Changing A Company’s Culture, with Nellie Borrero
Episode 22: Changing A Company’s Culture, with Nellie Borrero
Nellie Borrero is the Global Inclusion and Diversity Managing Director at Accenture. She’s been at the company for 30 years, and it’s her passion for making a difference that really drives her. In this episode, Nellie tells us about her career journey, how she turned a tough situation into a big opportunity to make a difference in her company, her advice for speaking up and tips to improve self-awareness.
00:00 Rachel Griesinger: Welcome to the Ellevate Podcast: Conversations with Women Changing the Face of Business. And now your host, Kristy Wallace.
00:13 Kristy Wallace: Hello, and welcome to the Ellevate Podcast. This is Kristy Wallace, the President of Ellevate Network, and I'm joined here today with Maricella Herrera. Hi, Maricella.
00:22 Maricella Herrera: Hey, Kristy.
00:23 KW: Today we are going to speak with Nellie Borrero, who is the Global Inclusion and Diversity Manager at Accenture. She is an all-around amazing, inspirational woman, and I cannot wait for all of you, our listeners, to hear her story because it is just unbelievable.
00:44 MH: Yeah, she is fantastic. And needless to say, the work she's doing is making a difference at Accenture.
00:54 KW: Yeah, it really is so I'm excited to have her on the podcast today. But before we get there, we have some data from the Ellevate Network we wanted to share with all of you. And I know the first part we were gonna look at is, what has worked best at improving diversity in your company?
01:12 MH: Thirty five percent said that senior management engagement was the number one thing to really drive diversity, 13% said employee groups, 11% said networking events, and another 11% said professional training and education.
01:29 KW: So I'm gonna highlight the 11% that said networking events have worked best at improving diversity within your company 'cause that's a lot of what Ellevate's about. You're expanding your community, meeting other people, other industries and functions, really providing a forum for those connections to be made and those relationships to be built. So, I'm gonna call that out 'cause that's really what Ellevate believes in.
01:54 MH: Yeah. Absolutely. And it's true I think having those exposures to people with different perspectives, different backgrounds, different ideas, it really helps bring that home.
02:10 KW: Yeah. And we know diverse teams drive good business results, so that's a good poll. We also, during my conversation with Nellie, I talked to her quite a bit about her career and what's really inspired her throughout her... Which is a great story. But what drives our members the most to push themselves in their career?
02:33 MH: Well, it is not surprising based on what we do and what Ellevate believes in, and what our mission is of closing the gender achievement gap. But almost 40% of our members say that what drives them the most is feeling like what they do matters. So really that mission, and that feeling of making an impact is number one. Sixteen percent said it's money, of course; and 15% said learning new things, 12% said, "knowing that people depend on me," so both on the job or at home; and 11% feeling appreciated. So the mission and the impact, the financials, the development and the need.
03:21 KW: This shows, one, that there should also be "an all of the above" answers box. That's what I would pick. All of it's important. So before I forget, if you're not an Ellevate member, you should be. And during the month of September, we're running a great promotion to invest in yourself and in your career success by becoming an Ellevate member. Use the code, Invest in Yourself for 20% off your membership, and join a community of amazing women, looking to support you in achieving the best. Thanks again, and on to an interview with Nellie.
04:06 KW: Share with our audience a little bit about your career 'cause you've been at Accenture for a significant period of time, which is something I think we don't see in this day and age, and that says a lot about the company, and the role that you have, and how that's evolved.
04:19 Nellie Borrero: Sure, but first let me start by saying thank you, Kristy, for having me on, and thank you for the great partnership that Ellevate has with Accenture. So I even can't believe this when I say this myself, but in September, I will be celebrating my 30th anniversary at Accenture. And I find that quite shocking, but it's been an amazing career, and what I tell people is that before I entered Accenture, I had a lot of limitations to my own dreams and what I thought I can achieve. And through this journey, I have seen the world in a way that I never thought will be possible.
04:54 KW: I love that. And are you speaking physically 'cause I know you travel quite a bit?
