Accenture managing director Victoria Pelletier is no stranger to barriers at work: as the youngest executive in the room, as a woman, and as an LGBTQ person.

Picture of Host: Maaz Rana

Host: Maaz Rana

Picture of Guest: Victoria Pelletier

Guest: Victoria Pelletier

Victoria Pelletier is a senior executive leader, speaker, author, and managing director at Accenture.

Maaz Rana: Welcome to the Not A Token Hire podcast presented by Knockri, where we talk talent and HR with the experts. This episode, we have senior executive leader, speaker, and author Victoria Pelletier. She’s a managing director at Accenture. Victoria is a C-suite transformation leader who was named one of the 50 most influential business leaders in technology by Insight Success.

In our conversation, Victoria shares her personal experiences as the youngest executive in the room, sometimes the only woman, and often the only LGBTQ person, as well. Victoria, thank you so much for joining Not A Token Hire podcast. I would love for you to just take a few minutes to introduce yourself to the audience. Personally, I know that you’re quite an accomplished individual, but I would love for you to share with everyone else as well.

Victoria Pelletier: Sure. Well, thanks for having me on. I’m always happy to take part and support your organization and your community of followers.

So, my background, I’m a lifelong corporate executive, started in banking while I was in university. But I loved the business world and stayed with it in B2B professional services as COO of a BPO company — so, an outsourcing company — at age 24, and ever since, I stayed in that space amongst a bunch of different industries or vertical slices of professional services from corporate travel and mobility to the world of HR strategy consulting and outsourcing. I am currently working for Accenture, Managing Director, actually, leading the travel industry portfolio, plus still heavily involved as part of our CEO transformation practice.

So that intersection between like CEOs and boards and what’s on their strategic agenda with a lens around culture and leadership and how to make the transformation successful.

MR: Amazing. Thank you so much for sharing that. And I know for other people who have had similar journeys in terms of their career, there’s been quite a different type of struggle. But you being a woman within the industry that you’re in, I’m sure that also posed some unique challenges. So, what were some of the biggest things that you did have to face or barriers that you did have to face as you were going through your path that you’re able to share today?

VP: Sure, no, happy to. And sharing my story, my lived experiences, failures, and successes has become actually a big part of who I am. What I didn’t mention in my intro is that I have a side hustle approved by Accenture and my former employer, IBM, which is around public speaking, and I share pretty openly because I wish some of what I know now, my 20-year-old self knew.

And so, for me as a woman, a leader in business, there’s been a number of challenges I faced. So first off, I’d say there’s the adversity I faced in my youth that just, has affected me for many, many years in terms of how I showed up at work. So, fearful of rejection, what people thought about me, you know, had me constantly wear a mask in terms of my comfort level, showing vulnerability, showing emotion, both, again, that that’s a little bit of my backstory, but also then as a woman wanting to not appear to be too soft, given that I’m typically been involved in restructuring, 18 mergers and acquisitions I’ve been a part of and some other kind of related transactions. And that comes with, you know, really tough business decisions.

And so how I showed up was critically important to me, and I was concerned about what that meant again as me, as a woman. But I’ll also tell you that when I made that leap going out of banking and stepping into what was actually quite a stretch role for me at the time, stepping in to be COO, I was 24.

I might have been a mature 24, but I was a 24-year-old. And so I also was not only the only woman at the boardroom table. I was the youngest by two decades, and I’m also part of the LGBT community. I came out as a teenager as bisexual, and at that time actually was married to my wife, who I was with for 11 years, now, married to my husband and have been with him for almost nine.

But at that point, how I showed up, knowing I was underrepresented on a multitude of fronts — again, female, age, sexuality — caused me to again show up in ways that I thought I needed to based upon the audience or individuals in front of me at that point. And it wasn’t until I was much older that I learned to get more comfortable with just who Victoria is.

And it had nothing to do with my gender, the masculine-feminine. I hate when people talk about masculine and feminine energy and how we show up. I just show up and this is me now.

MR: Would you say that that was something that you kind of eventually arrived at through the course of all your experiences? Or was there a single moment or experience in time where you’re like, “You know what, I’m kind of fed up and I just what? I’m going to show up how I want to show up.”

VP: There were two moments for me in my career that were eye-opening and caused me to need to stare pretty directly at myself in the mirror and say, like, “who is this woman before me?” And “is this the type of leader that I would want to work for?” And so one was I learned that I had a nickname called “The Iron Maiden,” and that was because I was in large-scale operations.

Usually the turnaround team would come in and make changes and drive us forward to be more successful and to bring more clients into profitability targets. And that means holding people accountable to performance. So, I made the tough decisions. I’ve never been one who shied away from, you know, being radically candid from a place of care, but having those tough conversations.

So one and then two, as I said, you know, I wasn’t showing a significant amount of emotion. A lot of what I was doing was very difficult, but I would never want to share it here at work. So, Iron Maiden was the nickname I learned I had. And then secondly was probably not too long after that.

