Every year that I attend the annual Executive Women’s Forum conference, I am astounded by the finalists for the Women of Influence Award. I remember one year reading the bios and wondering if they were even real. How could people accomplish so much?
So when my organization suggested nominating me, I thought it was a sweet gesture, but incredibly far-fetched. To say I was surprised when I won this year would be an understatement. I was completely shocked and unprepared. I even remarked to a group of more junior co-workers, “I’m not sure why I won—I don’t influence anyone.” They looked at me, shocked, and said “Are you kidding? You influence every one of us, every single day!” That gave me pause.
After I accepted that it was real, I used the opportunity to reflect on my career to this point. I realize that, though I’ve worked incredibly hard, I’ve also been given opportunities many others have not. Especially women in technology. And many of the women I meet are hungry for role models of how to succeed when the opportunities may seem more limited than their male counterparts. They are seeking the freedom to explore possibilities, to excel, to create new paths and to fail and try again.
The funny thing is that most of my roles didn’t exist before I created them. Accenture, sensing opportunity, gave me support and room to create. I remember sitting with a senior manager and framing out what I wanted to do … this was something a managing director had never done, and I was so nervous. After I laid it out, he started laughing and said, “That’s it? Sure, no problem.”
This is a company that’s trying, including publicly committing to a 50-50 female/male workforce by the end of 2025. And it’s making good progress toward that goal. This gives me great hope, and it one of the reasons why, when young women ask me if they should go into technology, I say, “Yes!”
Positive and concrete steps
I do believe many companies are becoming more inclusive and welcoming. Some have good intentions, but don’t quite know how to make them a reality—but at least the awareness is there. There are still barriers, but I believe it is no longer just women who are trying to determine how to surmount them on their own. Companies are trying to figure out how to bring those barriers down altogether. And when barriers are removed, good things can happen for all stakeholders—employee, employer and society at large. We’re more likely to come up with better, more innovative solutions with diverse teams and help businesses perform better with more female leadership. So we all benefit.
A personal example of the benefits
I had the opportunity to lead teams in building a tool that takes the implementation time for identify and access management solutions from three to six months down to as little as two hours. This solution has helped Accenture grow its identity and access management practice considerably in only a few years. It’s win-win: Clients get more efficient solutions, Accenture generates business, and my team and I had a great time getting it done … with a lot of sweat along the way. So when women ask me for advice on how to succeed when they see fewer opportunities in front of them, I tell them a few things.
Find your tribe
In my case at Accenture, many barriers were kicked out of my way by several great people, female and male. We must all carefully seek out the right mentors and sponsors to help us find our voices and shape our paths. They also may see possibilities for you that you cannot.
Find your voice
Speak up, at conferences and at your company, because nobody can read your mind. If you want a position, say it, don’t sit and hope they offer it to you. If you have a point of view, share it on blogs or at conferences. You are the expert and others want to hear your ideas.
Find your fire
Too often women are great at doing the next thing asked of them, rather than thinking about what really drives them—what they really want to do. I ask women to think about the things that excite them and give them energy and, conversely, what depletes them. This helps them determine what their passions are so that they can go after them.
I look at a company like Accenture, and I see great, wide opportunity. It’s global. It does many things exceptionally. So, if you wind up in a place you don’t like, you can move to something else. But it’s full of brilliant people doing really cool and innovative things. You’re always learning, always challenged.
That’s where I want to be—free to create, free to be myself, free to take the risks involved with pursuing my own path.
In winning the EWF award, Neha, Managing Director and Security Innovation Officer, joins an accomplished group of women also honored by the EWF, including Rear Admiral Danelle Barrett, Navy Cyber Security Division Director and Deputy Chief Information Officer on the Chief of Naval Operations Staff, United States Navy; Ann Johnson, Corporate Vice President, Cybersecurity Solutions Group, Microsoft; and Karolyn Maloney, Senior Director IT Hygiene Program and Identity & Access Management, CVS Health.
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