05:00 NB: So I've seen the world physically. I have been to so many countries, and I can probably talk about so many different experiences, but there was one particular experience that I had, and I was in China. And I had the opportunity to visit the Great Wall of China, and I had a moment of just this... I don't know if it was a spiritual moment, an aha moment, we could call it many different things. But I had this moment where I chose to be alone for a few minutes and break away from the team because I had to feel the experience. I just stood there and I remember that my biggest sense of adventure when I was a teenager living and growing up in The Bronx in New York was that I wanted to someday be able to afford and experience going to Florida. That was as far as my dream took me at the time.
05:49 KW: Sure.
05:50 NB: And to be in the Great Wall of China, and having had that experience of having been in a meeting the day before, and having the opportunity to impact the culture in our work environment around the diversity space felt a little surreal, but it also felt so empowering. And I understood at that moment the huge responsibility that have been given to me and provided to me, to be able to impact people all over the world. So there've been many of those moments, doing work in South Africa and many places around Europe, India, visiting South Korea. I could keep going. These have all been amazing experiences and what's interesting is that in trying to integrate the person, the professional, I've made a conscious effort, or I made a conscious effort many years ago that I would take my family along in my journey. Not physically but I would communicate what I was experiencing. And technology really gave me that opportunity with my children, so telling them what was happening in the country, what are the current events, who's ruling, running the country.
07:04 KW: I love it.
07:05 NB: So you can make things work and you can find the best out of every situation but starting from a diversity perspective, it's been an amazing experience.
07:16 KW: How did your career evolve at Accenture? I think this is something that would be really relevant to our audience as many of us are continuing to think, "Well, where am I going next? How do I have an impact in my career?"
07:30 NB: It's interesting for me because I didn't go into the work environment thinking that I am going to be so engaged and involved in leading diversity. In 1986, that wasn't really a word that was really used in the corporate environment. But what became clear to me was that I was different. I joined our New York location and I was probably at the time the only Hispanic American in the organization in that location. And I sounded different, I looked different, I dressed differently. So there were a lot of differences that were there. And differences that positioned me in a way that I felt that I was at a disadvantage. I felt that my confidence level was being challenged. I felt that I was self-editing a lot before speaking. There were a lot of things that were happening that I will go home and not feel very good about. So three months into my role, I decided that I was going to leave. I felt that it had gotten a little bit too hard.
08:42 NB: And the partner that hired me said, "Nellie, I don't want you to leave so here's a challenge for you." He said, "Either you leave and potentially face the same challenges in another place, or you stay and just help change this environment and this culture." I always loved a challenge as a child so that intrigued me and excited me, and I decided that I will stay and help change this culture. And that just propelled me to really start focusing on how do I change the mindset of some of our people? How do I create opportunities for people like me? And I became very focused on, at that time, diversity.
09:25 KW: How did you do that?
09:27 NB: It's so interesting 'cause I think about that now and I say to myself, "Wow! You were very courageous at a very young age." I really think it was that challenge that was posed to me and the fact that I just rise to the occasion when that happens. But I also had an internal battle going on, that there was some conflicts that I was dealing with and it was the conflict of my cultural upbringing as well as this new culture I had entered. And I had this awareness that there were behaviors that I was taught that could either work for me or work against me. So there was a lot of personal stuff going on at the same time, and I found myself understanding one very critical thing, and that was that I didn't mind being angry or upset with other people. But I certainly had a really hard time going home and being angry at myself for something that I should've done differently, or said differently, or had the courage to speak up at a particular time. And I made a conscious decision that I will stop being angry at myself.
10:39 NB: And I decided to push myself and stretch myself at that point in time. In one particular instance, I had a conversation with some leaders and I really wanted their support and sponsorship to establish a new program, but I also wanted them to think about me and my level and how I can get to the next level. So there were a couple of request in that conversation.
11:00 KW: Of course, as I think there should be.
11:02 NB: Yeah, and it should be, right?
11:02 KW: As there should be.
