Claire McCaffery is Chief Human Resources Officer at Accenture who has been with the employer for 20 years – working flexibly and mostly from home during her entire career with the firm.
She started with Accenture when she already had two young kids and before going on to have a third baby, and she continued with the firm when she later became a single parent.
“It would have been impossible without flexibility,” McCaffery tells Women’s Agenda. “We worked at home with Accenture before most people ever had those opportunities.”
With her youngest child now 20, McCaffery still works remotely and says things are a little easier on the home side. When they were young, she says it was a juggle. She had support from neighbours, friends, colleagues, and work circle that she cites as significant. McCaffery had a nanny at different points; she juggled different childcare arrangements. But overall she speaks positively about having the opportunity to be with her kids, while continuing her career. She got to school performances, could support with homework, and do pick-ups and drop-offs.
“It was all I could do. I was focused on being the best I could be at work and managing my children as best as a mother,” McCaffery says.
Now, McCaffery is supporting more parents and carers at the firm to access the support and opportunities they need to build satisfying careers while engaging in family life.
Accenture became a certified Family Inclusive Workplace in late 2021, an initiative of Family Friendly Workplaces and UNICEF Australia.
A crucial part of this agenda is enabling – and encouraging – men to take paid parental leave, which McCaffery says her ex-husband, who was also with Accenture, could do twenty years ago, enabling him to three months to spend at home. Dads taking such stints of parental leave is increasingly becoming the norm at family-friendly employers, but it was unusual in the early 2020s.
Accenture developed a two-year action plan for further developing a family-friendly workplace culture once they were certified in 2022, mainly on exploring the most inclusive approach to various leave offerings that covered everything from paid parental leave to miscarriage leave and leave to support those caring for a sick family member or someone with a disability.
The firm now offers 18 weeks of paid parental leave for new parents of all gender identities and is intentionally pushing to normalise men taking leave, working flexibly and becoming active carers.
The strategy is working. The firm has experienced an impressive uptick in fathers taking leave. Of the roughly 24 per cent of employees in Australia and New Zealand who have used their parental leave policy in the three years since it was introduced in 2018 – around 58 per cent (or almost 700) of the parents taking up such options were men.
In addition to the parental leave policy, Accenture also offers Assisted Reproductive Treatment leave, with 37.5 hours of paid leave per year for employees trying to conceive via ART, including IVF. They offer flexible work options for those experiencing pregnancy-related illness and leave provisions to those who experience miscarriage or stillbirth.
To support families, Accenture offers a family group, the Accent on Families program, focused on supporting parents and carers before, during and after parental leave. The goal is to provide a consistent and supportive experience that starts with pre-leave workshops and continues into support mechanisms to transition back into work.
Accenture says its paid parental leave policies, family-friendly focus, and “storytelling” around flexibility have ultimately helped increase women’s workforce participation and caring responsibilities for men. Also important are several programs supporting female talent, including their ‘Return to Work’ and ‘Career Reboot’ programs, which aim to identify talent that doesn’t have traditional educational qualifications to take alternative reskilling pathways into new positions. McCaffery points to the experience of Rabia Zafar, a Digital Tech Developer Analyst who recently joined the firm. Zafar shares a testimonial on the experience: “As a Pakistani woman with no Australian experience, and as a mum returning from a career break, Accenture made it clear that these points were no barrier.”
Accenture’s goal of having 30 per cent of their managing director roles internationally filled by women by 2025 has already been surpassed in ANZ, where women hold 32.8 per cent of such positions. Meanwhile, with 39.2 per cent of the workforce being women, Accenture ANZ say they are also well on their way to reaching their stated goal of gender parity by 2025.
At a time when many large employers are pushing for employees to return to the office, McCaffery’s story of building a leadership career while working remotely and raising young children well before the pandemic pushed such leaders to work from home is a powerful one that demonstrates just what’s possible with flexibility and autonomy.
McCaffery has accessed numerous opportunities – including promotions, that have ultimately led her to lead human resources.
And while it takes workplace flexibility to make it happen, McCaffery also notes the work she puts in to ensure she stays connected.
“I did have an ‘ah ha’ moment at one point, where I realised I need to intentionally expand my networking to make up for what you lose when you’re not building relationships in person.
“That network is so important. Every job I’ve done, it’s from somebody in my network who has said, ‘Would you be interested in this?”
Originally Published on Women’s Agenda