Jennifer Heflin, Senior Manager, Accenture

In doing research for Teach to Work, I interviewed numerous management-level decision-makers at corporations in order to find out what mentorship programs they had in place, and how those programs improved employee relations, corporate relations in the community, and their bottom line in general. I plan to continue to do this research, as it is a subject of great importance to me, and it allows me to report back to all of you on the best practices for corporate mentorship.

I recently had the opportunity to sit down with Jennifer Heflin, a senior manager at Accenture. For reasons you will read, their mentorship program is robust and a huge success. I’m excited to relay the interview to you.

  • Why do you mentor? From the corporate perspective please provide three reasons to mentor that impact you internally, and externally.

Internally —

  1. There is a deep commitment to community engagement from the top down—after our people volunteer and mentor, they bring back new fuel, new energy and new perspective to the day to day operations. This contributes to Accenture’s culture adding a stronger sense of purpose and belonging.
  2. Another benefit is that mentoring often increases the skills development of our people. It is these same skills and experiences that easily cross over to our commercial client service work as well.
  3. When our people volunteer and mentor, they are engaged in something that is bigger than themselves. They realize the work they are doing really makes a difference.

Externally —

  1. Service is part of Accenture’s core values — we act on this premise. Through “doing good” in the communities where we reside, our ties are strengthened and our constituents, our neighbors and our clients all understand this commitment.
  2. We have been able to bring our expertise to our partnering nonprofits and to the youth and people they serve. Our volunteers provide both broad career skilling sessions (for example, resume writing, mock interviews) as well as support with digital and coding skills. This contribution helps us make a measurable impact in our communities.
  3. Additionally, new client relationships are often forged as a result of involved community service.
  • Please share some history of how mentoring began with your company. How has it changed over time?

It helps that we have robust, thriving mentoring programs within our own walls. We value mentoring because we see how those connections help people excel and advance. Mentoring aligns so closely with our core values as a company – particularly helping improve our local communities. In 2010 we launched our Skills to Succeed initiative, which is the flagship of our commitment to corporate citizenship. Through Skills to Succeed, we equip people from underserved communities with the skills they need to get a job or build their own business. The focus of this initiative grew from building deeper connections with our partners and beneficiaries, listening and observing which skills were needed. Over the past seven years, helping people acquire these skills has become a singular mission for us and mentoring plays a large role in its success. My personal mentoring journey at Accenture started in 2011, when I began working with high school students from our Skills to Succeed partner KIPP DC. I have stayed in touch with some of these students over the years and it’s been energizing to learn of their college and career successes. In fact, one of my first mentees from KIPP DC is graduating from college this May and will be joining Accenture as a fulltime employee!

  • Can you describe your Corporate Social Responsibility (“CSR”) efforts organizationally? How many operate the program? How many participate? Can you share your financial commitment?

Our corporate citizenship team includes many people formally and informally around the world, dedicated to making our commitment to corporate citizenship come to life. They are charged with designing and supporting programs that are relevant and impactful in local communities. This team, spread across our locations where we live and work, can literally be found “in the field,” engaging with our partners (nonprofits, clients and others) in our communities to determine strategy and define goals. To give you a sense of the scale of our commitment, in the U.S. alone, during our last fiscal year, we invested nearly $17 million in communities across the country through cash and pro bono contributions. In addition, with our partners, to date we have equipped nearly 400,000 individuals in the United States with employment and entrepreneurship skills.

Additionally, our corporate citizenship teams around the world have representation and sponsorship from members of our senior leadership, which is key. Our overall commitment to corporate citizenship starts at the top with our CEO, who is very passionate about improving the world, and trickles down to the newest joiners, just out of university. In a way, we are like one big team that advocates and advances corporate citizenship and giving back to our local communities. A great example of this is Accenture’s annual Day of Service, one of the largest corporate efforts in the U.S., in which thousands of our people volunteer at more than 85 projects in the Metro D.C. area alone, supporting education, veterans, the homeless and family services. The morning is dedicated to inspirational speakers, video clips, etc., while the afternoon dispatches all in attendance for three to four hours of community service all over D.C.

  • Can you share one example of a project that has impacted an Accenture mentor and a mentee?

Absolutely. During the summer of 2016, Accenture hosted DC Public Schools (DCPS) students as interns through our partner, On-Ramps to Careers. The students were tasked with helping to improve enrollment forecasting for the school district by designing a new enrollment mobile app. In other words, DCPS needed to better understand how many students would actually be attending schools in the next academic year.

Through our partnership with On-Ramps, we took on DCPS students as interns, examining together the challenge the district faced to better understand how enrollment forecasting could be improved. Our interns were fully integrated into the assessment process, the innovations and the technology tools required to support gathering data. We collaborated and brainstormed ideas together which culminated in designing an enrollment mobile app to address this challenge. The interns presented recommendations to senior leadership at Accenture, On-Ramps and DCPS, including prototypes for the app. This upcoming summer, a new group of interns from On-Ramps will be joining us.

Mentor Takeaways:

One of the mentors said, “My advice for people is, if you want to become an expert at something, you should teach it—I became more proficient in my own technical skills by teaching others.”

Mentee Takeaways:

“My experience with Accenture has been one of the best work experiences of my life. I gained work skills, such as collaborating, meeting deadlines, and how to present.”

  • Please share your wish list for Educators to better prepare students for the work force.

  1. My first wish would be to designate one point person as a volunteer coordinator in every school or nonprofit.
  2. Students need to learn soft skills – shake hands, eye contact, take initiative, follow through, cell phone behavior, how to dress.
  3. There should be career conversations all the time, exposing kids to pathways and ideas for their future. This kind of exposure will make them less fearful later on.
  4. I wish all educators were keener on trending technology and its impact on preparing youth for the jobs of tomorrow — be in dialogue with companies like Accenture.

Of course there will be gaps in technical education, but the foundations should be put in place now.

  • Do you feel your mentors are adequately prepared for their mentoring roles?

Yes, for two reasons. One, because they mentor others with the skills they have honed themselves and they are also very personally passionate about mentoring – which makes all the difference. Two, we help our people mentor the best and most effectively they can. We have invested in creating detailed career skilling content – this includes presentations our volunteers can use when delivering career skilling and mentoring sessions and other detailed guides. The materials are easily downloaded and accessible for volunteers prior to being placed on a mentoring assignment. While these tools and supports exist, there could always be an improvement on best practices, particularly in an intergenerational relationship.

  • What is your five year plan for mentoring? Will it continue, change…?

At Accenture, innovation is at the center of everything we are doing, so from my perspective, I foresee an acceleration in mentoring for digital and coding skills specifically. I would encourage you to explore our latest corporate citizenship report, Making a Difference, to see why. In the report, we spotlight some really cool statistics about the power of digital. For example. Our Cracking the Gender Code research, which we conducted in collaboration with Girls Who Code, indicates that girls who are exposed to technology by their early teens are more likely to embrace future opportunities for digital learning and to seek careers in computer science.

Interview by Patty Alper
Author, Teach to Work: How a Mentor, a Mentee, and a Project Can Close the Skills Gap in America

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