In episode 004 of the Inspiring Women Interviews, Emma McGuigan, Managing Director Technology, Accenture UK and Ireland, talks about encouraging more young women into STEM, letting go of guilt, dealing with mistakes, owning your career, how to get focused each day… and why you should never say “I was never any good at maths” to your children.
And much more!
Amanda: Welcome to the inspiring women interviews with me Amanda Alexander. These interviews are with female leaders who are passionate about helping all women to achieve success. You can find out more about the interviews and about me at amanda. Today I am really delighted to be interviewing Emma McGuigan of Accenture. Just a brief introduction to Emma before we get started.
She’s the UK, Ireland Accenture technology senior managing director, and the global delivery lead for careers at Accenture. She’s been there for 20 years joining the organization after she graduated with a master’s degree in electronics from the University of Edinburgh. She’s spent most of her career in a combination of financial services, government clients, delivering large scale complex programs with ingrained technology architecture background.
Emma has spent many years driving the accent on women, and accent on family programs. She sponsors the girls in IT schools program partnering with Stemettes. She works with e-skills on the Information Economy Council to encourage the growth of the technology pipeline in the UK. She’s also the treasurer for the Orchid Project, a charity campaigning to end female genital cutting. She’s also a member of the IAB for the Open University and a fellow of the British Computer Society.
When she’s not working, she loves skiing, triathlons and spending time with her family including her three children. Although as we were just saying before … Hello welcome Emma, no skiing for you just at the moment, because you’ve broken your leg.
Emma: That’s quite right Amanda. I have a new appreciation for people with mobility issues. I might have a new group to campaign for.
Amanda: Oh gosh, the leg is on demand, but in the mean time we maybe talk about skiing and triathlons a little bit later on talking about them. I’d really love to start off Emma by asking you about, you do a lot of work in coaching young people with technology. You say you have a real deep love of people and technology. One of your things is empowering those young people to embrace technology rather than kind of within an academic background. I’m thinking here, gosh yes I remember that. For me when I was a child, technology all meant … It was about oh my gosh, we’ve got to learn this stuff to go through exams. You are about moving away from that to get them to enjoy it. Could you tell us more about that. What inspired that in just …
Emma: I think we don’t do enough if I’m honest to really have our young people see the potential of what they can do with the career and technology. I’ve been really struck as my children got older by how their uses of technology, their friends are all users of technology, but they don’t relate the subjects they learn at school into the devices that they are using at home. It’s such a missed opportunity when I see the growth of talent made that we have for more people in the UK and Ireland and globally to have more skills in technology.
My kind of commitment in this space is that there’s so much opportunity there for people to have really great careers and again a really interesting and exciting career that I want to share that with people. When my daughter was … She would have been about 5 or 6, she was maybe 2 or 3 years into school and my son had just started. I was talking with the teacher who was the maths coordinator who was sharing a story with me about whilst girls do really well in maths and tend to excel and beat the boys during the first few years at school, by as young as 8 or 9, girls are starting to shy away from maths, and think that it’s not for them and losing their confidence.
We had a very long conversation about why that was happening. We started to explore whether we could learn a programme. We tried a programme at my children’s primary school where we took some of the older children and helped them understand. Through a project, we got them to run a project where they would use maths to run a store at the summer fair, and they would start to understand how maths could help them make money. It’s a very simplistic view of the world. We made it competitive so each class had to see if they could make more money than every other class.
Some of the older children were talking about profit and loss and revenue and they understood how it’s calculated. That application of maths just as a very simple example was something that I didn’t see coming through in the way maths is being taught in the same way that we teach young children around what you get from learning English through writing and reading and all of those to communicate. For me maths is as important a fundamental. We need to understand that application, and we need to make it easier for our children to understand that application.
Amanda: Yes. I have been looking into a new kind of school called studio schools, I’m not sure if you’ve heard of them. They are looking at taking students from year 10 and helping them to apply their learning at that age, about age 14, 15 so that it has relevance in a real world context. That has come about in response to employers saying that children are coming out or teenagers coming out of school with, okay they are starting math of science, but they are not able to apply that in a practical way. Is that what you found when you had that long conversation about why girls were not excelling was because the practical element of how does this work in a real life element was missing?
Emma: Yeah, I think that’s right. I think, we are practical people, we like to make things, we like to see how something can be tangible. We run a program, an event I should say in Newcastle last year. We took some 300 young women who were aged 11, 12, 13 to a conference for the day. They went through series of workshops where they could build an app. They could go and understand a bit more of forensic science. They could play with a whole lot of technology gadgets, and they all had to present back at the end of the day around the project, the app project that they built.
We asked of course for feedback and one of the items of feedback that’s really stuck with me was from a 14 year old who said, “I always thought I would end up with a career in English even though I’m not very good at English. I’m really good at maths, but I could never understand how I could use maths. Now I can see all the opportunities in science and technology. I’ve got a whole new set of things I’m going to go and look at.” Actually, that’s not a great deal of effort, but that understanding the application, understanding how you can apply it and making young people proud to be good at maths, and not embarrassed about being good at maths is something that I think is really important.
It’s funny you will all know somebody who will say to their children, “It’s okay if you are not good at maths, because I was never good at maths.” Just pause for a moment and consider whether you would ever say to a child, “It’s all right if you are not any good at reading, I was never good at reading.” I mean, we just wouldn’t do. I think we have to put that same pride on maths, and move away from this sense of it being kicky or I’m no good at numbers. We just wouldn’t say the same thing around letters and reading. It’s a pause for thought when you think it.