11:03 NB: And I went home and I was telling my parents and I told them, "So you know, there's a conversation I had with my leaders," and my mother looked at me like she was horrified and she said, "Nellie, you can't do that. You gotta be so appreciative of the blessings that have come your way and the opportunities and don't mess up or jeopardize that opportunity." And I looked at her and we laughed after this 'cause I said, "Mom, I get it. But I want more blessings, and if I want more blessings I gotta speak up." So that really became what I kept focusing on throughout. It wasn't easy. There were days that I felt very intimidated. And there were days that I felt very empowered. So I had to remind myself on those days that were hard about the good days. And what I also found that people are generally very kind and people generally wanna help. And I, in my entire career I cannot say that I've ever come across a leader that I felt was an outright sexist, racist, that intentionally wanted to exclude and not be inclusive. But I've come across multiple leaders that have multiple competing priorities, and they don't realize how some of their behavior is impacting some in a positive way and some in a negative way.
12:27 NB: I'm very aware of the fact that sometimes when people are uncomfortable with differences, they rather shy away from the conversation than to have the conversation because they're afraid of offending or they're afraid of being labeled as someone that doesn't get it. So in this space, I think part of my culture, which is to really be focused on relationships really helped me also, to be able to build those trusting relationships to get to the point of those transparent conversations, to get to the point of execution.
13:01 KW: So what advice do you have around speaking up?
13:06 NB: Yeah, sure. So I think there's two points that come to mind. One is, be prepared, know your subject, know what you're trying to accomplish. And the second is, don't take anything personal because once you go down that path of taking something very personal, or response personal, or the lack of support, or the lack of buying your idea or supporting your idea, if you take that personal, you've lost. Because sometimes it's a matter of bringing someone along, and it may take three conversations, it may take 10 conversations, we just don't know. So I learned very junior in my career, just I couldn't take things personal. I couldn't let things get under my skin. I had to develop a tough skin, and that wasn't easy.
13:51 NB: It wasn't easy because for me, if I felt I made a mistake in the conversation, if I pushed the wrong way, I would let that fester in my mind for a long time. I would lose sleep over it. I would play the conversation over and over in my head, and it's that holding of forgiving yourself for making a mistake. So I went through all that. I went through the guilt factor, maybe I had the wrong timing and feeling guilty and bad about that. But with conversations, if they're gonna be sensitive and there are conversations that, let's say, we know are gonna make some people uncomfortable, if you go with facts and if you with the spirit of, "I'm trying to have this conversation that this will positively benefit you as a leader, and our organization, and our people." If the intention is good, then you arm yourself with that power to know you're pushing the boundaries.
14:49 KW: That's great advice. So, during our conversation so far, you've exhibited just this admirable quality of self-awareness. Tips, ideas, advice? Share please!
15:00 NB: Yes, I have some, and some people actually laugh when I share my favorite, which is New Year's Day. So many, many years ago, I knew that I wanted to get to the next level, but I also knew the impact that that will have on my family. And we developed this practice that every New Year's Day, after we celebrate New Year's Eve, we get together for brunch, and we hand over our objectives for the year. Our personal...
15:28 KW: As a family?
15:28 NB: As a family. So I write down mine, my husband his, my daughter hers, and my son, my mom, my dad when he was with us because it really takes a village, it really does. And it sets clarity for the year, so that's where it starts. And then what we do is on birthdays, we revisit those. So everybody talks about, "Okay, so is this the path that you still wanna go in?" It's taught my son the power of committing to a decision and, "I wanna take guitar lessons," but then you're now in March and you don't like it, but hey, that was your objective for the year, so what are we gonna do here? So there's that.
16:10 NB: There also is that pulse that I was talking about, and that feeling. As I travel around the world, if I'm coming back from a trip and something's not feeling right, and I'm on that airplane, and I'm feeling like, "Mm, I'm not feeling 100% excited," I have to go back and think, "What could I have down differently?" And that creates a lot of awareness. If I get on the plane, and I am at ease, and I feel relaxed, I know that I had a very successful visit. So I'm constantly checking my feelings of how am I feeling? And that has helped me. If I start to lose sleep at night, I know something's off because I love to sleep. And if I'm waking up at two o'clock in the morning or four o'clock in the morning, something's wrong. So I pay attention to how I'm feeling.
17:01 KW: Are your kids proud of you?
