PNC: Investing in Inclusion

There are often hints of who someone will become at an early age. A future dancer may be photographed with a tiny leg propped on the top rung of a crib, or a longtime love for organization may lead to a career as a project manager.

For Marsha Jones, senior vice president and chief diversity officer at PNC Financial Services Group, her tendency to ask questions and an aptitude for leadership manifested as early as elementary school. When she saw few girls acting as crossing guard monitors, she asked for and got the job, and within a year went from sergeant to captain of the monitor squad.

“There are countless experiences throughout my career where you notice something needs to be changed, you ask why it was the way it is, how can you make it better and you proceed on a path to do that,” she said. “The path I took at Merrill [Lynch] in terms of wealth management was a result of seeing there were not enough female managers. There were no female managers of color; what can you do to make a difference and be able to change that?”

Jones spent 28 years at Merrill Lynch, moving from salesperson to sales management. Thirty years ago there weren’t many role models for her to ask for guidance. “I had to look myself in the mirror and say, if not you, then who?” she said.

Her career moved along several tracks from individual contributor to organizational leader. Successful field work led to a management position, a subsequent leadership role and then a role in multicultural business development and recruiting. That last position offered Jones an opportunity to help Merrill Lynch, at an organizational level, on its journey to integrate inclusion into the business. The opportunity to be in the right place at the right time influenced her decision to move to PNC.

“Timing has a lot to do with everything,” she said. “We are now on the brink of the impact that demographics are going to have, and when you tie this message to a business case, it was natural for me to assume this position and take advantage of the opportunity to make a difference.”

Recruited two years ago from Merrill Lynch, the New York native is the first chief diversity officer for Pennsylvania-based PNC. The new role was likely part of a larger strategic move as the company grapples with rapidly changing customer and workforce demographics and growth challenges in new markets. PNC recently received approval from the federal government to purchase RBC USA, which will expand its market into the southeastern United States.

The demographic insight isn’t just about better understanding of a larger and increasingly diverse workforce. Market research on demographics helps to maintain client relationships post-acquisition and enhance or increase products and services to meet new client demands. It also aids current business efforts. Jones said the bank is experiencing generational challenges where diversity training has helped the workforce to better understand its constituents: employees, customers and the communities PNC serves. Training also increases awareness of cultural differences and promotes an inclusive environment where employees appreciate contributions from a diverse group of peers.

This type of development began before her tenure, but Jones said she has promoted an educational focus called “Creating a Culture of Inclusion” that all managers and employees participate in.

“For many years we have participated in the Gallup survey for employee engagement because we know and recognize the importance of employee engagement,” Jones said. “That coupled with a focus on inclusion enables us to create a program that not only educates about concepts of diversity and inclusion but also gives us opportunities to measure the effect of various programs and initiatives that we have going on throughout the organization.”

The Gallup engagement measurement process includes research into diversity and inclusion which managers use to create action plans and identify areas for improvement. That data is part of a broader approach to use employee and customer information to spot emerging business opportunities.

“We are able to identify from a metrics standpoint what demographics trends are taking place and the influence of purchasing power these emerging groups are going to have,” Jones said. “We recognize that in order to be successful moving forward we have to be able to develop relationships with those emerging demographics, to demonstrate how we can be a good business partner for them and be able to meet their needs as customers.”

Jones said the ability to point to and share specific numbers about purchasing power and average income for particular individuals makes it easy to extend the business case and gain support for diversity from other lines of business including marketing, branding and corporate communications. She also helps business partners create and execute strategies to capitalize on opportunities to gain market share and helps build relationships with external partners who can help.

Diversity and Profitability

Diversity helps PNC enhance profitability and customer satisfaction in a number of visible ways. For instance, customer demographic trends led the company to feature 10 or more languages on the bank’s estimated 6,700 ATMs. The company website features content in multiple languages and offers microsites for Chinese, Indian and Korean clients. To promote women’s business development, the site also offers success stories about female entrepreneurs and executives as well as resources for female business owners.

The company also has expanded its line of business diversity and inclusion councils to facilitate efforts to create and benefit from an inclusive environment. There are 13 diversity and inclusion councils across the lines of business.

Paul Clark, PNC’s regional president for northern Ohio and Cleveland, has worked closely with Jones to expand the city’s three employee business resource group chapters for African-American, LGBT and emerging professional employees. He said the groups have steadily moved along an increasingly challenging timeline that began with social networking, moved to professional development and then to business development.