Amanda: It certainly is and I’ve never thought of that. Emma I have to say I’m guilty of that. I was never good at maths, and I’ve actually said that to my eldest son who has always struggled with maths, but actually he’s actually turning the corner now. My Goodness, I never thought of that, I was never good at maths. Do you think that maths is one of those things that … I mean they say, everybody can sing with a bit of training or everyone can draw with a bit of training. Do you think it’s the same with maths, it’s just how it’s taught?
Emma: Absolutely, I do. It’s like, you could look at things like everybody can read and some people have to learn to read differently and some people struggle because they might have learning difficulties around letters. We have our education system here which has a pretty high success rate in terms of teaching to read. I think if we were to put the same effort into teaching math, I think we could get very similar outcome.
Amanda: Is the implication here that if we started early at that age 8, 9 where girls are switching off, and we encouraged schools and teachers to have a more practical based fun perhaps maths curriculum that that would actually be a really great start to encouraging more young women into careers in STEM.
Emma: The simple answer is yes, but without becoming too much [inaudible 00:10:42] 5 months. I just think it’s about … And teachers have a really tough job. This is by no means a criticism of teachers, but it’s really hard when the industry is moving so fast. The things we can do on a mobile phone today haven’t even been conceived 5 years ago, or 10 years ago. The fact that I can pay for a cup of coffee on my watch, it sounds fiction a few years ago. To ask teachers, and we are talking primary teachers here to try and keep up with understanding how you can create energizing inspiring classes around technology and maths and science at the young age is hard. What the industry needs to do in my opinion is to make this easier to reach out and to make it easier.
The distant between the technology industry and education needs to come closer to help make this happen. I think math, I think coaching, I think these are the things that we should be encouraging principles of teaching very young children when they are 5, 6, 7. I don’t see any reason why we can’t do that. I just think it’s quite terrifying to a lot of people because it’s not something they are familiar with. That’s where it becomes harder because you are trying to ask somebody to educate their child in something perhaps they are not familiar with themselves. That of course is always going to be more difficult.
Amanda: Maybe we should get joint classes for children and adults to help adults as well. How old are your children?
Emma: I have an 11 year old daughter and I have boys who are 9 and 7.
Amanda: Do you see a difference between your 11 year old daughter and your 9 and 7 year old boy in their attitude to master technology or not.
Emma: No, but all my children I think they are very good at maths. My husband and I were speculating whether that’s because there was such an anticipation around being capable of math. They don’t pause a thought a moment about not being good at maths. Therefore, it’s a very natural thing to them. We will do one direct [inaudible 00:13:06]. I have to say, children are so impression limit to inspire their parents. My husband and I would both say the kind of maths and the logic based thinking is something we were very strong at. Yeah, my children are all very strong at maths.
Amanda: Is it nature or nurture, we’ll never know.
Amanda: I like to think it’s a bit of nurture of course, but possibly nature. What do the boys and the girl think of mum being managing director of technology at Accenture?
Emma: This is a syndicate maybe that they don’t really quite understand what I do, but they are certainly very proud of me having the job that I have. They know there aren’t many women who have the job that I have or something comparable to it. They carry a great sense of pride around that. My son likes to tell people that his mom is very good at coaching and fixing anything to do with the computer which causes me endless of the news, because I think sometimes Vicky thinks I run tech support.
I’m still their mum. There is a … It’s a hard place sometimes and they are only less so really also growing up first. I don’t think they really understand. They’ll ask questions sometimes to try and explore exactly what I do and who I talk to. They’re sometimes quite surprised by some of the people that I interact with, because it’s seems very far from them and where they sit. They are growing up thinking that as an entirely normal thing to do. I’ve done it back to that nature versus nurture. I think if you can introduce your children to the sense of finding whatever they want to be, but thinking anything is accessible, I think that’s how you [inaudible 00:15:06] to them.
Amanda: Do the boys kind of … Do they understand it when you are doing work, empowering young women, do they have any kind of knowledge about that?
Emma: They don’t understand actually at all. My 9 year old will rationalize that we have a particular focus on school girls because there are not many girls choosing those subjects. He is very stubborn about not understanding why it is that we think, society thinks men do things and women don’t, or women do things and men don’t. Because that’s … Mummy that’s silly isn’t it mummy, because everybody can do that we are saying, and some people will just be better at some things than others. He has a tremendous sense of equality in that regard, a lack of understanding as to why it would be an issue. It’s very strong in the 9 year old and the 7 year old of course adores his big brother when he is not fighting with him, and will tend to repeat what his brother says.
In many respects I think he is heavily influenced and I should maybe say by now my children … When they were very young my daughter started ballet when she was about two and a half. When her brother got to a similar age, and I was thinking I would start him at some kind of activity class. Well the feminists want to drive for equality will say I should put him into ballet. I also didn’t want my son to become some kind of social pone in my belief system. I struggled as we all do as parents as to what the right thing was to do. I started him in a football class, and as soon as he started football my daughter said, well I want to play football. I moved the football class so they could both start football, and then my son said, well why don’t I do ballet, I want to do ballet.
They were 11 and 9, actually my daughter doesn’t do ballet anymore, but she still plays football, and my son is a 9 year old student of ballet and football. I have to say my kids have grown up thinking everything is accessible to them, very much in a nutshell, but almost in a self influencing nurture, because they don’t draw distinctions between themselves. Having said that they have very different habits as you would expect from young people, plus my 9 year old son would happily play on Minecraft on an iPad for hours on edge. My daughter will quickly become bored. There were some stereotypes how you are using that too.
