“Seize the opportunities,” says Jill Huntley, Senior Director of Corporate Citizenship at Accenture. “There is luck everywhere. It just depends on whether you’re looking for it, if you can see it, and if you are ready to grab it when it’s there.”
For example, Huntley began her career at Accenture 18 years ago as a business consultant. But when she embarked on an assignment to Africa in 2000, she developed an interest in corporate citizenship, which opened doors and led to a global role at the company.
“You don’t know where your first step is going to lead. Take some chances and stretch your self. Look for challenges,” she said. “There are many different roads that will take you through your career.”
After graduating from university, Huntley joined a non-profit, and following that went back to school for post-graduate studies. She then took a role at Accenture, where – over the course of 18 years – she has held a variety of positions.
Her first career at Accenture was in business consulting. “I worked with our clients in financial services and government. It was very interesting,” she recalled. For example, she worked with one banking client on a project concerning the introduction of the Euro.
She continued, “Then in 2000, there was a shift in my career. I went to work in Tanzania to support a change program, transforming a traditional approach to learning and vocational training to something more accessible and modular, which enabled people do to things like study part time.”
“It was a pivotal point, and shifted my career. I helped set up Accenture Development Partnerships to provide Accenture’s services at a reduced fee for the non-profit sector,” she explained.
Her work with Accenture Development Partnerships opened doors and provided introductions to Huntley – for example, she got to know the company’s international chairman. As a result, she continued, “He asked me to establish the corporate citizenship function.”
Currently, Huntley is the senior director of corporate citizenship at Accenture.
So far, Huntley says her greatest achievement has been her ability to maintain career advancement while being a mother. “And also, the extent to which I can use that experience to help other women at Accenture.”
“I’ve managed to stay in some kind of balance, and I’m proud of the fact that I’ve been able to help others through mentoring,” she explained, noting that she’s helped other women find ways to stay at the company when they felt challenged by juggling work life responsibilities. “I recently became executive sponsor of our maternity program, and I see that as the formalizing of that role.”
She continued, “Looking back, I can see how things have built off each other, and accumulated throughout my career. It’s an interesting combination of different areas of focus and professional achievements and it’s been very rewarding.”
Corporate Citizenship at Accenture
“Corporate citizenship can mean a number of things,” Huntley explained. “At the end of the day, it’s about the values and character of a company. We’re a people-based company. We develop human capital at a significant scale. And it makes sense for us to use that capability to contribute more widely to society.”
The company has made a commitment to equip 250,000 people by 2015 with the skills they need to get a job or build a business, and does that mainly by working with non-profit organizations to support education and job training to people around the world. “We’re making very good progress,” she noted. “We’ve equipped 160,000 people with skills so far.
The company has committed $100 million by 2013 as part of its Skills to Succeed initiative, and recently gave out several grants worth $10 million. “We are measuring the outcomes driven by those investments,” Huntley explained. “We’re able to skill people to get jobs, to start businesses, and grow those businesses. We’re keen to measure that and transfer those contributions to hard results.”
Another benefit is employee engagement, she continued. “Our employees are incredibly energized about Skills to Succeed. It’s a concrete way to apply their professional skills to help civic organizations and people in communities. It’s important for all of us to see the connection between what we are doing and the outcomes achieved.”
Advice for Professional Women
Huntley believes that while there are challenges for women in the professional space, many may be internal. “There certainly are barriers, but I think quite often there aren’t as many as we think. Quite a lot of what stops women from progressing is in our own mind. That’s one of my personal learnings along the way.”
One of the most important lessons she’s learned throughout her career is to be tenacious. “It’s a marathon, not a sprint. There are different cycles, roles, and relationships and you won’t always be liked. Getting comfortable with that is something I needed to learn. Being liked is not the same as being respected.”
She continued, “We should always push or test boundaries. There’s something important about confidence and having the courage to step out and try new things. Sometimes you have to take the road less traveled and you find there are fewer barriers than you expected when you do that.”
Huntley also encouraged senior women to consider the road less traveled. “The only version of success that matters is your version. It’s about taking chances and if something less conventional is before you and you want to do it, then that’s what you should do.”
In Her Personal Time
Huntley says she enjoys spending time outdoors, including long distance running and hiking. “I have less time for that now because I have a young family,” she said. “But I really like to combine my passions. My family is one of my passions and love spending time with them outdoors.”