I started out my career at Accenture as a technology analyst and rose through the ranks as a hands-on implementer of custom and packaged software solutions. Six years ago, I had the opportunity to take on a role within Accenture for our partnership with the non-profit organization “Girls Who Code” (GWC). Through our involvement with this important organization, we’re helping to inspire, educate and equip young women with computing and professional skills that enable them to pursue technology careers.
Half the girls that GWC serves are African American/Black or Hispanic American/Latinx. Partnering with organizations like GWC is just one of the many ways Accenture is working towards our goal of 50/50 gender equity by 2025 and our new goal—to be announced by September 1, 2020—to increase the percentage of African American/Black and Hispanic American/Latinx people in our workforce.
Taking on this new role felt like a natural next step for me. I saw it as a way to help expose young women to computer science and STEM (science, technology, engineering, and math). In college, I majored in computer information systems, and more than 90 percent of my classmates were men. Shortly after graduating, I started working full-time as a programmer and was one of only a handful of women on my team. Clearly, this wasn’t a field that was attracting a lot of females, and that’s something I wanted to help change.
In addition to my primary responsibility with Girls Who Code, I have worked with several other nonprofits over the years and I also support an organization called “Break Through Tech.” Break Through Tech works with college students and rising freshmen to provide programs, curricula and community support for them on their journey through college and into the workforce. The organization started in New York City and is expanding to new locations, beginning with Chicago in the fall of 2020.
Accenture and Girls Who Code
Since Accenture’s partnership with GWC started in 2014, Accenture has connected with over 3,800 girls and improved the skills of more than 880 girls through our work with GWC’s Summer Immersion Programs, Clubs and alumni events. Thirty GWC alumnae have been employed by Accenture.
We teamed with GWC in 2016 on eye-opening research, “Cracking the Gender Code,” which outlined a fresh approach to triple the number of women in computing by 2025. This research was (and remains) a wake-up call for business leaders, educators and parents to invest in programs and curricula designed to help girls succeed.
In fall 2020, Accenture will release a second joint research report focused on helping women advance and thrive in tech. The research finds that an inclusive culture is key to unlocking opportunities for women who are studying and working in technology. The report outlines steps to double the number of women in IT careers over 10 years.
In addition, the larger involvement of the Accenture community with these non-profits is heartening. I'm involved in planning and organizing multiple events with these organizations—events that enable us to bring in our employees as volunteers. To date, Accenture employees have contributed over 9,800 volunteer hours to GWC. The programs are good for the young female participants, of course, but also good for our people and our company as a whole.
Coming full circle: A success story
The large-scale benefits of these empowerment programs on companies and society are impressive, but what really gets me excited is seeing the GWC alumnae embark on summer internships and full-time jobs at Accenture.
My favorite story is about one of our employees, Hilary Shea, who first heard about Accenture in 2016 when we teamed with GWC to host a field trip for all New York City Summer Immersion Programs (about 20 classes of 20 students each). The students and teaching staff heard from GWC’s Chief Executive Officer Reshma Saujani; our Group Chief Executive – Technology & Chief Technology Officer, Paul Daugherty; and our Chief Leadership & Human Resources Officer, Ellyn Shook. Several female tech workers from Accenture talked through cutting-edge tech demos.
In 2018, our key contact at GWC introduced me to Hilary who was in the audience during the 2016 event. She was really impressed with Accenture and interested in applying for a full-time job. She aced her interviews and started at Accenture. I have been mentoring Hilary since our first meeting. We talk about the kinds of roles that might be a good fit for her and which organizations within Accenture she should strive to be a part of, and I offer her general career advice, as well. She’s been promoted already and has given back her time as a volunteer mentor and workshop lead for Accenture-run GWC programs. (She is featured in career blogs Jan 2019 and July 2019.)
One of the ways I steer young women who are interested in computer science is based on my own experience—both at university and then as my career started. I began as a business major in college and changed my major because I wanted to work at the forefront of technology. And I can’t say I was all that interested in math. But what I could do was solve problems—break a problem down into its logical parts and then tackle it. At the core, that’s what programmers do. So, I lead with that when younger women say things like, “Oh, I’m no good at math, I can’t get into computing.” Math is certainly important when you go very deep into computer science. But a career in the business-and-technology field mostly requires being able to problem-solve and not give up.
This attitude translates even into advanced technologies like cloud. Most of the young women in GWC recognize the term “cloud” and they know at a high level what it is. But they don't understand how the skills they're learning relate to it. I love to consider cloud—and other advanced technologies like artificial intelligence and augmented reality—and then figure out a way to talk to the students about it at a level that's really going to resonate and help them realize that this could be a career path for them. They may not immediately understand that the skills they are learning can be applied to designing cloud systems or figuring out what type of cloud infrastructure is needed to support a major AI algorithm. So, helping them to put the pieces of the puzzle together really excites me.
Accenture and AWS
We’re all aware of the exceptional partnership between Accenture and AWS in creating innovative cloud solutions for clients. What you might not know about is our shared interest in equality and diversity. Going back several years, Accenture opened up a conversation with AWS because we thought that they would be interested in hearing about what we're doing with Girls Who Code. Since then, AWS has become a huge supporter. We have teamed on multiple initiatives. We've run two workshops together—one in person, in New York, where we had AWS and Accenture engineers co-host a workshop for a group of Girls Who Code and Break Through Tech students, where they got hands-on experience with AWS technologies. We've also teamed with AWS on some give-back opportunities that they built into their annual re:Invent conference.
One year, AWS offered a “hack-a-thon” at its annual re:Invent conference. They organized several non-profit partners to pose a business challenge that conference attendees could work on and create a prototype to solve the challenge. Some of those prototypes were actually built after the conference. It's really great when we can team with companies that have such a strong, shared interest.
Working for the social good
Finally, let me say a few words about this period in history we’re living in. During the COVID-19 crisis, it has been eye-opening for me to think about how it is shaping the future of education and business. As a mother, I'm following this closely, as our local school district adapts to virtual education and homeschooling. In addition, though, it's creating a great opportunity for us to help our non-profits and businesses pivot to virtual, scalable programs.
These are terribly sad and dire times. But as we look for a few bright spots, there's so much expertise that we can bring to businesses and other organizations that are struggling to figure out how to operate within this new reality. That's something I'm definitely spending a lot of time on. When we work with young women and underrepresented minorities, we find that they're so much more motivated to be interested in technology when they see that they can use it for the social good.