Be bold for change: Dr Michelle Cullen inspires action on diversity and inclusion

29 Jun 2017

Dr Michelle Cullen speaking at the launch of Inspirefest 2017. Image: Conor McCabe Photography

Tackling sci-tech’s diversity and inclusion problems will take more than talk, it will require action, and Dr Michelle Cullen is leading by example.

Dr Michelle Cullen, a managing director with Accenture’s corporate functions, welcomes the fact that diversity has increasingly become a talking point on the corporate agenda, but what she really wants to see is some action.

Celebrating the launch of Inspirefest 2017 at Bank of Ireland’s Workbench in Grand Canal Square, Dublin, she declared: “Really, now, we’re all at a point where organisations must reinvent themselves to be relevant for the future. We must lead in the new to navigate the wave of disruption that we’re all going through, and a wonderful and diverse mix of people is what will make that successful.”

‘Organisations must reinvent themselves to be relevant for the future’

Future Human

Inspirefest 2017

Cullen, who has previously moderated discussion at Inspirefest, returns to the Bord Gáis Energy Theatre stage this year for a talk entitled, ‘What’s gender got to do with it?’, while Accenture’s chief strategy officer, Omar Abbosh, will also present a keynote on disruptive technology.

2017 marks Accenture’s third year as a diamond sponsor of the event and Cullen said that the two share the “same ambition and appetite for action”, rooted in inclusion and diversity.

She recalled the event T-shirts from year one, emblazoned with the Cindy Gallop-coined slogan, ‘change the ratio’, and how she brought one home to her daughter.

“It really was a way of bringing that whole conversation home and making it personal, bringing it across generations what each and every one of us could do to, first of all, notice inequality in the ratio and to call it out when we see it, and what actions we could take,” she said.

‘It’s lovely to see the new influx of people living and working, bringing life back into our city’

Cullen also serves as Accenture Ireland MD sponsor for inclusion and diversity and was one of the instigators of the company’s Women on Walls campaign. In this case, she and her colleague Eithne Harley called out a gender diversity problem as they saw it, and they took action. The results now adorn the walls of the Royal Irish Academy: newly commissioned portraits of women scientists where previously there were none.

A native Dubliner, Cullen grew up in the Liberties, an inner-city neighbourhood inhabited by a diverse cast of characters over the years. The Liberties has a rich heritage and the area is dotted with historical landmarks, but the 21st century is making its mark with the growth of The Digital Hub start-up community and new students arriving yearly to the National College of Art and Design.

Now, working as part of a 2,500-strong network of Accenture employees in Dublin’s docklands, Cullen sees a similar fusion of cultures taking shape. “It’s been wonderful for me to see the reinvention of this area,” she said. “It’s lovely to see the new influx of people living and working, bringing life back into our city. Silicon Docks, as it has become widely known, is rich with the diverse talent that makes Ireland so vibrant.”

‘Continuous progress requires us all to think critically and act ethically, particularly in times of change’

It’s important to Cullen that this vibrancy is allowed to colour the corporate world, as she believes acceptance allows her teams work at their best. “We really do find that people can thrive when they can be themselves at work, and the organisation, the culture and the community are all the better for it,” she said.

“From an Accenture point of view, inclusiveness is in our DNA. Gender equality isn’t just a goal in itself but it is a prerequisite for sustainable growth, good governance, and an inclusive business and society.”

Recently, the global company nailed its colours to the mast on one diversity issue: committing to close its gender gap by 2025.

Cullen noted that, two years on from Ireland’s historic marriage referendum, “it’s easy to think that when we start on a path to equality that progress is inevitable but really, I think history shows that that can be a mistaken assumption. Continuous progress requires us all to think critically and act ethically, particularly in times of change, such as the one we’re in now. And, I guess, if the last year has taught us anything, it’s that we just can’t be complacent. Perhaps now more than ever we need to listen to diverse views and to find a new language to build inclusion, to lead in the new and to be bold for change.”

Dr Michelle Cullen will be speaking at Inspirefest, Silicon Republic’s international event connecting sci-tech professionals passionate about the future of STEM. Book now to join us from 6 to 8 July in Dublin.

Updated, 10.41am, 30 June 2017: An earlier version of this article misstated the target year for Accenture’s gender initiative as 2050. Accenture has committed to 50/50 gender parity in its workforce by 2025.

Elaine Burke is the editor of Silicon Republic