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The Faces of Accenture: IWD Event Highlights Women & #GettingToEqual Goal
Pictured: Julie Sweet, CEO of Accenture, North America, and fashion designer Rebecca Minkoff
Samantha Samel
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For the past 13 years, Accenture has produced remarkable events to celebrate International Women’s Day -- and this year was certainly no exception. Held on March 10 in New York City, this year’s program was themed “Leading In the New” and featured a stellar lineup of speakers, including several inspiring women from the company, as well as fashion designer Rebecca Minkoff, Ellevest CEO and Co-Founder Sallie Krawcheck, and NASCAR driver Julia Landauer, among others.

The event coincided with Accenture’s release of a new report, “Getting to Equal 2017,” which reveals that within decades, we can close the gender pay gap if women take advantage of three key equalizers -- and if they’re well-supported by business, government, and academia. This means women graduating from universities in developed markets in 2020 could be the first generation to close the gap within their professional lifetimes.

“With these changes, the pay gap in developed markets could close by 2044, shortening the time to pay parity by 36 years,” the report states. “In developing markets, the changes could cut more than 100 years off the time to reach pay parity, achieving it by 2066 instead of 2168.”

What are the three career equalizers that will help us get there? Accenture defines them as digital fluency (the extent to which people use digital technologies to connect, learn and work), career strategy (the need for women to aim high, make informed choices, and manage their careers proactively), and tech immersion (the opportunity to acquire greater technology and stronger digital skills to advance as quickly as men).

The panelists who spoke at Accenture’s event on Friday certainly indicated that we’re on the right track. Ellyn Shook, Chief Leadership & Human Resources Officer at Accenture, showcased some of the ways Accenture is working toward “Getting To Equal.” She pointed to a goal the company set to hire 40% of women by the end of Fiscal Year 2017 (which they exceeded by the end of FY ’16).

“It’s about disruption [and figuring out what to do] to accelerate change. We have to make ourselves worthy of attracting top talent,” she said. “You need to have the basics -- the policies and programs -- to make it a place where people can be equal…but then you have to take it down from the macro to the individual people very, very quickly,” Shook said.

She added, “You have to make sure that you're transparent with people not just professionally but also personally. And that's what we call ‘being truly human’ here at Accenture.”

When Debra Polishook, Group Chief Executive--Operations at Accenture, was asked about what true equality looks like, she had a clear vision in mind. “It has to be 50-50 from the bottom all the way to the top.” She added that Accenture is doing a great job of supporting initiatives that will pave the way for more equality - like flexible and part-time work arrangements.

Other women from Accenture demonstrated that they’re proactively managing their careers and life choices. Jill Standish, Senior Managing Director--Products at Accenture and Kathleen O’Reilly, Accenture’s U.S. Northeast Managing Director, both spoke movingly about balancing working and mothering -- making it clear that while they’re powerhouses in the workplace, they’re devoted mothers who prioritize and value family time.

“I'm always a mom,” O’Reilly said. “This is a lifestyle, this job, but technology allows you to be creative. I am always on FaceTime.” She added that Accenture has extended its leave policy -- and she learned by her third child that “it's a good thing to take your maternity leave.”

When Fairygodboss co-founder Romy Newman asked her about facing bias as a working mom, O’Reilly said, “I had to be clear about what I stood for. I wanted to have kids. I wanted to be a mom; I made a decision -- and I've never let it stand in the way of me doing a good job. In some ways it's made me much more productive.”

Julie Sweet, CEO of Accenture, North America, provided some context for these women’s anecdotes: “We want to be a company where you're successful and work and at home,” she explained.

Sallie Krawcheck also spoke about how parenting has fit in with her work ethic; she said that when she’s faced with tough decisions, “I listen to my stomach on the big stuff. My stomach knows before my brain. The trick that I found that has always, always worked is thinking, ‘if my children were in this room with me, what would I want them to see me do?’"

The women who lead at Accenture certainly backed up the ideas behind the company’s new research. By setting ambitious goals – and implementing effective policies to make those goals a reality – we’re slowly but surely moving toward a more equal and inclusive workforce.

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