Amanda: Yeah, did your 11 year old daughter see you as a role model or she kind of not there yet?
Emma: That’s a really difficult question Amanda. I was asked to do a video recently by Accenture with an amazing team from the Dear World project which is led by a man called Robert Fogarty who I have I met a few times and he is amazing. He gets people to tell a story through photography and writing a message on with marker pen. He did a portrait of me a few months ago, where I had girls do tech 2, and it’s my twitter handle photo, all written on my own. I was asked by Accenture to do a video around that, and Robert did this piece where I had to read a letter, an imaginary letter just to my daughter. It took quite a few takes for me to do it without being … Without breaking down into tears I have to tell you.
I did a letter which was a dear Maggie, my 11 year old daughter letter, where I spoke to her about having self belief ,and if she wanted to do something believe she could do it and give it a go, and if it didn’t work out try again. Don’t let anybody tell you the things you can’t do, do the things you want to do. I showed her this video, because it felt appropriate too after I [inaudible 00:19:34] hesitant. In the recording it’s quite clear I was quite emotional, and it made her well up, and she went and told me she watched it again on her own, and how it meant a lot to her that I had done that.
Well as role model is not … It feels like a very formal thing for my daughter, she is thinking me of. I do think she can see in me that I can do, that you can do, that she can do whatever she wants to do just as I have done. What I have done isn’t what most women have chosen to do.
Amanda: Wow, that’s really powerful, it will stay with her one [inaudible 00:20:16] I think.
Emma: I hope so; her brothers couldn’t understand why the letter wasn’t to them too.
Amanda: You are going to have to do another two.
Emma: Exactly, I’ll have to get Robert back.
Amanda: Watch out for those girls, I have to say that one, don’t trust him.
Emma: That’s why I tell my boys.
Amanda: I was going to ask you something, role model yeah, actually on that point about role model seems a little bit too formal. You might like this phrase, I was interviewing Jacqueline de Rojas the other week, and she said she prefers the term real model. I like that, real model.
Emma: I like that too, I had breakfast with Jacqueline this morning.
Amanda: Oh did you, oh my gosh?
Amanda: Well that’s a small world.
Emma: You see Jacqueline is both a real model and a role model I think. She’s amazing.
Amanda: She is, isn’t she? She is absolutely amazing. I have got to ask you whilst while on the subject of your kids about because this is the kind of thing that everybody is dying to know. You’ve built your career up; you have very high profile leadership position at Accenture. You have three children, you are triathlete, and you’ve got a dog who is very boisterous and intends to break legs. How do you do it, can you give us a little kind of behind the scenes glimpse of how on earth do you … How does she … What was the question? How does she do it? How does Emma McGuigan do it?
Emma: I’m going to answer the question by telling you a story. When I was pregnant with my third child, and this will tell a little bit of something, it’s on my LinkedIn profile for anybody who looks me up. I had placenta previa, which means the placenta is, in fact it was full stage, it was across [inaudible 00:22:35] the womb. I ended up spending five weeks in hospital, and I spent the first few days thinking I was going home, and then I went home and I went home for 24 hours and had to come back into hospital. The consultant sat me down, a couple of days after that and she said, okay, you can’t go home again. I was like; oh you don’t understand I have two children. In my head I hadn’t really finished working either.
She said you don’t understand you have 8 minutes, and I looked at … So she went you have 8 minutes before you bleed out if it properly raptures, at which point I was, okay where do I sit? I spent then the next four and a half weeks waiting for Alexander as he now is to get to a size and a duration where they were happy to have involved my cesarean section. I spent that time … Really there was nothing with me from my health perspective, I was just at risk and I wasn’t allowed out of the hospital ward and I had to have an adult with me, and I wasn’t allowed out of the hospital rooms, an extra ordinary experience to have that much time to ponder your existence and everybody else’s existence. It made me very calm and it made me very philosophical about the things that you have in life.
It made me believe even more that you have to take what’s open to you and you have to make the most of it, and you have to not beat yourself up when things don’t quite go right, and draw the lines in the sand. Stick to the things you think are really important to you, and don’t think of the things that are important to you are going to be important to somebody else. I often wonder if I hadn’t spent all that time to ponder the world and my existence, whether I would ever have got to quite the same kind of calm state of mind. I have a series of principles if you like, that I try and live by where … Which are my day to day boundaries.
Any week could look different in any one day I have a general rule of thumb where I try and have a meal with my family, so we’ll try and have a meal together. My husband and I aren’t necessarily at the same meal, but we at least try to have one meal with the children, or during school days. I spent 10 of the last 12 years only working four day a week as well, I should probably [inaudible 00:25:21]. They are just the things like a part time working are the levers that we have to manage those boundaries that we want to have in our lives. I think we have to look at that problem differently. I think … In fact there was a quote yesterday from a celebrity actress about whether women could or couldn’t have it all. I hate the expression and I think the expression should be banned.
Because most people just try and live their lives to the best that they can, and when it gets too hard you need to change something. Just expect it and not feel like you failed, but just embrace the fact that your life has moved on again and you need to take … You need to look again and adjust again. I think we have to focus on that continual adjustment. It’s like fine tuning, it’s like an old fashioned radio that continually needs fine tuning, be really relaxed about it and I try never to feel guilty. I think that’s probably the only running thing I can give to anybody is to try and never feel guilty, and to try and use your professional time really sensibly. I have quite a lot of responsibility now, and I look at my role in terms of the direct reports I have.
