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Voice of Experience: Satyavati Berera, Chief Operating Office, PwC, India

Satyavati Berera“As you join the profession, don’t lose sight of your ambition—continue to plan for growth and upskilling to stay relevant—but remember to keep a view to long-term goals and balance professional and personal needs to avoid burn out,” says Satyavati Berera, COO of PwC in India.

“There will be times when something will have to take precedence and something else might take a backseat, but that’s natural and expected.”

Making Her Mark

Berera joined PwC more than three decades ago as an intern after graduating from Lady Shri Ram College, University of Delhi. During her tenure, she’s had the opportunity to work in a wide variety of positions as she built her career trajectory, from her first role as an auditor, then moving to Risk Advisory, becoming Managing Partner for North in 2011, Consulting Leader for PwC India in 2013 and eventually taking up the COO position in 2016.

She takes pride in several milestones as she made the most of the multiple opportunities offered by the firm, assuming various roles that enriched her professional journey. But of course, nothing surpasses the fulfillment she feels in the honor of being the first woman partner in 100 years in the Audit practice of the India firm (then Price Waterhouse) and subsequently becoming the first woman COO in Big 4 in India in 2016.

Currently she is leading the transformation agenda for the firm, working to increase collaboration among its people and with the network, and spearheading programs to meet the expectations of a younger than ever workforce. “As COO, to be in the center of all these changes is frankly very exciting,” Berera says. “It’s a thrilling opportunity to lead these initiatives to drive meaningful change and help break barriers to make PwC and our people more future-ready.”

And she notes, she personally has benefited from a great deal of learning, both in this role and throughout her career. Berera also embraces her role as a change agent as the firm continues to enmesh technology and digital strategies, making it central to everything they do.

Berera says that “Today clients are increasingly looking to firms to provide specialized integrated offerings, where they take more than one competency to the client, thus providing holistic solutions to larger business problems. Technology is no longer the solution only to a CEO’s technology problem, it is at the centre of their business strategy. Therefore, we have to create an ecosystem for our people to really think like that.” Encouraging innovation and improving digital acumen of its people is firmly rooted in the firm’s strategy and Berera is committed to making it a success.

Continuing to Create Equal Opportunities

Success paths for women continue to be an issue throughout most organizations in India, which largely lacks an enabling culture for women in the middle to senior management areas. While all firms are working to establish programs and initiatives that address the void, she believes the country is a few years behind. “The sponsorship opportunities for women and custom development programs are still not enough, given the demands of their personal lives,” Berera says. “We still lose women in the mid- to senior-management levels because of personal needs, and it is unfortunate that we’ve not been able to plug this leak.”

But as she notes, PwC is a leader in this arena, having pioneered a number of initiatives to help support the advancement and retention of women. Some of the most noteworthy ones include a generous sabbatical policy and the “full-circle” program, which allows women employees to take a break for family reasons or to pursue other dreams, and then later re-join the firm. Additionally, high-performing employees can retain their last year’s rating if they have worked for significantly less time during a performance year due to a leave of absence or extended leave for maternity or other personal needs.

The firm is also proud to support mentoring programs for women at the manager level and above, where they can spend time with senior leadership, which can provide a boost to their career development journey. Other small, yet very powerful, actions include providing flexibility to women employees to address challenges that arise from working at home or reduced hours, as well as additional support for expectant mothers in the last trimester.

Finding Balance in Her Own Life

Berera prioritizes spending time with her husband and son. They all love to travel, which helps them de-stress, and wellness is important to her, so she starts each day with yoga.

She also likes to spend time organic farming on a small piece of land about 45 minutes from her home, where she grows seasonal flowers and produce.

“It’s a very soothing experience, as it teaches you to be calm, patient and to stay invested for the long term,” Berera says, adding that farming has also taught her to appreciate that success is not always predicted solely by the effort you put in. “Sometimes outcomes are beyond your control, due to factors like environmental conditions. You learn to take it in stride and move ahead.”

And of course, that philosophy bears fruit for all aspects of life.