Women in leadership roles at Accenture Strategy have got there by having a clear plan that they are able to articulate. People want to be helpful, so give everyone a specific task that will help you achieve your plan. I’d been with Accenture for over ten years when I had my first child; I didn’t really know what was going to happen next or how this was going to affect my career. But, when I came back to work after my maternity leave, my lead partner at the firm was a huge help. He just asked me, straight out, what my priorities were. That’s all he needed.
He put me in a role that allowed me to be at home as, at that moment in time, my child was my first priority. I was a senior manager back then. So I knew taking this route meant I probably wasn’t going to get promoted to managing director (or senior executive, as they were termed at the time) anytime soon, but it suited where I was in my life at the time, and kept my personal priorities and the needs of the business balanced.
You create balance by defining your priorities. This is a personal task, and everyone’s equilibrium will be unique. I went through this exercise myself, and with the help of a good friend and mentor, I got the time and space I needed to raise my first child — while still keeping my career moving forward. So I got the best possible outcome that my circumstances allowed. It still meant I had to work hard; I had to make some adjustments. But it’s the path I wanted to go down at the time.
This is obviously a rearview-mirror perspective. At the time, I knew that I had made the right choice, but I had no way of knowing where my choices would take me. You have to keep your priorities under review. When things change, you’re able to alter direction accordingly. It helps to put things down on paper first. Once a year, we’re guided through that sort of exercise, using the time to jot down a long-range vision.
When I was a manager, I wrote down these three big things that I wanted to achieve at the firm. I saved this document in one of my performance management folders, as many of us do each year when asked to go through this same exercise. About two or three years later, I stumbled upon it when preparing for another performance discussion. The things I thought would take maybe a year to achieve had actually taken longer. But I’d gotten there — and had the benefit of raising a family at the same time. Today, my children are a bit older, but I still have to prioritize between a demanding job and a busy family.
Sometimes the pace of what you achieve slows down. But it’s because there are other competing priorities in your life. Having the luxury of pursuing both a personal and professional life is a valuable thing. It’s not to be underestimated, but it has to be prioritized — and reprioritized.