I try much more to trying to coach and influence their decisions and direct them, which is why I don’t really like doing core direct reports. Because I think if you can coach and influence and use your head and not get lost in the detail, or lost in the checklist, I don’t think as professionals we necessarily are thinking of. Thinking is something that I do best when I’m out running which is a struggle for me at the moment, because I can’t with a broken leg, but I have to find other forums. I think my takes are, make sure you are reflecting on how you are spending your time and really use your brain. We are all gifted with amazing intellect, all of us, all of us. Let’s make sure we don’t forget to use it every day.
The second thing is around that continually fine tune and reflect and fine tune and reflect. Know on that fine tuning; know where your boundaries are. If it’s that you need to be … And it will change, it changes as your priority changes, your children grow, whatever it is, it changes. The third thing is never feel guilty, never live with regrets, always look to the future and always go, gosh I wouldn’t do that again, I’m going to do this next week. I don’t think … If you can always feel that kind of positiveness about learning where things didn’t work out, and take it forward rather than dwelling on how bad it was or what might have been. Then I think you can keep that real positive energy going, and that’s how I look at it.
Amanda: That’s a sign of really strong resilience about not living with regret, looking to the future, and applying the positive energy, self fulfilling prophecy, isn’t it?
Emma: Yes, definitely, definitely.
Amanda: There are so many questions and threads I want to bring out from what you’ve just said. Let me ask you about … Okay so just being devil’s advocate here you say you’ve … Let’s imagine your normal operations and you actually are running, and you are having a meal with your family each day, how do you do that? You know what I have clients who say to me, oh I need to get fit but there is never any time, by the time I have done to commute, and done a working day or … How do you actually fit it all in?
Emma: If I was to tell you about a day in the life, and I will tell you some of the big compromises we make. We live in … I live five miles from the office, so I live in [inaudible 00:29:32] West London. I never wanted to live there for any more … It was nice for a couple of years when I was just married and 26. It was my ambition to raise children there, but actually I’m running more than a half an hour from home in a cab.
Amanda: Depending on compromise.
Emma: Yeah, so that’s a big compromise for me, so just to be clear, because if I’m not at work I want to be at home. I want to be at home with my kids and unless they are with my husband. That’s one of my huge compromises in terms of what my if you’d have asked me where I would be, the environment I wanted my children to grow up in terms of lots of open space, the nines and tens etcetera. Now a day in my life when I am fit I will get up maybe quarter to six, and go running with the dog, the dog’s very fit also, or I get up and I sit on my table trainer which is my son’s, my bike that sits in my kitchen. I will have, I might run for an hour, I mean I get up, it depends, I get up earlier or late or whenever. I get up and will have showered and be down for breakfast by a quarter past seven.
I will have breakfast with family and then my daughter and I leave together at about five to eight, and I walk with her to the bus top, then I come in to work and I will be at work for half past eight, quarter to nine. Then I have a full day at work or if I’m working from home, then I have an extra cup of tea at home which is always a delight. I’m on to calls by about half past eight, and I typically then will work and not be home until about eight o’clock these days, because actually my children are so into all of their activities that they’re invariably out swimming, running, football, something until that sort of time too. By the time I get home I … And that could have been any number of activities, it’s not that I sit in my office all day long.
I quite regularly … So today I had a breakfast meeting, I’ve had a client meeting, I’ve met with vendors, so you can be all over the place. With both my legs broken people come to me which is nice, but then and then in the evening my husband and I will have supper together and watch some rubbish on the telly, because I don’t profess to watch anything hydro on the TV. A bit old rubbishy American crime drama with some made up technology that’s what I like.
Amanda: What’s is your favorite [inaudible 00:32:22]?
Emma: Well we have just finished watching a Netflix boxer which was light to me which has Tim Roth in it claiming he can read micro expressions, and tell what people are thinking, which became a complete preoccupation of mine when I was sitting in face to face meetings, quite entertaining. All these crime investigations whether you use bizarre sets and forensic science which is all tracking mechanisms which have a degree of truth, but only a degree each of them. Then we all have a glass of wine or whatever and go to bed, and we always have these intentions that we’re going to go to bed shortly after 10 and then we always get embroiled in talking about something, and never go to bed very early.
That’s how I fit it in. I think when I should probably say I didn’t … I come from a very sporty background, and then when I had children I didn’t do anything for a very long time. I started running, I had to start to build health, and I started running, because I wanted to take ownership of my health again. Running helped me feel more in control of my own fitness and just general well being I would say. My daughter was 7 at that time and in the ultimate she was 7. She saw a photograph in a newspaper of a little girl in a running race, and underneath it, it said Maddie so my daughter is also Maddie. Maddie 88 finishing her first marathon and my Maddie looked at this picture and she said mummy you used to do tracking, didn’t you. I said yes is did, and I could see where this is going. Then she said we could do this together, and six months later I was standing at the side of a lake about to do an adult race whereas my daughter was going to do a kid’s race a few hours later.
After she had raced she was hooked, and not only did she get me back racing she got my husband doing his first race, because daddy don’t you know if kids can do it, grownups can do it. Then her brothers think they’re going to be the next brownie brothers, so triathlon is simply taking over our lives. As the parents in the family when we tell the tale that we all do triathlon together, people look at us like we’re some kind of tiger parents, but in fact it was the kids that got us into it rather amusingly.
Amanda: I love that. It’s great if you can find a sport that you can all do together and got that common interest. I think there’s too much in … Somebody pointed out to me the other day how unhealthy it is to have the parents standing there every Saturday morning watching the kids playing football, because the kids are actually getting the message that sport is only for kids and not for adults. When you’re that adult you just stand on the sidelines. That never occurred to me before, and I thought, oh gosh wouldn’t it be great if we could have more sport where parents and children were doing it together. I do cross fits sometimes when I’m in [inaudible 00:35:31] and us we’ve got a really thriving children’s cross fit community.