17:04 NB: It's interesting because my daughter's now 31 years old and I have a 13-year-old. So I have a lot of diversity in my life too when it comes to my two kids. My daughter gave me the best compliment ever. She was off to college at a young age, and we decided we're gonna have dinner together. And she said to me, "What you have taught me in the last several years," she said, "will help me so much as I go to college. How to become independent." And there are decisions that I've made in my life that I've always wondered, "Did I do right by her?" And there was one decision that really, really kept nagging at me, and she confirmed for me at that dinner that that was probably the best decision I ever made for her. So, we'll see with my son, he's only 13, but just last night, he gave me a big hug and he said, "Mom, you're great." I'm like, "A 13-year-old boy telling you that... "
17:58 KW: Thank you. Yes, I am. Yes, I am.
18:00 NB: I've done something right.
18:00 KW: Yes, I am.
18:00 NB: So I hope they'll continue to be proud of me. But I can tell you this, I'm very proud of them.
18:08 KW: Clearly you have a strong family involvement in where you're going, and vice versa. You're supporting them. How important has that been? And what other communities do you lean on outside of your family?
18:18 NB: It has been extremely important is what I say has helped me get to the level that I've reached at Accenture. It's tough to have conversations with your significant other when you both realize that you're moving way too quickly, way too fast, things out of control and you gotta figure out someone has to slow it down. Who's gonna do that? It's through those conversations in those New Year's Day that we make the decision of who's career is really moving at a really fast pace and who's gonna slow down a little bit? And that's how we started this conversation when I knew I was being considered for the next level, which at the time was Senior Executive. I was very aware that I will have to travel the world. Very aware of it. I was very aware that it will be a great move and I also was very aware that it will require sacrifices for my family. So, having that understanding and my husband then saying, "Okay, I get it, this means that I need to slow it down a little bit 'cause someone's gotta be at home. Someone's gotta look out for our family." It has helped a lot because there's clarity, there's communication, and there's agreement.
19:36 NB: And if you continue throughout the year and you hit a bump along the way where things are feeling a little bit off, you go back to that conversation of January 1st. Are we still aligned to what we agreed on on January first? And if something has changed and we're no longer aligned then we need to sit down and revisit. So for me clarity is critically important, but also understanding that I am being fair across the board. And for my son who was much younger at that time, I needed him to understand why I will be traveling so much. So he needs to understand Mommy wants to get to the next level, Mommy wants to be able to provide these opportunities for you, this is what it's gonna mean. So it's clarity, and they're all on the journey with you.
20:24 KW: So one final question for you. What does success look like? When will you know, "Yes, I have accomplished everything that I want to at Accenture, personally"?
20:38 NB: Oh, goodness. [laughter] That's a great question. I don't know because it changes. Just when I reach one milestone, I'm thinking, okay, well, that's great, but what about the next? So I'm always thinking of the next and the next and the next. I have so many things I still wanna accomplish, and I tell people that my spirit won't let me rest until I get to accomplish those things. Sometimes I wish I had more hours in the day to be able to focus on some of these things that I want to do. But I tell you what I tell people, and that is that, and maybe I'm gonna get a little bit too off topic here, but there are two things that drive me. One is, I wanna be able, if God gives me the opportunity to last till I'm 80 or 90, I don't know, but I wanna be able to sit on a porch in a rocking chair and look at a lake and have as little regret as possible.
21:33 NB: So sometimes I have to make a decision and I actually ask myself when I'm on that rocking chair what am I gonna regret? Am I gonna regret missing a meeting? Or am I gonna regret not being there for my son for something that's important to him? So I constantly ask myself that question. I also say to myself that when my time comes and if there's a tombstone somewhere that's gonna get too deep and too dark maybe, but it's not gonna say, Nellie Borrero, Managing Director of Accenture. It's gonna say, "Nellie" and it's gonna say words that describe me as a person. That to me is success. What are people going to say about me? And that's probably the best way I can put it.
22:13 KW: I love that. Thank you.
22:14 NB: Thank you.
22:15 KW: Thank you for joining us today and for everything that you've shared. This has been really fantastic.
22:19 NB: Thank you. It was my pleasure. I enjoyed it.