Accenture's Jessica Long Wants to Bring the Feminine to Business

At this week's Collision Conference in New Orleans, we sat down with Jessica Long, managing director of the Accenture's North American "Sustainability Services" practice. It offered a good opportunity to rethink how large professional service companies (they have over 400,000 employees) manage their workforce, and imagine how the future of women at work might look.

They're scrapping their entire evaluation program

When thinking of large professional service companies and their efforts to make their companies work for their people, it can be difficult to imagine a smooth, responsive and evolving system that "keeps up". But Accenture is doing an overhaul.

Instead of the usual ladders and metrics that most companies like theirs use to measure success, Accenture is focussing on continuous feedback and the individual while seeking answers to two major questions when evaluating how their people are doing: Would the lead of a project work again with the employee? And is the employee ready for the next level?   

There's a solid support system offered to families 

Flexible work is something not only available to employees, but actively encouraged, Jessica says. If employees aren't with a client (and, yes, they're often with a client—to quote the Accenture maxim "Always be in front of the client"), then they're generally free to work at home.

Initiatives such as this work for moms and dads, as well as people simply wanting to avoid a commute, or work without some of the distractions that come from a busy office. More and more, flexible time is becoming the norm, and companies like Accenture set an example when they advocate for this style of work. 

The tech industry is still dealing with pipeline issues and gender gaps.

Across the industry, there are fewer women in leadership positions than men, and a lot of women are dropping out before they're able to get to a leadership level, something that Jessica says Accenture recognizes and is working hard on finding solutions for, both internally and across the tech industry, including by engaging with nonprofits like Girls Who Code to promote and encourage women to enter STEM fields of study and work. (Read Women 2.0's interview with Women Who Code's founder, Alaina Percival.) 

Jessica suggests that the retention issue is partially due to the amount of travel employees are expected to do, and she cites the flexible time mentioned above as well as a regional office structure as ways to fight the problem. (Employees travel, but within a smaller region, which means they can get home relatively quickly if need be.)

Jessica also points out that Accenture is publishing gender and diversity statistics, in a move that is a tech industry first. Accenture has already surpassed its goal to reach 40% women new hires worldwide and have set public goals to promote more female executives across its various businesses.

Embrace the feminine in business and tech.

Jessica tends to focus not only on the lack of women in tech, but also on the lack of the feminine in tech. "We need more feminine in business and tech—qualities like consensus-building and team work," she told me. 

Many women avoid the feminine in work, thinking that it will damage how they're perceived. But Jessica suggests that bringing the feminine into what women do should be openly embraced, allowing the conversation to encompass men, because men also can and do use and exhibit feminine qualities and values in their work. 

"I think companies have a responsibility to do good, to have an impact through their core business, not just on the side of it," Jessica closed.

 

Sim has recently jumped on board at Women 2.0 as Director of Partnerships, and she couldn't be more excited about it. 


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