Actually this year one of the things that my youngest Freddy and I started doing it, well I’ve been doing it for years, but he’s really got into it. Every Monday evening Freddy and I do British matching fitness together, and he’s out there getting muddy in the dark and all weather with me, and we do it together and it’s fantastic.
Emma: Fantastic, yeah it’s awesome. I couldn’t agree more, and triathlon is such an inclusive store. We’ll turn up for these race weekends, and they’ll be elite athletes racing in the same race as me, and so my kids get to see them and it’s just, it is amazingly inspiring environment for them.
Amanda: Yes it is, that sounds great, tiger family of triathletes. Okay thank you very much. I really enjoyed that insight into your life and I love the compromise as well, because it underlines what you said about having it all. Nobody has this perfect life with the hills and the wide open spaces and all the time with the children and every day, it’s not all everything. It’s not all tech, we do have to make compromises and decide what’s important at the time, don’t we? As you say it’s that continual adjustment, being relaxed about things and tweaking.
Emma: Yes and everybody is just trying to make the best of what they have, and I always feel quite sad when people say, well I can do this because I have children, or I can’t do this because … And it’s like they are the limitations you place on yourself. Maybe if you asked the question differently you could get a different outcome, and I think we let others define too often what we think we can achieve, or what we think we can do. Whereas if we have, if we can anchor in to that self belief, if we can take that away the guilt, and if we can focus on the outcome of what we’re doing everyday about helping or children grow up as well rounded adults. Helping with doors open to them to the future whatever they want to do, focusing on our professional lives around what’s the outcome we’re doing.
Not the number of hours we sit behind a desk or replying to email, but what’s the outcome we’re driving. If we reflect, if we have … I think we have to build that self reflection and anybody who says they don’t have time for self reflection they need to try harder, because we all have to take a shower. We all have to travel somewhere some other time. There are times when you are not able to be connected, and that’s the time to just spend an extra minute in the shower, but I don’t want you to use excess water. Just take a moment to just think about what you’re doing that day, and whether that’s the best way you could spend that day for your current priorities. If we can learn to do that all the time and do self reflection as a daily activity and not as a big run off, and ask for feedback regularly.
If you go to a meeting and you’re not sure how you got on, ask people, did that go okay, did you think, was that all right? Just ask. People think about all these things as if every six months your manager has to sit you down and tell you these are the things you do well and these are the things you need to do better. Actually I think we need to … I need maybe this is what I should, to feel content I have to build that time to just reflect on how I’m doing. Get back on an instant feedback and just re-tune all the time and that just applies to every element of my life, every element. Well so probably sound a bit crazy, it’s not meant to sound crazy at all, but if there’s a point where I think my care, I’m away from home too much, and I can see my kids suffering or my husband suffering. Then that’s a priority for me, and I have to readjust again, and in fact continual readjustment, but don’t ever feel bad. You can’t go through life beating yourself up about things you didn’t do, just celebrate the things you do, do.
Amanda: Yes rather than feeling guilty or worried think, okay so this is, it is what it is, what can we do to adjust this? What am I willing to do; I don’t know if you’ve ever had this, this is one of my co principles as a coach. Awareness is the precursor to choice, and that’s exactly what you’re talking about, that once we take that time for self reflection, then we can do the adjustment. Then we can decide what’s the best outcome for today, what are we doing here.
Emma: Yes, I completely agree with that.
Amanda: That’s just about raising your eyes above the horizon to see the bigger picture rather than getting constantly head down and just got to keep going, got to keep going on that treadmill.
Emma: Yes and it does often feel like a treadmill, right? Of course it does, but if you can put your head up daily like take a moment every day, do you think, this is what I’m thinking and I’ve got to keep my head up, it helps you feel much more motivated and less sucked in to the kind of repetitive or the hardness, because sometimes it’s really hard. I hate to have to get up before my husband everyday and it does my head in, and I’m like I’m so jealous of you being in bed still, and there’ll be little things for everybody. Every day you’re just like I didn’t want this to be like this today. If you can lift your head up a minute, then it doesn’t seem so bad, and then you go actually I mean it doesn’t seem not so bad, actually this is quite awesome. This is quite an awesome thing that is going on here that I’m involved in, and that might get you through some of the other stuff that you’re not enjoying so much.
Amanda: I love the concept of having quality problems.
Amanda: It’s a great way of re-framing if something bad happens to you invariably if we live in the first world, it’s usually a quality problem.
Emma: Very true.
Amanda: Yeah a problem that’s good. This all kind of ties in to something which I know is core to your own personal philosophy, and as a leader which is about taking responsibility and accountability and not being a victim, isn’t it?
Emma: Yes absolutely. Actually when I look at the whole debate around equality, I spend lots of time trying to get us to a place where we don’t have to still be having a conversation about why there’s only 15% of women in technology, in the technology industry and why at senior levels [inaudible 00:42:33] and all that. I would love to not have that discussion anymore. Everybody needs to be part of a solution for that; women are not going to solve that on their own. I’m going to strongly say to the next person that men are part of that discussion. Once resolving on gender I’d like to see us solve on all elements of diversity just as we go by. There’s also a huge amount that women can do to help themselves and the one of the things, and actually there are many stuff from this too, so this is not uniquely women who suffer from this.
