Nellie Borrero – Managing Director, Global Inclusion and Diversity, Accenture
By Henna Inam
Meet Nellie Borrero. As Managing Director, Global Inclusion & Diversity, she leads Accenture’s diversity effort globally and is responsible for ensuring that diverse communities (gender, race, sexual orientation) don’t just survive but thrive in their workforce. She is responsible for diversity for Accenture’s approximately 211,000 employees working in more than 120 countries. In talking with Borrero, it’s clear that this is a woman for whom the job is not just a job, but a calling based on early experiences she had in her career that made diversity part of her mission.
Here, Borrero talks to PINK about advancing women leaders around the world and the importance of celebrating success.
PINK: What has made you such a huge advocate for diversity?
Nellie Borrero: I remember early on in my career a sense of feeling isolated because I was different. The culture I came from wasn’t represented in the organization I was working in. I remember at one point attending a networking event at work and feeling so out of place in the large meeting room that I decided to go to the ladies room and hung out talking with the attendant. These early experiences taught me the value of inclusiveness in the workplace, and I have the privilege now of making a difference for others.
PINK: What has been a memorable “moment of truth” for you in your career?
NB: I remember my first day at Accenture about 25 years ago. I was an ambitious young Latina, wanting to make a great first impression. I planned carefully the outfit I was going to wear that first day. It had to be just right so I would stand out and be noticed. I found myself glowing as everyone that day looked at me, feeling good about the first impression I was making. My hiring partner and mentor later told me that my bright orange silk suit with the large gold buttons had definitely made a memorable first impression, given that everyone else was dressed in conservative navy suits with white shirts!
PINK: So you had supportive mentors?
NB: At one point in my career as I was ready to leave because I felt I did not belong, my mentor told me, “You can decide to leave or you can decide to stay and make a difference for others. If you decide to stay, I’ll help you.” This strong sponsorship has helped me to have the courage to be a passionate advocate for all kinds diversity at Accenture.
PINK: What have been some of your best successes?
NB: I was able to create a diversity role at a local level, which then led to a national and then a global role. To put diversity on the corporate agenda, we started by getting strong sponsorship, strong measures like the percent of women at the Sr. Executive level and regularly tracking the progress of these measures over time and across geographies. Our goal is to consistently move forward and always do better than we did the year before. These have resulted in advancement of women in senior levels not just in North America but in places like Japan and in India.
PINK: What continue to be the challenges and opportunities that excite you?
NB: It’s exciting to me to understand the cultural issues impacting the advancement of women in countries around the globe. For example, in Japan, where women often leave after having kids, we were actually able to promote a woman leader into an executive position while she was on maternity leave. She came back to her role and has had much success.
PINK: How do you move diversity forward?
NB: Every quarter, a group sits down that includes our Chief Leadership officer, myself and our regional inclusion and diversity leads. We analyze if our people are in the right role, working at the right clients, and have the right responsibilities. We must continually know how our women are doing and this level of details is key to client service and key to moving our high performers from senior managers to senior executives.
PINK: What are the biggest issues for professional women today?
NB: Women – and men – must balance competing priorities and they have to create ways to stay relevant, especially in light of the fact that there’s so much change. Women, in particular, have to learn to ask for help and ask for what they need. Don’t expect leaders to figure out what you want. Be vocal about your expectations and your aspirations.
PINK: What’s your leadership style?
NB: I start every fiscal year and every relationship with trust. I strive to give my team room to grow, develop networks and take risks. I push people to get outside their comfort zone. Leaders have to be comfortable having people around them who are smarter or more experienced. We can’t stifle creativity, and when we encourage people to take risks we have to be OK when some of those risks don’t work out.
PINK: With your hectic global travel schedule, what are your best balance tips?
NB: Every year I’ll typically travel to nine or 10 countries. I’ll spend this International Women’s Day in South Africa. As a wife and mother of two, I’m organized and I know that priorities shift on a daily basis. I integrate everything based on all the moving parts and I feel no pressure to be perfect.
PINK: What advice do you have for women seeking to move their careers ahead?
NB: Women need to be clear about who the influential leaders are and build relationships with them. You need to plant a seed of what you expect from your leaders. And know that while a mentor may coach you, a sponsor moves you along.
PINK: What is your advice for women?
NB: Although there are new challenges and opportunities every day, my parting advice is to celebrate the success milestones. I celebrate by spending time with my family, such as when my daughter decided to get a masters degree. She and I went to a favorite restaurant and we celebrated the fact that she was embarking on a wonderful goal. A goal, in fact, that I would have liked to have achieved but haven’t. My challenge is that I want to do so much more and how do I balance it all – at Accenture and the boards I sit on. I have to be careful to not overstretch and I have to figure out how to be OK with that.
Henna Inam is CEO of Transformational Leadership Inc. As an Exec Coach, consultant and women’s leadership expert, she spent 20 years in Corp America, including in C-Suite roles.
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