When Accenture Chairman and CEO Pierre Nanterme announced in late 2015 the company’s commitment to gender equality, and the pledge to grow the percentage of women we hire to 40 percent by 2017, I must say I was a bit disappointed initially. I wondered why we still needed this explicit focus in this day and age. My naïveté is probably explained by my own personal experience.
When I started working at Accenture in 2006, after graduating, it was the start of my professional career, but, very unexpectedly, also the start of a new chapter in my personal life. During my first months at the company, I met my now husband, who is my partner, the love of my life and the father of our beautiful children. As we were both working in the same context, the assumption that we were both equal and had the same kind of opportunities and chances was underlying our relationship and also coloring my way of looking at the world.
“Work hard and give it your best,” was the advice I got from my mum on my first day at work. It has served me well in my career. Whenever good work was delivered, the recognition for it followed. Never have I felt that male colleagues received preferential treatment over me or other female colleagues. I also never felt that I got a promotion because I was a woman.
When my husband and I decided we wanted kids, I started looking around for inspiring examples of colleagues and received some good advice from more experienced mums in the company. The common belief at the time that it would not be possible to do “my kind of job” and have kids at the same time could easily have become a personal barrier in my career. With the support of my husband and our choice for a shared earnings/shared parenting type of marriage, we decided to go for it and try to make it work.
Asking my male boss at the time for a part-time work schedule was not easy. But with the support of my husband, we made that choice, and we went for it. Recently, I see that more and more male colleagues are making the choice of a part-time work schedule or a leave of absence to be with their family.
The more I rose on the corporate ladder, the fewer examples I found of role models (male or female) at higher levels dealing with their work/life balance in the way we were managing it. In my own peer group, however, I saw women trying to make their way in the corporate world—all in their own way and style—learning from each other and trying to be an example for the women on their teams. Although we actively believe and support the idea of gender equality and the enrichment that gender diversity provides, we each approach that belief differently. This belief and support for gender equality did not always exist—even in our own company.
Second baby stress
After I had our second baby, I was struggling with the combination of no sleep, a young toddler, the baby and a high pressure job at work. I found a very open and constructive male leader who wanted to discuss options we could create together to make the combination of work and life feasible.
During the years, I lost my naïveté that we don’t need to focus on gender equality anymore. My view changed mainly because I had a chance to get a broader perspective on practices at different companies, and I am aware that not everyone has had that same positive and almost privileged experience I have had. Some women still have to face hard external boundaries in their careers.
We have to keep our focus and lead by example: Women need to show next generations that gender equality is possible, and men need to ensure we are not making gender equality a woman’s issue. This way, more and more people may experience gender equality as universal, and we will have succeeded in creating a better place for the next generation.