I’ve worked at Accenture for 24 years and am now Managing Director for Accenture Strategy in the Middle East, Africa, Russia and Turkey. I’m from a generation that helped pave the path for women in the workplace. Based on my experiences, I’d like to share advice with women on how to succeed and rise through the ranks in a company like Accenture.
As women, especially during the early stages of our careers, we need to be very vocal, very confident and very clear about what it is that we’re trying to achieve. These are the qualities that lend themselves to success within our organizational environments. In some cultures, it is typical for men to be trained to speak up much earlier in life, while women are trained—at school and in society—to take on a support role and remain in the background. But in our careers, we need to strike that balance. It’s important to sometimes adopt a supportive role, but we also have to speak up for ourselves—otherwise, we can be overlooked.
It is especially important to speak up for ourselves when we are up for a new role within a firm. In my experience, I have found that if there are two male candidates applying for the same position, they will be proactive in positioning themselves very early in the process by asserting: “This is my job. I want this job, and these are my conditions.” Women need to do the same and not feel held back by any obstacles—least of all our gender or how we may have been conditioned to behave. Sometimes it’s not easy, especially if you happen to be one of few female employees within a firm. First, we need to overcome the “trained barriers” in our minds and demand to be treated as equals, be heard on the same level and be accepted based on our skills and experience, regardless of our gender.
This isn’t currently the case everywhere. In Russia, for example, women tend be very well supported, stemming from Soviet times where individuals were meant to be equal. It’s common, even in the Russian army, to find many women in working in engineering and other typically male-dominated professions. In fact, even today there seems to be 40% - 50% women in employment and more women in leadership positions. So, the positive examples are out there for other cultures to follow.
I have been fortunate to work for a company like Accenture, which creates an environment where people are encouraged to speak up and share opinions—regardless of their gender. What is most important is the ability to voice our opinions, be assertive about our ambitions and take control of our careers. It’s about working in an environment that fosters a culture of breaking boundaries. It’s about overcoming restrictions and shaping a practice or project—and, in turn, our own career path.
The most important piece of advice that I often give to aspiring women is to literally to stick up for yourself and define your own objectives. It’s our culture within Accenture, and it is what many other companies encourage—whether you happen to be male or female.