Fairygodboss recently held their fifth annual Galvanize Summit on Making Women’s Resource Groups More Powerful. The event, where The Conferences for Women and Accenture were sponsors, was a timely one, given gender disparities highlighted by COVID.
We spoke with Tamara Fields, the Austin Office Managing Director and the US South Director of Operations for Accenture and a Texas Conference for Women board member, and she shared her insights into how companies can better attract and retain women—and all leaders can keep their teams energized, engaged, and innovative during these turbulent times.
Q: The “She-cession” is continually making headlines. How can companies better attract and retain women in industries where representation is already a challenge?
The answer doesn’t need to be complicated. If a person is talented, continually develop them. Give them the skills they need and inspiration through community. That community can come from internal employee resource groups, mentorship programs, or access to inspirational professional development events like the Conferences for Women.
We recently had 1,600 women attend a first-ever virtual career fair the day before the Texas Conference for Women (and will also offer career fairs before our upcoming Pennsylvania and Massachusetts Conferences for Women.) These professionals recognized they could meet with organizations that value women to enable them to be more well-rounded, happy employees.
Likewise, at Accenture, we offer flexibility in how, when, and where we work. I think the additional services and support mechanisms we provide via our employee resource groups for women, both nationally and locally, along with other career conference partnerships, help women navigate issues that are unique to them. Women must have a support system and hear how others are solving challenges that allow them to thrive in the workplace.
Q: As a result of the pandemic, there’s been a shift in what a career means, especially as it relates to women. What does the term “career” mean to you, and how can companies and leaders leverage this new reality to their advantage?
I think having a career is not just about finding a role or set of skills and capabilities that allow you to climb the proverbial ladder. It’s also about finding a vocation that you find fulfilling and that meets the boundaries or expectations you originally set for yourself, enabling you to manage your life and personal priorities better.
I also think that the term “career” is much less permanent and finite than it once was. Nowadays, a career is more along the lines of: “Is this the right role for me right now?” And, “Does this allow me to grow both professionally and personally?”
In addition, the idea of a career has recently expanded to include the organization you work for – that is to say, it involves the question: “Does this culture align to my values?” Employees and other stakeholders have much more agency these days to ask questions, be curious, and seek out change in the workplace.
Q: How important is gender parity to a company’s bottom line, and what do you say to leaders and companies that have yet to make a public commitment to gender equality?
Several years ago, Accenture committed to a gender parity ratio of 50:50 women: men by 2025. I was thankful for this public commitment because it put action behind words.
I feel strongly that a culture of equality is tantamount to having a balanced workforce, which is the key to creating an inclusive environment where every voice is heard.
As other companies evaluate their inclusion and diversity agendas this year, I truly hope they will consider making public pledges as this demonstrates to their employees that they are serious and will hold themselves accountable for that commitment. Overall, what matters is that there is a commitment and an action plan to turn commitment into reality.
Q: What do you do to keep your team innovative when so many people feel wrung out from the pressures of having lived through COVID?
The key is to first acknowledge the emotions everyone is feeling from the disruption of COVID and other factors and give them the space and grace they need to manage and cope. The last year has underscored the importance of collaboration, connections, and creating an environment where people have a sense of belonging. When those conditions are encouraged, it leads to a powerful ethos of teamwork and innovation.
We’re taking the lessons learned from the past year and creating new ways of working and connected experiences. A few small yet impactful culture-building initiatives we’ve adopted in our Austin office are”surprise and delight” moments where we send notes, books, and other items that help encourage and lift up individuals. We have also used comedians to encourage innovative thinking by tying comedic concepts to our focus areas. Just this past week, as a fun activity among our leadership team and a way of getting to know each other better, we assigned a superhero/shero avatar to each of our leadership team members based on the attributes each possesses.
Q: As we all embark on the true hybrid workplace, what should be top of mind for leaders?
I work in tech, where we are constantly trying to expand opportunities for women and especially women of color, to be better represented in the workplace. However, during the pandemic, nearly three million American women exited the workforce, accounting for 55 percent of overall job loss.
As leaders, we need to create an environment that will win them back. Especially now, leaders need to remember that everyone notices who is at the table. It can’t be solely about gender or ethnicity. Everyone wants to feel their voice is heard, and it’s up to all leaders to ensure that every voice is valued. Equity and inclusion go hand-in-hand. It’s not just an HR conversation anymore—and that’s a great thing.
Q: How does remote work change how you approach innovation?
Given the nature of Accenture’s business, most of our people were used to working remotely. What we learned with working almost 100 percent remotely during the pandemic is that innovation can happen anywhere. I think when you are working remotely, you have to be more intentional in your approach to innovation and better enable your teams to leverage collaboration tools, like Menti, Mural, or Microsoft Teams, that encourage ideation and engagement and minimize multi-tasking.
Q: Are there specific things that you do differently to inspire creativity and teamwork?
I encourage teams to take a few minutes at the beginning of their day to relax, find their motivation, and concentrate on their goals of the day. Mental health is important to overall health as well as creativity. I also encourage teams to start early in the day when they are freshest to inspire creativity.
Personally, I find taking a few deep breaths helps clear my mind and focus my energy on creative thinking. I love to encourage my team to use the beginning of meetings to ask questions and get to know each other on a more personal level as a way to foster deeper trust and a sense of belonging.
Q: People often say that they have grown the most from the most difficult experiences. How has the experience of the past year changed you in ways you are grateful for?
This has been a very difficult year for me, as I can imagine it has been for many around the world. I believe difficulty inspires introspection, and I’ve spent time determining what is important to me, re-defining my priorities, and adjusting how I spend my time, so it aligns to those values and priorities.
I am most grateful to have the opportunity to work and provide for my family but, more than that, I have been reminded of the importance of surrounding myself with family, friends, and co-workers. This past year has reminded me of how much I value people and relationships and not take them for granted.
Tamara Fields is the Austin Office Managing Director and the US South Director of Operations for Accenture. She is also a Texas Conference for Women board member.