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Empowering our people to be without limits this International Women’s Day

March 07, 2023

2023 marks the 19th year Accenture celebrates International Women’s Day (IWD) – an opportunity for us to engage in open, honest and meaningful conversations to further advance gender equality. Our Chief Human Resources Officer, Claire McCaffery shares some of what we’re doing, as well as insights from our team.

I’ve been at Accenture now for nearly 20 years, working in a range of local, regional and global HR roles. In that time, I’ve become a working parent, and at times have been a single mum. The flexibility and support Accenture has provided to me is one of the main reasons I have stayed here, so I know first-hand the importance of our policies that shape an inclusive working culture.

This year, our theme for IWD is ‘Be Without Limits.’ For me, this means thinking differently to continue to break stereotypes and constantly push boundaries. I’m proud that Accenture has already done so much to promote gender equality by providing targeted support, flexible work arrangements, comprehensive training programs, benefits and more to support our women to achieve both their personal and professional goals. It all helps towards achieving our global goal of achieving gender parity for those whose gender is binary, by 2025. In ANZ, we’re currently at 39.2% women, so we’re tracking well. In addition, we set the goal to have 30% of managing directors be women by 2025. In ANZ, we’ve surpassed that as we’re currently sitting at 32.8% female Managing Directors.

Goals are great, but what actions are we taking?

It's one thing to know where we are heading. It's another thing to get there, so let’s look at some of the things we’re doing to actively champion gender equality.

One action we’ve taken is to take a systematic look at the whole talent pipeline, including the programs we run to attract female talent, particularly people from different backgrounds, like our ‘Return to Work’ and ‘Career Reboot’ programs. This includes identifying talent who don’t have traditional educational qualifications, like career reskilling pathways with partners like Generation Australia through which Rabia Zafar, a Digital Tech Developer Analyst, joined us. 

          Rabia says, "As a Pakistani woman with no Australian experience, and as a mum returning from a career break, Accenture made it clear that these points were no barrier."

          These kinds of initiatives to grow the pipeline of future female candidates are critical if we want to move the dial. Sheeza Shakeel, Sales Capture Senior Manager has a passion for bringing more women into STEM, mentoring students facing economic, family and/or social challenges through the ABCN Accelerate program. Sheeza says, “Programs like this help people to rewrite their own story, which starts with believing it’s possible.” Her advice to women who are thinking about a career in tech is to “never stop learning”. She especially believes in the power of technology to drive change, saying, 

          “Technology has the potential to drive excellence in every business domain and be an equaliser for the disadvantaged.”

          We also have a partnership with the Minerva Network, who work with female elite athletes to balance corporate work and elite sport. Ashleigh Werner, a Management Consulting Senior Analyst (Bobsleigh pilot representing Australia and Professional Rugby League player) has experienced first-hand the flexibility we can offer as she combines work with a grueling training schedule.

          “I think one of the reasons why Accenture is so supportive of elite athletes like me is that they realise how much we bring to the organisation."

          "We’re high-achievers, self-determined and will work hard to deliver our best. Accenture sees all these skills that athletes bring and unashamedly celebrates them as we transition to corporate careers,” says Ashleigh.

          Visible role models and bold leadership are key

          Progress towards gender equality requires increasing women’s representation in leadership and decision-making to redistributing care-work. We know that gender equality in the workplace widens considerably after women have children and we tackle this with our range of flexible work arrangements, including job shares and part-time work arrangements, as well as a gender-neutral parental leave policy. Kath Spencer, Management Consulting Principal Director, is one example of someone who’s taken advantage of the flexible work options we provide, having been part-time in a series of roles for ten years. “Some roles have been more successful than others, but overall, I’ve felt supported by my leadership to keep shaping roles to fit me rather than fit the traditional mould,” she says. 

          "I want to show others that it is possible to still make an impact in your career and to parent the way you want, and you will be supported.”

          Policies are meaningless unless they are put into action and people can see others leading the way. When Jacqui Kernot, Security Director, started her career she was used to being the only woman in the room.

          “When you’ve had to work in male-dominated industries, the idea now that as a leader, I can build diverse teams with awesome women in them and have people see that as their daily working experience – I have this delight that I can do that,” says Jacqui.

          Visibly advocating for women into more leadership roles is also a priority for Angela Coble, Technology, Transformation and Executive Advisory Managing Director. Angela says,

          “A ripple starts with one conversation, and I have many conversations about gender diversity both in Accenture and with the community."

          "So many barriers are self-perceived so championing a growth mindset and helping people to visualise a world without limits helps to create this change.”

          At Accenture, our conversations about gender diversity are largely through our Gender Network. As a person of Indian origin, Aishwarya Rao, a Product Management Principal Director within Accenture Song and the Gender Network Lead for Accenture ANZ, knows how important an intersectional approach to gender is. Through the Gender Network she aims to facilitate continuous conversations on topics such as inclusion, diversity, belonging, unconscious bias and toxic masculinity to amplify the advocacy of equity.

          “We want people to approach their careers without limits – to not be stereotyped, pigeonholed, or judged because of their age, gender, orientation or cultural background."

          "For example, to assume people without children will be up for travel on projects is an equal discrimination as assuming parents may be too busy to join,” explains Aishwarya.

          Equality is essential to an inclusive and innovative workplace

          I’m looking forward to the time when no-one needs to justify why gender diversity in the workplace is important. All diversity is critical for innovative and balanced teams. We know this and our clients do too.

          We believe the future workforce is an equal one and we are taking action to get to equal. Learn more about how we’re advancing gender equality.

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          WRITTEN BY

          Claire McCaffery

          Lead – Human Resources, Australia & New Zealand