Failing to take ownership of your own life, your own career is just … I am still amazed. I have frequently I meet people who are really quite experienced who still are saying; well it’s not fair because. The minute somebody starts on an it’s not fair, then you have to ask what they … That’s the wrong thing. Before you, I think I don’t care what’s not fair, but that’s not how I want to hear a sentence start when it’s related to some, a part of somebody’s life. Because it’s a bit like your quality problem segment, it’s rarely not fair in a true sense of the word at the worst. If you have … The minute you become a victim to what’s going on it’s the time that you can’t … You’re failing on that self reflection and we all feel like this right. I mean I am as guilty as the next person of going through times when I’m like it’s just not fair, why do I have to be the one, why am I the one that has to do this.
Why did it have to happen like this, but if you can turn that feeling of injustice into something where you’ve taken, you can feel empowered then you can drive the outcome. You’ll own the outcome and you’ll be accountable for the outcome, and you get the credit for it. I think this is such an important point, it’s such an important point that we rarely focus on thinking about the way we shape our own careers and drive our careers. Because let’s be honest we can have the best sponsors in the world, but nobody cares more about our careers than ourselves to be very blunt about it. If you’re always going to be looking for somebody else to tell you what you should do next, or wait for that tap on the shoulder, without you actually telling anybody that, that was what you wanted. You could wait a very long time, you’ll be very disappointed.
Amanda: How did you, you mentioned before that you have worked for, so just leading on from what you said about driving your own career. I’m kind of guessing that probably you got your four day week from taking responsibility, and asking for that, but I bet there lots of people listening who would be really keen to know how.
Emma: When I had my first child I really struggled when I was on maternity leave, I had to … I ended up taking seven months of maternity leave. I have to confess I really struggled, I spent the first three months as most new mothers with their first child too is in a state of slight panic. I had anxiety whether I doing the right things, and I spent the second three or four months before I went back to work, in a constant emotional roller coaster wondering how I could ever possibly leave this little bundle of what was most, most precious to me and my husband, with anybody except my husband. Even then I wasn’t really particularly keen on leaving her with him for very long extended periods. I ended up with this feeling that nobody could look after my daughter like I could look after her.
Eventually my husband said to me, just go back to work and give it a go, and if it doesn’t work then we’ll readjust. I was like, and there was a bit of an undertone, and stop being such a crazy, because that’s not the person I married, I’d like to have [inaudible 00:47:00]. Although he never said that, and I had a very … And I just said okay, but I won’t go back full day, and I had for long, long time I thought I wanted to just go back 4 days. I had told quite, I had told quite a lot of people and I said before I went on maternity leave to understand how the 3, 4, 5 days work. I decided 4 days is what I wanted because I still … It was important to me, I kept doing client work. I spoke to the partner, it was a long time ago with the partner and that’s where am going.
I really want to come back to work, but I want to come back 4 days and I want to do client work, can you find me a role. He actually spoke to the client I had been working at before I went to maternity leave. He was delighted for me to go back to them on a 4 day week. I went back in what seemed like the dream outcome, but the client I went back to didn’t really have a role for me, they just liked me. They liked me being around, and that was … It quite quickly became apparent to me that wasn’t doing great things to my confidence, because as anybody you know who’s taking a career break, your confidence takes a deep because you’re not at work. You think everybody else is overtaking you, and you also think that you’ve forgetting how to do everything.
Then if you add in to that that you’re a returning parent, so you’re feeling bad about not being with your child and you wonder about the repercussions of not being with your baby. The not being busy for me was a terrible outcome, and so after five months I rolled off that and I had to go and look for another role, and again I found another somebody else. The same partner offered to help and he got me connected with the partner who was responsible for the whole area that I worked in, in financial services. I went to see him and he gave me [inaudible 00:48:52] he said go speak to these people and tell me where you want to go, and I’ll make that happen for you.
Again it was all about I didn’t know him, and I remember sitting outside of his office thinking, how do I go and tell this really senior person, I only work a four day week, I only want to keep working a four day week. I want you to give me a really role and by the way I want my career to continue progressing. It’s quite, I felt very uncomfortable with it, but I felt well if I don’t do it nobody else is going to do it, so I’m going to go in. I just decided honesty was the best policy, I’m always honest. I speak a lot, I speak really too much, I probably say too much sometimes, but I think it’s very important too. It’s very part of much part of who I am to be very honest and open with people.
To cut the very long story short I ended up going and being interviewed by this client, and I was interviewed by this client and she was a fifty something year old American lady who had been brought over to rescue this failing project. I was asked to go in as the only Accenture person to go and help her and her team and work out how they could get this big systems integration piece of work live. It was quite complex environment and quite complex project, and it was already nine months late, two-year program nine months late. It wasn’t going well. She interviews me and she goes, “I really, really like you, but I’m not sure about this four day week.” To my credit and to this day I don’t know how I managed to do this without pausing, but I said, “Well I’m sorry, but I only work a four day week. If you want me to come that’s all I can do.”
I hadn’t really prepped for that question. I think I was in denial about that being an issue. If you had asked me before hand would I manage to be that bold, I don’t think I would have done? It was the thing I have … That was the turning point for me around the real self belief that I could still do a really good job of a four day week. Having said it out loud and said it so strongly, and said it to a what was going to be my new client, because of how come she … I couldn’t start soon enough for this woman, she was just testing me out. It was a kind of landmark event for me for and my career, because it was where I really had cemented I have taken control, as opposed to going from one role to the next role, to the next role to the next role. We should have my career being to that point.
