Vanessa Harding, Managing Director at Accenture

Meet the partners: NPWLive

As we begin to look to the future of work and think about what the next few months might hold for our careers, Northern Power Women and Accenture have been engaged in discussing what we think we will have control over as we move out of full lockdown. Accenture partnered with Northern Power Women for the NPWLive Keynote conversation, asking the question:


What does the new world of work look like and who is rewriting the rules?


Accenture have a clear commitment to ensuring a flexible and adaptable re-emergence out of lockdown as a collaborative workforce. We spoke to Vanessa Harding, Managing Director at Accenture, to hear what she had to say about how we can find control and stability in the coming months of change.


A key topic touched on by the speakers in the keynote conversation was how technology has shifted what we previously viewed as geographical limitations. We now know that the majority of meetings can be replicated using online platforms and don’t require employees to travel to a shared space. Vanessa spoke of how this new found flexibility could encourage others to seek careers in cities in the North of the UK. “I am really passionate about creating more opportunities and more of a community in the North […] my friends were going into London to set up their careers down there, and I decided I didn’t want to do that, I wanted a career in the North-West. I’ve been able to have a London career but out of Manchester, thanks to the way that Accenture is set up and it’s flexibility”. As a new mum, and someone who has only recently returned to work from maternity leave, Vanessa’s appreciation for flexibility has also been extended to how she uses her time, admitting that “lockdown made me go at my daughters pace, not my pace”. Vanessa spoke of how she would like to see this change of pace in our societal attitudes towards productivity, hoping that we move towards a “more thoughtful pace […] You need to appreciate what’s happening and know that things are going to change, and find the value in where you are right now”.


Vanessa also highlighted how efforts to build a new world of work after the pandemic need to have diversity and inclusion at their core, stressing the importance of “actually having women and female voices in the bodies and organisations that are driving the economic recovery”. She spoke of how this recovery and our efforts to reach equality in the workplace should be centred around creating a workplace culture that is truly inclusive. One area of policy Vanessa mentioned regarded maternity and paternity leave, as she explained how: “I was very passionate about my partner taking paternity leave. I genuinely think that it becomes easier for women to have career breaks if men are doing it as well. It becomes easier to return, the organisation can deal with it better, it isn’t a women’s only thing that becomes an impact on your career if everyone has that opportunity”.


A key theme that was covered, both during the NPWLive Keynote Conversation and in our discussion with Vanessa, is that the future will be defined by the support that we receive, both professionally and personally. As she said, “support networks have taken on a different role, and tapping into them and finding ways to really use them and prioritise them, has been huge over the last 12 months”. Vanessa spoke of the effect that support from role models and mentors have had on her career, stating that: “I’m one of those people who feels that if you think you’re in a problem, you almost get lost in the problem […] that’s what mentors have been able to do for me, to take the emotion out of it and to help me think okay, how do I move on from this what do I need to learn from this”.


Outside of a professional context, Vanessa has also benefited from being part of a whatsapp group, and feeling connected to a wider group of people with shared experiences. “The first lockdown hit when my daughter was 6 weeks old. We’d done NCT but hadnever, as a group of mums, ever managed to meet up with all of us. We did have a whatsapp group running, that is probably one of the liveliest whatsapp groups I had throughout the entire pandemic […] That digital relationship became really quite valuable, we just started sharing hints and tips everyday, and those kinds of things are very powerful. I think support networks and realising the value of them is one of the biggest things anyone can take away from the pandemic”. This community support has also been offered by Accenture throughout Vanessa’s phased return to work after maternity leave, underpinned by an understanding of the importance of feeling connected and valued. Vanessa described how “making sure you’re hooked into a network of new parents coming back to work is vital, and that there are various communities at Accenture, that help you find a variety of different peoples’ hints and tips and what works for them”.


From their partnership with Northern Power Women in hosting the keynote conversation, to the personal experiences of empathy and flexibility that Vanessa has experienced as a Managing Director, Accenture has identified itself as an organisation truly committed to creating a diverse and inclusive workplace. As Vanessa highlighted, it is vital that over the coming weeks and months we don’t lose sight of the valuable support networks that have helped us through the last 12 months of challenges, as well as the importance of slowing down and recognising the value in everyday life.

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