“Every person has the power to change the world by using their voice,” Ellyn Shook, Accenture’s Chief Human Resources Officer told a captive audience at the inaugural Fairygodboss Galvanize summit on Wednesday evening. Fairygodboss, the NYC-based startup, is convening nearly 100 women and male allies from dozens of companies at the conference, which continues today (Nov 2). Speakers, panelists and attendees are connecting with the common goal of improving the workplace for women, specifically by utilizing women’s resource groups.
Shook, who was interviewed by The New York Times’ Senior Gender Correspondent Susan Chira, kicked off the event with some inspiring words of wisdom on how companies can not only set diversity goals — but also bring them to fruition.
She stressed the importance of “setting the tone at the top” and explained that at Accenture — a company that’s made a public commitment to having a gender-balanced workforce by 2025 — it was crucial to get the senior leadership team and board of directors engaged from the outset. “Getting that buy-in first clears the roadblocks you’ll inevitably face,” Shook said.
How did she make that happen at Accenture? She approached their CEO with data on their workforce and compared that to the company’s meritocracy statement, which says that all Accenture employees are treated equally. “That was the catalyst for [our CEO],” Shook recalled, adding that after that conversation, she and her team brainstormed ways to put their diversity goals into action.
They vowed to change their mindset and focus on discovering new sources of talent and hiring women around the world. They also resolved to figure out the best ways to attract and retain women. “We went with the intention of being the employer of choice for women,” Shook said, “asking individual women what’s important to them [in a job experience.]”
With a global workforce comprised of hundreds of thousands of employees and clients in 120 countries, Accenture has the added challenge of making sure its programs and policies are effective across the world. Shook shed some light on how the company has worked on carrying out its diversity goals in countries like India and Saudi Arabia, where the playing field for men and women in the workforce is far from level. In India, for instance, Accenture has created a women-only career path program that recruits women from engineering schools, trains and mentors them, and allows them some flexibility to decide on which clients they’ll work with.
In addition to executing Accenture’s diversity and hiring goals around the world, Shook works tirelessly on improving the company’s benefits — and isn’t afraid to rethink and refine her approach in the process. For example, when she was brainstorming ways to better support parents working at Accenture, she said she and her team first worked on expanding maternity leave and approving requests to ship breastmilk home for new moms who were back at work and traveling. “I felt like I solved a big problem with a simple solution,” Shook said.
“But what we really needed to do,” she continued, “was figure out how to keep women at home after the birth of a child.” Now, both men and women at Accenture — where most consultants travel each week to work with clients — are able to stay in their hometown for a year after the birth or adoption of a child. Shook clarified that it was crucial to extend this benefit to dads, too: “this leveled the playing field,” she said, “instead of creating a mommy track, which we’d unintentionally done.”
When Chira broached the subject of sexual harassment in the workplace, Shook said, “We need to make sure there’s an environment where people feel like they can raise their hand and come forward and make sure every complaint is heard and investigated.” She added that even when complaints are made against high-performing employees, “if [the allegations are] true, you have to fire [even] the best performers.”
Shook and Chira were the first speakers at the two-day Galvanize event, and they certainly set the tone for the rest of the conference — which will feature Beth Comstock, Vice Chair of GE, and Deborah Rosado Shaw, SVP, Chief Global Diversity and Engagement at PepsiCo, among others. Shook put it simply: “Diversity is a business issue. It’s not a nice-to-have thing.”