Sometimes if you know you really believe that’s what you want, you just have to say it, and build up to it sometimes, so the conversation with the other two partners helped me with her. Then every client, I do client roles for years. It’s only in the last few years I’ve done a much more internal role. I’ve been in much more of a doing much smaller roles with clients which aren’t full time anyway. That conversation changed me out for the next 10 years of working on those 4 day weeks with clients, and being able to go to client and go … When they said, “Well what about Friday?” Me saying, “You know what, why don’t I start and we’ll see how we get on, and we’ll see how it is after a month, and if it’s not working for you, then we can have a conversation about it.”
You are giving the client an opportunity to, or whoever it is an opportunity to come back to you, and then you have a month to really prove the contribution you can make. That’s the point that you have to dig deep on your confidence and go, “I know I can do this, because I’ve done it before and it’s just the next evolution of who I am. It’s slightly a bit bigger role, it’s a bit harder, but I can do this.”
Amanda: Do you ever end up working on a Friday? Do you get that sort of work creep?
Emma: Well, I went back to working five days a week about 18 months ago. I went back to five days a week because my work load had become so great. I couldn’t make it work on four days anymore. I decided at that point, I wanted to do the job I had or the collection of jobs I had, and that was my priority decision. I didn’t see it as giving up on something; I saw it as the next phase of what I was doing. Again, I said on a Friday, I’m going to take the children to school and I’m going to pick them up. That was my thing, and I still do that. Well not so much for the broken leg, because I can’t drive a car and a car won’t [inaudible 00:53:39. Well, physically I take the kids to school on Fridays and I pick them up from school.
Again, it’s about stating out the things that are important to you, you are going to do and changing them. They need to change because your priorities have changed, or the opportunities that life presents you have changed. I always thought I would work for Accenture for initially a couple of years, then a couple of years came five and then it goes on. I always had this idea that I would go, I really wanted to change the world. I mean, back to being a teenager thinking I wanted to be the prime minister, because I wanted a place to feel more, have greater quality.
Then you go through life and you realize the things that you are most passionate about. If I anchor back to where we started around young people and skills and careers, the whole idea of school leavers being without a future, because they aren’t in tertiary education and they are not, they don’t have a job or they are coming out of tertiary education, and they can’t get a job. It makes me so desperately sad to the people at that real commencement of their adult life. We can’t help them get onto that first, take that first step into being self sufficient and having a working life. That’s the thing that I’m most motivated to do something about. That and the enabling of women which is why I do the work I do at the Orchid Project.
I realized a few years ago I have more influence in the agenda around skills in young people from within Accenture than I wouldn’t have done from outside of Accenture, not saying [inaudible 00:55:34] but most … I have such an opportunity to influence at the moment. Whilst some people listening might be, “Oh, she went back to five days a week.” Actually I see it as a privilege because next we’ve been at the House of Lords, with digital leaders, and we’re were talking about how to get digital literacy. I could go on. There’s so many ways I get to shape and drive the agenda in the UK/I and particular in the UK that I feel it’s a privilege. I get to do all of that in my five day a week. Running technology for Accenture in the UK and Ireland, I feel pretty lucky.
Amanda: You are changing the world.
Emma: A little bit. I think we all have to try to change everything a little bit every day.
Amanda: Yeah. It doesn’t matter how small that is. If you are just changing the world even just a little bit, you don’t have to be managing director of technology for Accenture to change the world, do you?
Emma: Not at all, not at all. Not even a little bit. I actually think if everybody could just think for a minute about the things, the little things they do every day, it’s mind-blowing the impact we could have. I went to an event recently with the Prince’s Trust. It was the Prince’s Trust Technology Leaders Center which is an annual fund raising dinner. The Prince’s Trust are amazing at making sure that at every event they get somebody, a young person who they have helped who they call their ambassadors to come and talk about their story.
The young man got up on stage and he tells the story about how the Prince Charles helped him to where he is today, and where he is today is as an apprentice at Accenture. I didn’t know. We had met, but we met such a long time ago that I didn’t recognize him initially until he said. I told saw afterwards. I had the most amazing evening because I got to write his celebrity cocktail, because he was obviously the celebrity for the evening.
It’s moments like those where you can think; you can see the influence in so many ways, and how that young man is giving back into the community that supported him. It just makes me feel so good about the organization I work for about some of the fundraising that I’m involved on so many levels. Actually lots of people have lots of stories like that in whatever they are. The things that people do every day to help somebody else. I think if we think about some of those small things, the illiterate story change, and that’s how I think we need to think about things.
Amanda: Yeah, one person at a time.
Emma: Yes, absolutely, one life at a time, one day at a time.
Amanda: It’s when you get that kind of little, like you have the meeting going or I might get an email from someone saying, “Oh my gosh, you’ve changed my life through what you did with us.” It’s that just one person that gives a satisfaction and drives us to continue putting it out there in the world, isn’t it?
Emma: Yes, my 14 year old girl with her, I also have a career in English even though I’m really good at it, but now I can see what I can with my maths [inaudible 00:59:00]. It’s those moments, those moments, they are the ones to [inaudible 00:59:06].
Amanda: Champagne moments I call them, and often point to values as well. I love looking at people’s values. I’m just aware of time. I could carry on talking to you for hours, but could we just finish off by just talking about the Orchid Project and how you got involved in that, what it does and why you feel so passionately about it?
Emma: The lady globally who runs Accenture’s corporate citizenship program posted on our internal social networking site that Orchid were looking for a treasurer. I reached out and the CEO came to see me and with the intent of being in my office. Pretty much like, “What do you need me to do. I’ll do whatever you need.” Orchid is about ending female genital cutting. Orchid works with outreach partners in Africa particularly Tostan in Senegal. It drives a big debate around and to its advocacy and communications programs. We are now in our fifth year of operation. If you look at the last five years, then you might know that FGC is now commonly in the media. It’s been a huge change and also we can’t take all the credit for that. They’re certainly heavily behind a lot of the race awareness, what’s going on.
