating and understanding alternative points of view.

And on the flip side, what’s one human / ‘soft’ skill you’ve had to really work on improving over the course of your career

It shames me to admit this, but probably listening. I definitely used to fall into the ‘waiting to talk’ category, particularly when I was younger and thought that being a good consultant meant always having the right answer. Now I know that it’s much more important to really understand the question.

If you could share one piece of career advice with recent Uni graduates or candidates keen to work at a company like PwC, what would it be?

Be a sponge – the advantage of a big company like PwC is you will have so much exposure to different people, teams and projects. Seize every opportunity, and don’t be afraid to share your perspective. You can offer a lot of value from day one.

You’ve been granted approval to add one University graduate to your team, but have 100 applicants, all with outstanding academic results. How do you find your perfect candidate – what are you looking for?

I’d want someone excited to learn, comfortable with ambiguity and ready to throw themselves into different experiences, none of which I think you can glean from academic results. I’d want to see how a potential candidate approaches a problem and collaborates with others, which is why our recruitment process tests for that.

In the words of John Dewey, “education is not preparation for life, education is life itself.”
What’s next on your #learning agenda?

I try to always have a good mix of different learning experiences to look forward to. Some are more structured, classroom style (if only virtual at the moment) – for example, I’ve been doing some creative writing courses with Stanford over lockdown, which run to set terms. Our whole team also has a subscription to Masterclass, so we each take different classes and then share what we’ve learnt. It’s a great way to fit bite-sized chunks of learning into your week.