Julie Sweet, CEO of Accenture North America, at Fortune’s Most Powerful Women Summit 2016.
Photo credit: Fortune Conferences via Flickr Creative Commons.
Fostering diversity in the corporate world has been a challenge for a long time. Historically, those at the highest levels of the business sector have predominately been white and male. Changing that paradigm is sure to be a difficult long-term process, but it certainly helps to have visionary people in leadership roles who can make a difference. One prime example is Julie Sweet, the CEO of Accenture North America, who recently told CNN she’s looking to achieve “total gender equality” for her company by 2025.
When Sweet took over, the company’s employee base in the United States was 64 percent men and 36 percent women; she hoped to narrow that gap to 60-40 by 2017, and she ended up hitting that goal a year early. Now, she’s got even bigger ambitions: a 50-50 split by the middle of the next decade, as well as significant increases in hiring African-Americans, Hispanic-Americans, and veterans.
“I’m very optimistic,” said Sweet. “I’m with CEOs all the time. I’m in the C-suite. There is something different today than even two or three years ago. There’s a genuine focus that’s not about checking the box… There’s been so much disruption. Companies are having to come up with entirely new business models.”
Sweet emphasized that the new business model should stress not only diversity, but transparency about that diversity. She works to publicize her company’s diversity stats so that not only other Accenture employees understand the strategy at work, but also executives at other companies will take notice and hopefully engage in a conversation about creating a more diverse future.
The hope for Sweet is not just to improve Accenture as a company, but to be a leader for a larger movement.
“When I’m talking to my peers, what they recognize is they can’t do it with the same leaders,” she said. “They need different thoughts. Different ideas. Diversity, I think, has become a real business imperative at the very top with CEOs who are facing massive disruption. That, I think, is why we’re at an inflection point.”