As I explored on that day with Julia, and Julia is the CEO and she is the best story teller I think I have ever met. It was very clear to me the Orchid view on FGC is that it’s a social norm, and it needs to be treated as a social norm. It needs to be changed as you change a social norm, and a social norm, and it’s rather vulgar comparison. In this country I shave my armpits, because I think it’s expected that I should shave my armpits. Actually we have loads of evidence of people like Julia Roberts having to apologize for not shaving her armpits, because the social norm is that it’s expected that she should do.
The Orchid view on FGC is that it’s a social norm and people, parents cut their girls because they think they will get married, and they think they won’t be able to get on if they’re not cut, but it’s a horrendous thing. You have to help educate around that, and help people understand that there is a different way, and so the outreach church we work with in Senegal, they have these public declarations, and it’s a 30 month program, where they work with them and its local volunteers who talk about human rights and what that means and etcetera.
You end up with these cutting up to 30 month will have these decorations where they will announce to maybe 500 other people from different villages, that they are not going to cut the girls anymore. Typically they also look at things like child marriage at the same time, and they abandon all in this big celebration. When you ponder that for a moment you think about how much enablement you bring with that, because you’ve given women a voice, and you’ve given women a thought around … You are making men recognize the value of women. I can talk about this for ages, but I’ll leave with just with one story, and there was a story of a young man who … This is quite a horrible story, so I apologize in advance.
On his female genital cutting means that not only do you cut the genitals off of women and first and second time as you also stitch up the women leaving just a small hole for them to urinate through. On the wedding night this young man who’d married his wife, because he loved her was told he would have to cut her open before he could consummate the marriage, and he was horrified by this. Now if you pause for a moment and consider this, he had married his wife because he loved her, and he considered themselves as equals. Then a tradition that’s a social norm was really putting upon them a different sort of relationship and making it no longer a relationship of equals that some of the context.
There are some amazing organizations in the UK who do lots of work in the UK run by survivors who talk about, and do lots of work. Orchid is really focused on driving that discussion points and re-focusing on the social norm program, and helping work with some of our partners actually in Africa where there are still very mixed success around ending FGC.
Amanda: Gosh, yeah, I’m kind of still shuttering from that story what …
Emma: It is, but then there is … It’s lovely, Julia has these amazing photographs of these community declarations. What happens at the community declaration is you end up with the community, so they will put together a committee for the community which is made up of men and women in equal number. Together they vote and decide that’s what they want to recommend to the chief, and the chief by buying into the program has acknowledged that he would, to follow their recommendations of the committee, and they don’t always agree, but they agree and run about 80%, 85% of cases.
Then they invite all the neighboring villages along, and quite often the villages will declare in the same ceremonies, and they have these amazing ceremonies. It’s such a celebration of like an evolving culture that they have, it’s like moving forward into the next wave of how they are going to live, so within that traditional communities, but thinking about things differently. When some of those visiting villages see that they are abandoning, then they think well maybe we should too, so you end up with this knock on impact where other villages then go and look at what they are doing and think about their own practices and then they abandon them.
You end up with an exponential impact from these programs that are on in terms of the reach that you have and the impact you have. Senegal is tracking, and if you look at the numbers in Senegal and I forget where they are at today, so I don’t want to give you false number. They are reaching a point where the majority of the communities in Senegal have now abandoned. They are up in a country that in the early 1990 it had pretty much was in the high 90s in terms of adoption and cutting. Change can happen just as change happened with foot binding in China, and it can happen very quickly. That’s there is real optimism in this space and there is real hope.
Amanda: Gosh, optimism, hope that’s a really … That’s a great note to end on, what an absolute turn around in Senegal, incredible work, wow.
Emma: I just get the privilege of being the treasurer and checking that they have everything in place that used to be in place, right. I thought it was a boring job, because everybody else is going to do all the amazing things.
Amanda: You are the straight guy within, the kind of comedy duo, the one that did come to [inaudible 01:07:23] do that stuff maybe.
Emma: Yeah that would be about it right?
Amanda: Still changing the world as you say it doesn’t have to be all singing all dancing. Thank you for sharing that, I’ll make sure that I put the Orchid project as well in the show notes Emma, so that people can look into it and support it. Thank you very much for sharing everything that you have shared. Is there one message that you would give … You are particularly keen on inspiring young people and empowering young women. If there is any kind of young women listening to this today, what would be your … If you just have one message to give them for them to take with them on the journey into adulthood, what would it be?
Emma: You only get one chance at your life, and make sure you grab every opportunity that comes along, and don’t hesitate for too long as to whether it’s right for you. If something for you worth offering it to, then give it a go, and if it doesn’t work out, try something else.
Amanda: Yeah, okay, and keep going, I love the quote leap on the neck will appear, have you heard that one?
Emma: Yes absolutely.
Amanda: Thank you very much, so just grab every opportunity. Emma McGuigan thank you very much for being with me today, I have thoroughly, thoroughly enjoyed talking to you.
Emma: Thank you.
Amanda: Thank you everybody for listening to the inspiring women interviews and you can find the episode show notes, and the transcription at podcast. If you would like to connect, you can tweet me @thecoach. You can find me on Facebook, facebook.com/amandaalexandercoach. You can also find me on LinkedIn. Thanks very much for listening today. Bye, bye.