“When you think about Marsha’s impact at PNC, and you think about how we continually try to instill diversity and inclusion into our strategy and our goals, these employee business resources groups have been a really big tool in getting that done,” he said.

The business benefits aren’t bad either. For instance, in the African-American community the employee resource group effort led to new accounts and other products in the branch system and helped small business banking and wealth management efforts. Clark said during the last 18 months PNC has established clear leadership, goals and operating plans for employee business resource groups in every market.

“We look forward to bringing them to the new RBC markets when they come on stream in March,” he said.

The Best of Everything

There aren’t many high ranking African-American executives in corporate America, a fact of which Jones is well aware. But just as PNC’s discipline and stance on diversity as a business stratagem were two of the attributes that attracted her to the company initially, those same qualities can help to diversify the executive ranks.

“I have been blessed with the ability to go into a situation and look to see how I might be able to utilize all of the experiences I’ve had in my lifetime to help me to analyze what’s actually happening, to identify various trends and to develop relationships through conversations. Relationships have helped me to survive as well as thrive in the financial services industry.”

Jones credited her career success to having grown up during a time of tremendous change in corporate life, a willingness to work hard and be disciplined, as well as a keen desire to take advantage of any opportunity for growth. These same attributes will enable any woman or person of color to thrive. Preparation involves — but is not limited to — appropriate schooling.

“There is a certain amount of schooling that is necessary in order to be prepared for positions. But more than the educational factor is the factor of experience,” she said. “There is the need to be able to use that educational experience, to tailor it to the particular industry and corporation you are working with so that you are utilizing those tools. The education itself is not the be-all and end-all. It’s the utilization of that education to prepare you to be effective in the position that gives you the ability to move up within the corporation.”

For example, Jones trained as a teacher before coming to the financial services industry. But when she graduated with her master’s degree in education from Columbia, there were no teaching jobs. Looking for alternatives, she became a financial adviser, where her success was tied to her ability to get clients. One way she did that was to use her training as an educator to give financial planning seminars. Minority executives must use every social or professional tool at their disposal to advance, Jones said.

“As I continued to progress in additional areas and roles of responsibility within sales, I was able to fall back on experiences going as far back as elementary school, believe it or not, that would help in either developing relationships with other individuals, or to be able to communicate with other individuals to accomplish what was needed to succeed in that particular position,” she said.

Transfer Accountability to All

Jones’ professionalism and diversity of experience are part of what sets her apart, Clark said.

“She emphasizes that professionalism with her life, the way she chooses to lead, to manage, to present her team at PNC,” he said. “But where I’ve really grown to appreciate and where I’m really grateful to be able to work with her — she does what I call the ‘hand-off’ better than anybody I’ve seen in my soon-to-be 37 years at this company.”

He said too often diversity and inclusion is a nice idea housed in an organization’s diversity and inclusion office and it never gets out of that silo.

“Marsha has handed off the diversity and inclusion accountability from the diversity and inclusion office to leadership all through PNC in a way I’ve never seen done before, in a way that I’ve tried to do personally in the past and have never been able to, and in a way that makes diversity and inclusion at PNC real and effective,” Clark said. “That’s why the employee business resource groups have been so successful; that’s why our vendor program continues to be successful and grow and become even more engaged in the community.”

Jones said she continues to look for opportunities to use diversity to support business strategy and impact PNC’s employees, shareholders and communities.

“This creation of an inclusive culture — we are very clear and very comfortable with this strategy of toggling employee engagement and inclusion and working together in a symbiotic relationship to enhance our profitability,” she said.

The only way to win in a fast-moving, complex and constantly changing business environment is to embrace diversity. An organization must be what Clark called “of the community,” not in or for the community but actively engaged in it.

“If you’re going to achieve that you must be diverse,” he said. “You have to have a group of people, whether it’s a leadership team, a work team, a project team that have diverse points of view, backgrounds and experiences. It’s one of the values that PNC holds up as important. It helps us on the business side and in recruiting to compete for top talent who insist on working in a diverse environment.”

That appreciation for the richness of diversity and the evolution of its practice, paired with understanding and insight of the unique business needs and culture of the organization is what chief diversity officers can bring to the table that many others can’t.

“Every corporation is unique, just as every individual employee is unique,” Jones said. “There are certainly a lot of best practices that can be incorporated, but recognize that it takes customization for diversity and inclusion to really bring success to that corporation.”

Kellye Whitney is managing editor of Diversity Executive magazine. She can be reached at