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30 years of change: How diversity has advanced at work

By Nellie Borrero, Global Inclusion & Diversity Managing Director, Accenture, New York
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Thursday, September 22, 2016—Time to celebrate 30 years at Accenture. So, what does one do when you hit the 30-year mark? You reflect! It’s no surprise that reflecting on this 30-year journey has evoked many emotions—I have laughed (literally out loud), and I have cried (even the ugly cry). One thing is clear, I would not change a thing.

Welcome, and thank you for joining me on my ride down memory lane…

First decade: Courage and pride in moments of doubt

My first couple of months at work rendered me deflated, sad and lonely. All of the excitement and good nervous energy I had when I started my career quickly turned into a sense of inadequacy and isolation.

Of course, it didn’t help that I showed up on my first day with a satin orange suit with six huge gold buttons, fabulous large hoop earrings, and super-fashionable black, orange and yellow shoes. Let’s face it, the 1980s very conservative blue suit and white collar corporate environment was not ready for a splash of color. The easy fix for me was adjusting my fashion choices.

Changing my Nuyorican (a person of Puerto Rican descent who lives in New York) accent, my cultural background, my different and limited experiences, and my lack of direction related to the corporate environment was not an option. These differences led me to dig deep and fight my way through a landscape where there were some who genuinely had an interest in helping, while others consciously or unconsciously hurt me deeply. I did a lot of self-editing before I would speak up.

“I set out to push hard towards increasing the diversity of our organization.“

However, my pride and relentless focus on my reputation (later to be known to me as my “brand”) propelled me to ensure that I would be seen as a credible contributor to the organization. I wanted to feel like I belonged 100 percent like everyone else. After all, I had earned the right to be here as much as anyone else. I made a choice: I set out to push hard towards increasing the diversity of our organization.

I learned three big lessons:

  1. Don’t take anything personal.

  2. Align to influential leaders who have the power to effect change.

  3. Educating and changing the hearts of others is a journey that requires courage.

Within those first 10 years, I created the first full-time diversity role for the organization. This was at a time when diversity was not the popular thing to take on. I strategically positioned myself in forums where I would have access to leaders and never missed an opportunity to engage in conversations that would promote my diversity agenda.

From the outside, it seemed that I had all of the confidence in the world. But it was not confidence that enabled me to promote my agenda—it was my inner fighting spirit and my relentless commitment to my mission.

Second decade: That “inner voice” can create havoc or propel you to new heights

Ten years working for the organization had already taught me many lessons. But, there were so many more to learn.

I clearly saw the opportunities to expand our diversity agenda in the United States. I also now had a bigger vision and mission: I wanted to take my passion for diversity beyond the United States.

I felt like I was in full-blown combat. Not with the organization, but rather with myself. I had doubts about my ability to effectively expand my scope.

My first couple of international trips terrified me. But, with each, I kept telling myself what I had heard on a women’s panel: “Stretch yourself.” So, I decided that, despite whatever doubts or fears I had, I would push my way through them.

Me, second from right, in India with my Accenture team members and colleagues.Me, second from right, in India with my Accenture team members and colleagues.

The learnings were incredible:

  1. No matter what part of the world I was in, our Accenture people were amazing!

  2. I had expertise that was applicable anywhere in the world.

  3. The sound of my inner voice was adjustable—I had to decide how much volume I would give my negative and positive inner voice.

This decade was full of opportunities to lead and get creative. I felt a great sense of empowerment. However, I had to pause because, while I was advocating for so many, I had to start advocating for myself. I needed to do as so many would say: “Own your career.”

“While I was advocating for so many, I had to start advocating for myself.”

I had to identify a sponsor to get to the next level. What I discovered was that I had many leaders who gladly took on that role. But, there is always one who will challenge you. That “challenger” taught me that I had reached a level of confidence and maturity to respectfully fight for what I believed was right no matter how intimidating the situation could be.

Third decade: Responsibility, appreciation and still learning

During my teenage years, I would dream of traveling from New York to Florida (my dreams were limited!). Today, I can say that Accenture has provided me with the opportunity to see the world. My career has been, and continues to be, an amazing journey.

Throughout, I have had a clear understanding of the huge and significant responsibility I have to advocate for others. I feel an intense need to continue creating awareness because we still live in a world that requires us to do more work to achieve equality. I also feel a great sense of personal commitment for ensuring that every single person who joins our organization can be their authentic selves and reach their goals no matter what type of “difference” they represent.

“We still live in a world that requires us to do more work to achieve equality.”

But, my sense of responsibility is not limited to Accenture. I understand that my bigger calling means I need to have impact outside of Accenture as well. This larger goal is why I look to integrate opportunities to take part in external events. This extra commitment requires strategic planning and additional energy.

Honored to be selected as a top Latina leader by Latina Style magazine in 2015.Honored to be selected as a top Latina leader by Latina Style magazine in 2015.

Being inclusive is a choice people make every single day. Diversity represents each of us and who we are. We are who we are, and we are not who we are not. Trying to be someone other than yourself does not work well for very long and is simply exhausting.

In my 30-year journey I have learned that embracing change is essential to continued advancement and growth. Sometimes change makes us uncomfortable, but through that discomfort I have personally learned my greatest lessons. I am proud of my “brand.” I am consistent with who I am—I don’t know of any other way to be.

Navigating one’s career has its highs and lows, but I would take nothing back from my journey. I appreciate everyone who has been a part of our journey toward creating inclusion at Accenture. And, I just recently discovered that the color orange is in fashion and very much welcomed in today’s corporate settings—it’s clear that I was way ahead of my time when it came to fashion!

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