A colleague of mine on Monday came in talking about our weekends, and I said I’d watched some movie going to the theater and I was bawling. I was absolutely crying. And she literally just looked at me like in complete shock and said, like, “I thought you’d be the type of person that laughed at people who cried at movies.” And again, I was crushed because I’m extremely emotional, personally, crying at the Humane Society commercials on TV when you see those dogs and kittens out there.

So that for me was, as I said those two things happened within a short period of time, it’s when I realized that I wouldn’t want to work for a person like that. People might have had a great deal of respect for me, given the outcomes and what I deliver, but they were probably in fear of me. You know, I likely wouldn’t have built a strong followership of people who would have wanted to come along as I moved to different opportunities.

So it required me to be really critical about myself and to start to model the behavior, the language, and actions, and, quite honestly, the thinking to show up differently. And it was not comfortable at first. And I just needed to lean into that discomfort and do it repeatedly until it just became much more natural.

And some of that also, I think comes with age, because it wasn’t just then how I showed up, but the ability to share my story, to provide context around my experience and decision-making, much more so. And that’s actually made a world of difference for me in terms of my leadership, the followership I feel, and the engagement of my team.

MR: And, you know, Victoria, it’s interesting that you’re talking about leadership and building that followership. And where my mind goes is just as of recent this great resignation that we’ve experienced.

So I was wondering, like it always comes through my mind and, you know, discussing with others, what were some of like the variables or things that kind of led up to that, would you say leadership and the way that people run their businesses or how managers engage with their employees was one of those driving factors? Or is there a myriad of other factors that you think contributed to the great resignation?

VP: I think there are a multitude of factors, and I wouldn’t lay it all on the doorstep of the culture and the leadership, but I do think that is a significant part of it. I think that during this mass exodus of people and, you know, what’s now called this great resignation, you know, people took stock of what was really important to them while we were all locked away with everything shut down in our apartments or homes, you know, either with or without family that were with us, in those spaces to reflect on our health, our happiness. The extreme extrinsic factors that might have kept us excited and going out to, you know, art events and restaurants and pubs and things like that with our friends were now gone. So I think it was that reflection on, you know, what like is this all worth it? When many people were dying, we were hearing about the number of cases and the deaths that were occurring. I think that was that opportunity for people to really reflect.

And I, I talk a lot about doing things that bring me great joy or passion and the things that don’t are either a small part of the job that should be 80/20. Like there should be a small part that you just have to do because it’s part of my life, my job, or whatever the activity is.

But for everything else, I’m going to stop doing it or I’m going to outsource it or I’m going to delegate it. And so I think people realize that and look pretty critically at the roles they held in their organizations. Was it aligned with their own personal value statement or mission? Do they believe in the product or service? And did they believe in the leadership they were working for?

Were they supported by a human-centered type of leader and environment, did the culture, nurture, the things that were important to them? I think so. As I said, I don’t lay it all on the doorstep of those things, but I do think those are pretty big factors. You know, you can change your role in a company, the work that you do, but the ability to change many of the leaders…

You can change your direct leader, but change the leadership as a whole in overall, the culture, which I believe is an outcome of leadership, of action, behaviors, policies, you know, those become part of change. So that’s why people made a decision to exit. And some just to say, “I’m not working until I find what that ideal is.”

MR: And, you know, with that kind of movement in the employment market and just like those swift changes, obviously there’s been many who have changed their roles, changed and gone to different companies, but there’s those who have still stuck around. And for those people, how do you think this has all affected employees who didn’t change their jobs, who are still at the enterprises that they might have been prior to COVID and the great resignation?

VP: I think there’s, of the people who’ve chosen to stay, have chosen to do it for a few different reasons. And I think it can vary on the whole generationally. You know, there’s you know, there’s a certainly a generation and just other, you know, personality types who are loyal and want to stay with something and are really uncomfortable about what change looks like and/or are afraid to exit.

So I think they’ll stay for that reason. From a compensation perspective. They’ll stay because they believe that they’re paid. Well, maybe it actually they have a good work-life balance even if they hate work that they’re doing or what I see with, and I spend a lot of time with executives, there is that, you know, the golden handcuffs they have of being locked into long-term incentive programs.

And it’s like, well, if I leave, I’m leaving a ton of money on the table, so money will cause people to do strange things sometimes at the sacrifice of their own happiness. And then I think there’s a small percentage of people who, you know, just a few people I know, just like to kind of complain. And I have this mantra of like no excuses.

Like, you do what you can to change and move things forward, you know, to the extent that you can impact it. But then when you get to that point where you can no longer, then that’s the time you take your situation into your own hands and make a move. And if you continue to keep griping about it after that, at that point, then at that point that’s it squarely on you.

MR: And that’s I totally get that. And, you know, as you think, as we think about what’s been happening with people moving and, you know, some who have even decided to get out of the job market and as you said, wait for that opportunity.

Do you think this is going to be a trend that’s continuing for a while longer? Or do you think we’re starting to move past some of this movement within the employment market?

