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Accenture hired 118,000 employees in the last year. The VR headsets helped

October 13, 2021, 12:55 PM UTC

Good morning, Broadsheet readers! Some girls in Afghanistan are going back to school, the pandemic hit women over 40 especially hard, and CEOs shared their best pandemic lessons on Day 2 of Fortune’s Most Powerful Women Summit. Have a wonderful Wednesday!

– Pandemic-era ingenuity. Eighteen months into the pandemic and we are still learning how the seismic event is transforming how business gets done—from the C-suite to the factory floor.

That was a theme of Day 2 of Fortune‘s Most Powerful Women Summit in Washington, D.C.

Accenture CEO Julie Sweet says her firm has hired 118,000 people in the past year—54,000 in the last quarter alone. One pain point was onboarding that many employees remotely. “Before COVID, when you started a job, one of the exciting things was showing up someplace,” Sweet said at the Summit on Tuesday. “What we realized pretty quickly is that people we were hiring were literally shutting their laptop, and then getting the new laptop from Accenture and there was no sense of excitement or connection.” Accenture aimed to fix that problem by sending new hires more corporate swag and buying tens of thousands of virtual reality headsets so employees could share a virtual experience together.

Flex CEO Revathi Advaithi said the electronics manufacturer’s pandemic experience didn’t include Zoom calls or flexible hours. Most of its employees are scattered at production sites, which posed their own set of challenges, like the need to accommodate workers whose kids were home from school, working around local lockdowns, and nowadays trying to fix supply chain snags. “Trying to do that in a way that is right for our colleagues and our employees has been the most difficult part and I’d say now it’s become almost something we’re very good at,” she said.

FORTUNE Most Powerful Women 2021
Accenture CEO Julie Sweet and Flex CEO Revathi Advaithi talk to Alyson Shontell, Fortune editor in chief, at the Fortune Most Powerful Women Summit on Oct. 12, 2021.
Karen Sayre—Fortune MPW

Williams Sonoma CEO Laura Alber, the Fortune 500’s longest-serving female chief executive, kept paying her store employees in the early days of the pandemic even though the parent of Pottery Barn and West Elm had to close physical locations. She says the move preserved corporate culture and made employees more resourceful; they used improvised tech tools to remotely advise customers on their purchases. (Last year, comparable sales companywide rose 17%.) Alber says the experience undercuts the common complaint that retail workers want to be paid to do nothing. Engaging workers, she says, “is what brings out the best ideas.”

Speaking of resourceful…Melissa Bradley, managing partner of 1863 Ventures, an accelerator focused on businesses run by people of color, said Tuesday that 97.5% of the accelerator’s Black female-run businesses survived the pandemic. Because such startups are chronically underfunded, they are used to operating in less-than-ideal circumstances. “They can already plan ahead,” says Bradley, who advocates for closing the funding gap. “This whole lack of capital and economic crisis: They deal with it every single day.” Plus, such companies often have close ties to their communities, meaning they could quickly form partnerships to find new ways to reach customers. Cheryl Dorsey, president of Echoing Green, a nonprofit specializing in funding social entrepreneurship and innovation, says those connections pay dividends: “We’ve seen an extraordinary group of African American women who are in their communities doubling their bottom line, tripling their bottom line.”

The final day of the Summit will feature U.S. Chamber of Commerce President Suzanne Clark, Match CEO Shar Dubey, D.C. Mayor Muriel Bowser, and Nextdoor CEO Sarah Friar, and many more. There’s more news from Day 2 below!

Claire Zillman

The Broadsheet, Fortune’s newsletter for and about the world’s most powerful women, is coauthored by Kristen Bellstrom, Emma Hinchliffe, and Claire Zillman. Today’s edition was curated by Claire Zillman


- Great expectations. CVS, led by CEO and Fortune's No. 1 Most Powerful Woman Karen Lynch, has vaccinated 34 million Americans against COVID-19 and is now helping administer booster shots. The pharmacy chain also imposed a vaccine mandate for members of its 300,000-person workforce who interact with patients. “I firmly believed that when you were all getting vaccinated, you expected your pharmacist to be vaccinated,” Lynch said. Fortune

- Exchange of the future. Fifty-year-old Nasdaq landed on the Fortune 500 for the first time this year. CEO Adena Friedman talked about the company's growth, attributing much of it to technology. Nasdaq has incorporated blockchain into its operations, but Friedman says it currently has no plans to become a crypto exchange. Fortune

- Investment gap. We know pandemic job losses cost women paychecks, but they're also denting women's long-term finances. When women don't work, they lose out on opportunities to invest in their 401(k) plans. "Even little amounts make a huge, huge difference,” said Mellody Hobson, president and co-CEO of Ariel Investments. She and Carrie Schwab-Pomerantz, president of the Charles Schwab Foundation, talked the gender and racial disparities that plague investing—and some signs of hope. Fortune 

- NFTs for everyone. Have you been tuning out NFTs? You shouldn't, Kathryn Haungeneral partner at the crypto fund of VC firm Andreessen Horowitz, said on Tuesday. Blockchain-powered NFTs enable digital scarcity, letting people lay claim to digital content, which marks a departure from how the Internet has operated until now. It's been "one ginormous copy machine—cut and paste, cut and paste," she said. Fortune

MOVERS AND SHAKERS: Salvatore Ferragamo has appointed Daniella Vitale as CEO North America. 


- Even worse. When it comes to the pandemic's blow to American women, those over 40 have gotten the worst of it, according to a new report. Fourteen percent of women ages 40 to 65 lost their jobs due to COVID, and 70% remain unemployed despite the hot job market. Many are overqualified for the jobs available and nearly a third say they're victims of age discrimination. Washington Post 

- Making the cut. The Bank of England recently considered candidates for its chief economist job, and a Freedom of Information request revealed that five women and four men made the shortlist. The BOE, which has never had a female governor or chief economist, still picked a man, Huw Pill, formerly of Goldman Sachs, for the role. Bloomberg

- Back to school (for some). Since taking power in Afghanistan, the Taliban have de facto banned girls from attending school past sixth grade. That's changing now—to some degree. The militant group is allowing girls to attend middle and high school in some more progressive provinces, but not Kabul, a sign the Taliban may enforce rules based on regional differences. Wall Street Journal


The gender researcher’s guide to an equal marriage The Atlantic

Harry and Meghan get into finance The New York Times

Kara Swisher on speaking truth to power Fortune


“The president asked me to work on U.S. competitiveness. We won't be competitive as a nation if women aren't fully deployed in the workforce.”

-U.S. Commerce Secretary Gina Raimondo at Fortune's Most Powerful Women Summit on Tuesday. 

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