Anna Bancroft helps retailers keep up in a digital world and she’s also making sure changing personal circumstances don’t force colleagues to fall behind either.
When employees at Accenture UK are mulling whether to start a family and how that might impact their career, it’s common for them to sound out Anna Bancroft, a managing director and leader in digital transformation. Her message might surprise you.
“I give them the advice that I would never go back to working full-time,” says Anna, who joined Accenture out of university 20 years ago and has helped a Who’s Who of High Street clients — a career sustained and strengthened, she says, by taking most Wednesdays off.
What might sound counterintuitive starts to make sense when you consider the culture that Accenture and Anna are promoting to make the company gender-balanced and family-friendly from top to bottom.
“I love my day off in the middle of the week and it gives me the headspace to manage everything,” she says. “I’ve found that stress doesn’t come from working long hours. It comes from having a lack of head space.”
This is just one of the ideas Anna promotes as a leading advocate for Accent on Family, an initiative that encourages Accenture employees to harmonise their work with their home life. Accent on Family-driven policies include offering up to 32 weeks’ fully-paid leave after the birth of a child — a benefit open to either parent.
The programme’s flagship annual event brings hundreds of Accenture employees’ children aged 5 to 12 into the office for a day to learn about cutting-edge technology, play with virtual reality, and above all to show that Accenture is a home for working families.
“We want to make sure women are coming back from maternity leave and staying with the firm,” says Anna, who notes that whereas once it was common for women to drift away after their first child, today managers pitch roles to new mothers suited for part-time contracts and job-share arrangements.
Anna’s experience shows the family-friendly flexibility of the system in action.
She climbed the ranks from analyst to consultant, manager to senior manager, all by 30. Her projects ranged from digitally transforming a British travel agency chain, to guiding a leading UK supermarket into the world of e-commerce and modernising an oil and gas giant’s retail operations across Germany, Australia and New Zealand.
Along the way, Anna found herself at a recording company’s Christmas party — and on the dance floor met her future husband, Marcus.
Within a year they married and, little more than a year after that, along came Henry.
As her maternity leave neared its end in 2009, Anna had choices to make — and, crucially, had an influential ally in her mentor, Clare Filby. Clare saw Anna’s value and found an ideal role for her return.
Far from being offered “a nothing role,” Anna was put straight back into the supermarket account.
It was then, Anna recalls, that she requested a four-day week.
“Accenture was very proactive in making sure I didn’t get left behind in my career,” Anna says.
Since then, Anna has worked with a string of high street heavyweights — and her family has grown to include Zac and Daisy.
These days, she wakes before dawn four days a week to catch a 50-minute train from Colchester to London, leaving before the children wake and returning after homework has been done and bedtime stories have been read. Those four weekdays are packed with meetings sandwiched by productive train time.
But Wednesdays are family days, and when summer comes, Accenture helps Anna shift the balance back toward the children — and share her lifelong love of horses with them — by offering as much as 13 weeks of unpaid leave a year for parents of children up to age 18.
And just as Clare looked out for her, Anna now mentors a half-dozen colleagues. Innovation, she says, means a future where men and women alike can confidently tailor work schedules to their family commitments.
“People are understanding better how to make part-time roles work,” Anna says, “and managers are understanding that it’s not an inhibitor to productivity.”
ANNA’S ADVICE ON HOW TO BE A WORKING PARENT IN DIGITAL
Always position yourself to be part of a team.
Isolation in work is rarely a good situation. Avoid solo roles, ask to be a team member. Having good colleagues around you makes your job not just more rewarding, but more entertaining too. Those colleagues will help get you through tough days and lift your spirits. There should always be time in the day for some fun, because life’s too short not to enjoy it, including your work life.
Schedule mental space to focus and recharge.
You cannot achieve maximum focus, or creativity, if your mind is cluttered with competing demands for attention. So, don’t be shy about talking to a manager, or a mentor, about ways of productively shaking up your work hours. I preach the value of “Wednesday weekends,” but find your own path to mental restfulness. Get a dialogue going with superiors and company confidantes who can empower you to create a new personal calendar.
Don’t be blinded by science.
I studied history at university and thought I might become a lawyer. So, developing a speciality as a technology consultant was hardly on my mind when I was 20. Don’t ever think that your choice of subject or academic background means you can’t understand technological concepts or disciplines. The most empowering thought you can embrace is that nothing we do here is impossible. You just need to work through whatever the task at hand is. Don’t be scared of getting into technology, because while some of it is complicated, mostly we’re just thinking through problems logically to get to the right answer.
Draw power from your family to put work frustrations into perspective.
Earlier in my career I would sometimes let my emotions get to me. While I always found the work itself rewarding, at times I’d find it hard when things got political, or when a client got obstructive. I have learned to step back from some of those emotions – having children really does help shape that perspective. You can see more easily the bigger picture of what really matters in life – and it’s not some temporary work setback. I’ve learned the importance of taking a deep breath and working through things, always being calm.