‘Diversity makes us smarter and more innovative,’ says Accenture’s Ellyn Shook

30 Jun 2016

“Do you believe that your voice has the power to change the world? I do. I have the unwavering belief that every single person can use their voice to help close the gender gap.”

A powerful opening from Accenture chief leadership and human resources officer Ellyn Shook.

Taking to the Bord Gáis Energy Theatre stage this afternoon (30 June) at the second annual Inspirefest event, Shook spoke extensively about diversity and inclusion in the tech sector, and why it’s so important to Accenture.

Shook described a company that has gone to great lengths to ensure that it is fully diverse, fully inclusive and fully representative on a global stage. A company that truly believes that we each have an opportunity and an obligation to help achieve gender equality.

It’s all well and good trotting out statistics about achievements in the US or Europe – though with over 40pc women staff members in Canada, Ireland and the Philippines, those achievements are not slight – but it’s the more challenging markets where Accenture has really shown its mettle.

Shook highlighted one key region where they’ve seen incredible results, and it’s one that may surprise you: Saudi Arabia.

In three years, Accenture’s Saudi operation has gone from 0pc women on staff to 18pc. An incredible change, driven by the country’s MD, Omar Boulos.

That 40pc figure – actually 43pc in Canada, 44pc in Ireland and 50pc in the Philippines – is a global effort, with goals of hitting over 40pc female representation worldwide by next year.

After seeing those figures above, though, Shook has set her sights a little higher: “I hope next year I’ll be able to say we’ve achieved it, and we’ve exceeded it”.

Over the course of her keynote, Shook repeated that a big part of what has worked for Accenture is that, in order to effect change, you have to really value diversity from the top down.

It’s clear that Accenture takes that to heart, not just in the fact that women hold four of the 12 positions on the board of directors, but in that the company’s CEO, Pierre Nanterme, has been a vocal proponent of gender equality both within and external to Accenture.

But, of course, it can’t just be a top-down effort. Each of us has a part to play.

“It’s important that we use the collective voices and really amplify them to look beyond the horizon at the day when there’s true gender equality at our organisation […] That’s a pretty big aspiration.”

It sounds daunting, but perhaps it shouldn’t be. It should be simple. Want a diverse team, get a diverse team. Although some companies seem to find it challenging, there is movement in the sector, and things are looking up.

Shook left it on a positive note, too: “By using our voice today, we can truly open the doors for tomorrow. And I hope you believe that your voice can help change the world too.”

Perhaps, now, we’re starting to.

Inspirefest is Silicon Republic’s international event connecting sci-tech professionals passionate about the future of STEM.

Kirsty Tobin was careers editor at Silicon Republic