Accenture, a top professional services company with offices all over the world, declared on Wednesday that its workforce will reach true gender balance by 2025. This goal may sound ambitious, but if you’re familiar with Accenture’s history, the announcement shouldn’t come as a surprise — nor would be surprising if the company reaches this objective before 2025.
The 50% female pledge builds on Accenture’s earlier goal to achieve 40% women new hires — a goal they surpassed last year. The company also plans to grow its percentage of women at the managing director level to 25% globally, by 2020.
How is the leadership team staying on track to make these plans a reality? “It’s about disruption [and figuring out what to do] to accelerate change,” Accenture’s Chief Leadership & Human Resources Officer Ellyn Shook said at the company’s International Women’s Dayevent this past March. Speaking about the company’s ongoing commitment to gender diversity, she added, “We have to make ourselves worthy of attracting top talent. 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.”
Indeed, Accenture is doing a whole lot to not only hire women, but also to ensure it’s functioning in a way that supports women — particularly working mothers — so that they’ll stick around. In fact, the company has conducted research in an effort to debunk the myth that motherhood diminishes career ambition.
What did they find? That working moms have the same — or an even higher level of career ambition — as those without children. Working mothers in the U.S. are just as likely to aspire to be in a senior leadership position (70% and 67%), they are more likely to change jobs for a promotion or for higher pay (2.5 times vs. 2.0), and more U.S. mothers than those without children say they would like to start a business within the next 10 years (53% vs. 35%).
Mary Hamilton, Accenture Labs managing director based in Silicon Valley, recently spoke to Fairygodboss about this research, and she described what exactly Accenture is doing to support women throughout their careers. “If we can show them all the way through their career that we don’t look at them differently [if they choose to have kids], that helps women feel they’re being appreciated for their work, no matter what kinds of priorities they’re juggling.”
She explained why it was an easy choice for her to remain devoted to Accenture after having children. “For me, it was really important to take on new opportunities, and Accenture really did offer me an opportunity to stretch and take on those roles,” Hamilton said, adding, “I think I became more efficient. As a mom, you really have to make the most of your time in the office.” She added that she’s worked with various leaders at the company, but all have been “extremely supportive.”
Kathleen O’Reilly, Accenture’s U.S. Northeast Managing Director who spoke at the company’s International Women’s Day event this year, has had a similar experience. “I'm always a mom,” she 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 maternity leave policy, now offering 16 paid weeks — and she learned by her third child that “it's a good thing to take your maternity leave.”
As these women’s stories indicate, Accenture’s efforts to retain women will go a long way in helping the company reach its 50% goal — as will the fact that the company is publicly holding itself accountable. "We believe that transparency builds trust and helps us collaborate better with not only our own people, but also our clients and communities to advance our objectives," Shook told Fortune, adding that the company will continue to check in on its progress as it acquires new businesses.
Hamilton is confident that Accenture is on the right track. “I’m in research development and tech, where the number of women is really abysmal,” she says. “But I’ve worked hard in Silicon Valley to grow our women’s footprint, and I know for a fact that when we’re able to show the women we recruit what we offer here [at Accenture], that allows us to bring in the next round of really successful women.”