Fortune’s Include U Challenge for September 9:
Ask yourself today (and every day), who have I helped?
Instructor: Julie Sweet, CEO — North America, Accenture
Accenture has spent more than a year encouraging employees to talk candidly about their lived experiences around race, and Julie Sweet says that these difficult conversations can only happen in an environment of trust.
“Through our Building Bridges dialogues at Accenture, where we have brought together people from diverse backgrounds to have sometimes difficult conversations such as around race, I have experienced the power of storytelling to help people from diverse backgrounds understand each other,” she says.
But to have those conversations, leaders need to consider the broader messages they send. It was that thinking that led the company to publish their workforce demographics for gender, ethnicity, disability, and military service. They were the first major consulting firm to do so, and remain a rarity — only 3% of Fortune 500 companies share their full diversity data.
“Transparency creates trust,” she says. Candid communication is her signature style; she has “banned the memo” when she communicates to her employees and instead opts for video.
While Sweet makes the case early and often that diversity is essential to the future of their $16 billion North American business, her thinking about inclusion is driven by an openness and generosity that is part of her nature and a goal of her leadership. In this extraordinary interview, Sweet recalled a time when she was in second grade and her parents, after much painful deliberation, gave away their life savings to a young couple in their church who had found themselves in legal trouble. It was $500, and the only cushion the growing family had.
“That really stuck with me,” recalls Sweet. “I knew then that I wanted to be that person. I want to be willing to give that $500 away,” she says. “I want to have a really big impact on my kids, my community, and my company.”
For today’s challenge, Julie Sweet asks you to ask yourself one question: Who have I helped today?
One of the most powerful ways we can help each other is by taking the time to see others’ potential. Sweet recalls a time when a college mentor took an interest in her, and advised her to study in China.
“He believed it would create opportunities for me in the future,” she says. She spent part of her junior year in Taiwan, which in 1985, was still under martial law. “It was my first time to travel or live outside the U.S., and it taught me to take risks and have confidence in those decisions.” But she also understood the cognitive dissonance of being the “only one”:
“It helped me develop empathy for what it felt like to be in an environment where your differences stand out, and taught me the thrill and satisfaction of taking on great adventures.”
Post your thoughts on today’s challenge on Twitter with #IncludeU30.
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