Accenture is a global company with over 450,000 employees in more than 120 countries. Accenture Digital specialise in helping organisations embrace innovations and reinvent their enterprise technology. Having recently set up a base in Leeds, we spoke to Yasmin Ahkter, Accenture’s Head of Talent & Employee Proposition (Leeds), to find out what makes her tick…
Tell us how long you have been working for Accenture and what are you doing at the moment:
I’ve been with Accenture for five months working on setting up a base and delivering talent in Leeds. Key parts of my role are anything ranging from being responsible for the overarching employer value proposition and delivery of talent strategy, complete set up and mobilisation of our regional Leeds office base and assist with the formation of the ecosystem and culture in Leeds. In addition, my role also includes events planning, marketing and PR. Obviously, Accenture is a huge business so what I really wanted to do when we came to Leeds is to demystify what we do in order to be able to attract the right type of talent. With Channel 4’s move to Leeds and following a successful working relationship over the last couple of years, it made sense to set up here and for us to commit to the region.
What do you do for clients such as Channel4?
We’ve worked with Channel 4 for the last two years, providing the digital product for their All4 streaming service. We are recruiting a lot of technology roles now so lots of Java, lots of React and we are looking for people who are passionate about Channel 4’s consumer product. We want to build a team here in Leeds that come in and deliver the best service for the consumer as well as having a strong passion for media and product delivery as part of their role.
What’s your background?
I’ve been lucky enough to work for some great Northern brands starting with Jet2.com for 5 years followed by Sky Betting and Gaming for four years after my agency stints. I started out as a Recruiter at SBG before being promoted to Lead Recruiter within 6 months. My boss came to me and asked me if I fancied creating the graduate scheme and the problem that I have is I always put my hand up, especially when it’s to do something new! (I would always stipulate that’s how you have the best experiences and learn the most though).It went better than I thought it could have done with five different streams: tech, finance, data, analytics and marketing and I was promoted to Early Careers Recruitment Manager within 18 months. We were recruiting people from all kinds of universities and backgrounds ensuring that we had a diverse range of talent. I’m a big believer that you don’t have to pigeon hole yourself into specific discipline to do a specific job; I think it’s more about your attitude to learning along with a bit of aptitude and your passion for a sector or business – and then you’ll certainly flourish.
Did anything inspire you to start out on your career in recruitment?
No, not really! I did an English degree, came out of university and thought ‘what am I going to do?’ and fell into recruitment (like I think most people in recruitment do…) I worked agency side for a couple of years but didn’t really like the business development side of things. I realised very quickly that I liked people and working with people to help them develop, relationship building and helping to create and launch things from scratch and turn it into something great. That’s what I loved and was very lucky to get a job with Jet2 and I had the opportunity to grow and learn within the Recruitment Team. I got to travel quite a lot, recruited cabin crew, pilots, holiday reps and engineers (amongst other disciplines) but after five years of spending a lot of time away from home, I started to feel as though I wanted my feet on the ground. So that’s what prompted the move to Sky Betting and Gaming.
Is there any particular advice you wish you’d been given before you started on your career path?
Not really, because I think you have to experience things for yourself and learn from it as that’s how you develop in your career and are able to mould yourself. Once I moved over to in house recruitment, I’ve been lucky enough to have a very supportive management team.
That leads me on to my next question…is there one thing you’ve learnt during your experiences?
I think I’ve learned that I’m quite operational and I find it hard to hand over to people. It’s a trust thing and the one thing I always say is that if you don’t trust your team, then they’re not going to flourish, are they? It’s hard to do that when you’re passionate and protective about something, but the thing that develops you and makes you a better manager is putting that trust in your team. I’ve also learned that people don’t (and neither should they have to) work as quickly as I do! Everyone works at their own pace and you have to respect and learn about your colleagues’ different styles.
Tell us about your new Accenture base in Leeds
We’ve spent a few months at AvenueHQ in Leeds and have recently moved into the new space at 34 Boar Lane. The All4 team effectively will be at Channel 4, but I think it’s important to have a space for meetings, any training we want to do and a bit of a home base, plus it’s got a great event space that we can utilise in the coming months and have done already with events such as Empowering Women with Tech that we sponsored in September. I think both Accenture and Channel 4 coming to Leeds is fantastic for the region and there will be so much opportunity to come out of it and it will really help to boost the Leeds ecosystem.
What do you see as being the biggest challenges over the next six months?
At the moment, we are facing a massive skills gap; not just in the North but in the whole of the UK. I think there are a lot of business that are competing against one another and there are a lot of challenges for the same skills, particularly within digital and technology. So, it’s about setting yourself apart as a unique business, with a great employee proposition and offering and becoming a business that people want to work for – and that’s not always an easy thing to achieve!
Also, the problem with tech skills is that everybody is fighting for the same things,aren’t they? Something I am very passionate about is grass roots education to plug the skills gap, even if it’s much more of a longer-term solution. What I struggle to understand is why ICT isn’t a core curriculum subject in the digital age that we live in, to equip young people properly at school.I also believe that there’s not enough exposure for teachers or even parents to the types of roles that are available and out there for their children. I think we have a lot to commit to and do as employers, educators and even as a government to ensure that this happens to give everyone the best opportunity for access to the skills they will need.
Fast forward in time and imagine Channel 4 have had a base in Leeds for a couple of years…what do you see as your legacy?
I’d like to see them have a hugely successful technology product that delivers everything consumers need and that’s popular. Millions and millions of people would be streaming it and that people enjoy working with and continue to develop in the coming years.
Prior to this your current project, is there anything you’re especially proud of?
When I started to run the graduate scheme at Sky Betting and Gaming, one of our biggest challenges was trying to encourage more females to apply, which can be quite difficult in a typically male dominated industry. We had to really look at the past two years of campaigns and ensure what we were saying and how we were presenting everything was authentic and attractive to a female audience, which at that stage it wasn’t. We tweaked the campaign showcasing some of our female graduates and ensured we had enough of the younger women already on our graduate scheme going into universities to tell their own stories. I honestly have so much faith in the value of face to face communication in a digital age as I believe authenticity carries more weight. I had a target for my leadership team of a 50/50 male/female ratio and by the third year of the graduate scheme we had recruited a group that was 63% female which was amazing and an incredible turnaround. On the back of that I made it onto the Northern Power Women Future List for my contribution to diversity in the North.
What do you do to relax when you’re not at work?
I find it quite hard to relax! However, I do think it’s quite important and so I try to exercise most days with a gym class in the morning or evening. Spin, weights,barre or hot yoga, whatever it is that you prefer, I think it’s important to your mental wellbeing especially to clear your head when you have such a high-pressured role and I find it really centres me.I also really like cooking for friends and I’m trying to find the time to read a bit more.
What is your biggest achievement outside work?
I think it’s pushing myself to be the best that I can be in all aspects of life. There’s a lot of pressure to have a family on people who are around about my age group and there’s not enough focus on the people who are happy just focusing on their career and building a life that makes them happy.
If you weren’t on the path you’re on now, what do you think you’d be doing?
I always say I’d like to do something related to fitness, like a yoga or spin instructor, ideally in a warmer climate like California!
Find out more about Accenture
Follow Yasmin on Twitter: @YAhkter
See Yasmin on LinkedIn