I joined Accenture as a recent graduate and thought, at the time, that I would leave as soon as I got bored of it. The fact that I have been here for 20 years is a testament to the fact that my career here has been a constant path of learning and inspiration. During my journey to becoming Managing Director, I’ve learned a lot of things that I’d love to talk about, and maybe help other women who aspire to similar goals. And one of those learnings is to not be the “nice girl.”
I partly came to this conclusion through a piece of research that was conducted by French scientist Francoise Heritier. She studied women collecting rice in the fields in Asia, where they often carry their babies with them. It was discovered that if a woman was carrying a baby boy and he started to cry, she would stop her work, feed him and then return to her tasks. On the other hand, if the woman was carrying a baby girl who was crying, she would finish collecting the rice before feeding her.
What fascinated me about this research was that it clearly demonstrated that in our mindsets, we have been conditioned to believe that females can wait. This attitude is prevalent in many cultures across the globe and, not least of all, in the offices and boardrooms of some of the largest companies in the world.
Another interesting fact that strengthens this cultural stereotype stems from a new virtual-reality module I am developing at Accenture. The purpose of this project is to ascertain how these stereotypes are formed and how we can break them. We start by presenting a picture of a crying baby to a research group. To the first group, we show this image and say that it is a boy. The group normally responds by saying things like, “You need to feed him;” “He’s hungry;” or, “He’s starved.” To another group of students, we present the same image of the crying baby and tell them that it is a girl. The responses are surprising, because the group will normally respond by saying, “Oh, she’s whining;” “Don’t take any notice;” or, “She just wants attention.”
This, once again, reinforces what we have learned from the French study—namely that girls, from a young age, are conditioned to believe that their needs can wait. That they should be lucky to have a job or to be in the position they are in—that they shouldn’t ask for more and shouldn’t complain. That’s where “Don’t be the nice girl” comes from. It is my belief that women should stop thinking in an apologetic way. For example: “I’m not making much money, but it doesn’t matter, because I love my job;” or, “I won’t fight for a promotion, and it can wait another year.”
Yes, you may be happy in your job, but why not achieve what you are doing by being paid as much as a man? And why wait for that pay raise, when you could ask for it today? My advice is that women need to speak up and ask for what they want and not wait for things to happen. Be vocal about what you are doing and what you want, and be verbal so people know that you are doing a good job. Step out of the shadows, be tough and take control of your career.
At Accenture, I have seen a huge change in gender diversity and am proud that I work for a company that respects men and women for the talents that they can bring to our industry, regardless of their gender. The main thing for women who are beginning their careers to remember is that it is their life, their goals and their ambitions that are important; be assertive and confident, and take control of your future. Because no matter how forward thinking and ambitious an organization is, you are the one that can truly drive your own success.
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