In 1987, 19-year old Julie Sweet was on a flight to China. She didn’t know the language or the culture, but she took a risk, going to a foreign culture to learn a strange language in an era when learning Japanese was more fashionable. Risk-taking has become the theme of Sweet’s professional career, taking her from partner at Cravath, Swaine & Moore LLP—one of the first females to earn that title—to her current position as CEO of Accenture North America.
Sweet, #39 on Fortune’s most recent Most Powerful Women list, brings us through her journey to success in this week’s episode of Fortune Unfiltered. She had a modest upbringing, raised by parents who didn’t have a lot but still gave away their life savings to help a member of their community. She is no stranger to being a disruptor, having started her middle school’s first women’s touch football team after her principal said she shouldn’t. And while many college students find comfort in routine, Sweet sought out the opportunity to navigate uncertainty by moving to China her junior year.
Sweet now leads Accenture’s $14 billion North American business in a way not seen in many other corporations. Accenture allows employees returning from parental leave to work locally, they provide 40 hours of subsidized back-up care, and they prioritize a diverse and inclusive work environment. In 2016, Accenture made Fortune’s 100 Best Companies to Work For list for the eighth consecutive year.
Just this year, Accenture was the first big consulting firm to publish race and gender stats. “Diversity is critical to our business outcomes,” Sweet says. “We’re supposed to be bringing out-of-the-box thinking and innovation and you cannot do that unless you’ve got diversity … It’s everything from gender to ethnicity to geographic diversity.”
Sweet hopes that by being transparent with these statistics, Accenture employees will be able to further understand the importance of this initiative.
Julie Sweet has achieved professional success while making an impact on her employees, her children, and her community along the way. Listen to the full episode of Fortune Unfiltered to learn how a life of doing things a little differently shaped her into the leader she is today.