VP: I think there’s going to be a mix of those individuals. I think the support that came through the pandemic for people to be out of work probably enabled a little bit more of that. Right. And in many cases, when we talk about industries that were hit, you think of some of the frontline workers around hospitality and retail.

It was more financially beneficial to stay at home, than go back to work, quite frankly. So I think that helped. I mean, those economic incentives are now done. So, you know, there’s a drive to get back and certainly in the workforce, I think for those who are financially comfortable enough or who picked up recognize they could live with less, chose to go to different types of roles that maybe paid them less money, but again brought them much greater happiness.

And many, many people started their own businesses or side hustles. Again, they might be living on less, but building aspirations and a business plan to grow it. But what I think now is, I mean, certainly with inflation, more people are going to have to be back at work as our daily lives cost much more, you’d be hard-pressed to find anyone who’s not impacted.

And again, there’s a greater impact from an inflation perspective, you know, given age, stage, commute, children, daycare, all those sorts of things impact. So I think there’s going to be a drive to get back into the workforce for those who chose to temporarily step aside. But I do think that forever our wants, desires, and perceptions around what, you know, good looks like and a healthy workplace looks like, it’s changed forever.

MR: Yeah. And you know, on that I kind of where my mind shifts Victoria is as, let’s say, employers or leaders. What do you think the takeaways are for us when it comes to the great resignation and how should we be moving forward, considering everything that’s happened?

VP: There is this need, I think I said earlier here, on what human-centered leadership is. At Accenture, actually, we did a study and talked about responsible leadership. But that’s this dynamic between, you know, fulfillment and purpose. So I think of when I’m you know, I talked about the work I do around the intersection between transformation with culture and leadership.

To be successful as a leader, it means you need to be very clear about the purpose of that transformation. And change the new market entry, new product, new service that are aligned to those that you choose to attract and retain within your business. So you need to make sure you’re constantly building that into the organizational DNA and the leadership.

It means as leaders, we need to be understanding much more, being compassionate around our employees’ needs and the multifaceted environment that they exist in. Right. It’s not the proverbial 9 to 5, right? We all have outside lives that contribute to how we show up every day. And as we stare into people’s home offices or bedrooms, it’s even more critical to be really compassionate about what contributes to the whole person that shows up, the creating environment where, you know, leaders are much more transparent around everything.

Health and safety certainly is something we’re all looking at. But around again, how the business is operating or thriving with many businesses had to make incredibly difficult decisions, and some have had to continue to as a result of inflation, as a result of what’s happening, foreign tension, more inflation, etc.

So being really transparent to the extent that they can and providing context around what’s happening in the business, around being much more inclusive, creating the kind of environments that represent the communities that we live and thrive in as well, is more important than ever and creating great opportunity. I think a lot of employees look for, you know, they realize there’s not safety per se in the traditional way

Maybe our parents or grandparents would have thought about it. But that safety in the newer generation’s eyes is also around preparing them for the future and looking at the skills they have for today and what they need to have for tomorrow as well. So it’s a very different way for leadership to think about how they need to show up every day than just kind of looking at scorecard performance, you know, every day, and marching forward.

MR: Right, that makes a lot of sense. And you know, Victoria, as we’re appearing to move out of, you know, COVID and like the craziness that’s kind of happened in the last two and some-odd years, I’m going to leave you with an open-ended question and feel free to take it wherever you want.

If there is one thing that you want to leave behind in terms of the last two years as we go forward, what would that be? And if there’s one thing that you want to bring with you in terms of things that have changed in the last two years, what would that be?

VP: I want to leave behind and get back to, like the no-touch rule, right. The fear of being in close proximity and touching people. I, I am a highly affectionate individual and certainly with my family. But even like when I’m meeting new colleagues, like I’m a, I’m a hugger, like, I want to lean in and I want to show my care and compassion.

And so I missed that during COVID time, so happily. And I know that’s changed still. And I’m really respectful of people who don’t feel in a safe place around that. But getting back to it has been great. And I do think, as we talked about great resignation and how employees are thinking about their own careers and their own happiness.

I’m thankful that this has caused this pause and time for reflection, because, quite frankly, I think all of you know, the organizations and world needed to change if we want to drive forward to a much greener world with much more love and compassion for our neighbors, then we all need to be showing up and doing things really differently.

So as painful as it was to experience these last couple of years, I think that’s a real positive that’s come out of it and I’m looking forward to that continuing.

MR: And I think that’s a great place to kind of leave us at. One last thing for you, Victoria, is where would you like people to reach out to you and connect with you?

VP: So there’s one or two places you can find me. On LinkedIn: Victoria Pelletier, I post there pretty regularly. Lots around leadership and culture and the things that are important to me. Or you can also find me on my website which is where you’ll see samples of the speaking and talks that I do and also cross-posted some articles there.

MR: Victoria thank you so much, really appreciate your time, and thank you for sharing.

VP: Thanks for having me.

MR: Take care.