By Melissa J. Anderson (New York City)
“Be your own best critic,” advised Yaarit Silverstone, a managing director in Accenture’s Talent & Organization Performance practice. “Be sure you are showing up as the best you – and be open to development.”
Silverstone’s career, which spans continents and industries, has taken her from consulting on human capital issues externally to human capital management within the firm, and she is passionate about the importance of helping people develop the skills to succeed, no matter what their career or geographic location. “It’s a matter of global economic importance,” she said.
She said, “Each of us, every 2 years, should be somehow different in terms of our capabilities. And the only way to do that is to be aware of your strengths and where you would like to stretch. I’m doing something entirely different every 2 years.”
A Career Path in Consulting
“I came from South Africa to the States in 1986. My undergraduate degrees are in social work and psychology and I got an MBA at University of the Witwatersrand,” Silverstone said.
After earning her MBA, Silverstone started her own consulting firm, and was then hired into another firm, Gemini, in 1989. Six years later, she joined Accenture – with the intention to only stay for a couple of years.
But, she said “After working at Accenture for a few months, every single person I met and had a conversation with was interesting, intelligent, and warm – that’s just the culture here.” Silverstone decided to stay. In less than two years, she became a partner.
She continued, “It’s been a wonderful experience. I’ve done so many interesting things, and that’s why I’m still here.” For example, Silverstone said she was contracted out at one point to be the CEO of a start-up. “And that dot com still exists,” she added proudly.
Currently Silverstone is working both with clients and internally with client leads and teams, and says she is always impressed by “the depths of knowledge, talent, and organizational performance in so many different ways.” She said, “I’m very passionate about our people, and giving people opportunities.” Having built practices in four different areas (chemicals, resources, Human Capital Strategy and Organization Effectiveness, and change management), Silverstone has had the opportunity to do so.
Looking forward, Silverstone said, “In five or ten years, I think I could be doing board work, and taking the lessons and capabilities I’ve learned at Accenture to the not-for-profit environment.”
Building the Skills to Succeed on a Macro Level
“Right now, I’m working on one topic in two different ways, centered around leadership and culture, and creating capabilities for the future,” Silverstone said. “Organizational performance is highly related to leaders and leadership capabilities – and talent right now is a critical issue. Doing work in that space is critical.”
She continued, “The question of talent comes in a very macro sense – and means having countries and regions as well as organizations think about people, about talent and talent pools. “We see emerging growth regions such as Asia building local capability, drawing investment and serving local markets,” she explained. “This is a huge challenge for the US. What is our future competitive advantage from a talent perspective? How can we create new enduring innovation opportunities?”
Lessons for Female Business Leaders
“I’ve been working for 25 plus years, and we are still having this conversation – and I still think it’s a valid conversation. I’m hoping that in the near future, that we don’t need to have it anymore. I hope we see a shift in balance in the way women participate in the workplace,” Silverstone said.
She continued, “Leaders are still primarily men – and until we get a different mix, this will continue to be an issue. People hire people who look like them. They are comfortable with their capabilities – it will take a demographic shift in leadership to get past this.”
She explained, “I see a lot of women making it into the mid level, but fewer making it up to the upper levels. In the Fortune 100, you can count on two hands the number of women in the CEO spot.” But, she said, women who do make it into the top spot can help make a more inclusive culture for women at their companies. She explained, “I don’t necessarily want to be CEO of any company. But for women who occupy leadership roles, we can help change the rules. But we have to occupy these roles first.”
“Once you’ve made it to upper levels, focus on making it friendlier for women.”
Women can also improve their workplace skills. “Women need to be more assertive, and speak out. Women need to be part of a swift change of the rules of the workplace.”
Regarding work/life issues, Silverstone said, “I don’t believe in work/life balance – I believe in life balance. If you think about the separation between work and life, you’re never in balance. It’s more about asking what you need to be fulfilled.” She continued, “I am actually fulfilled by work – intellectual connections, the ability to be challenged, my social network. For me, that’s life.”
“At home my primary focus is family stewardship. Someone gave me this beautiful advice: ‘When you’re there, be there.’ Wherever you are, give it your full attention. For example, if I’m on holiday with my family on the beach, and I’m sitting inside working, that’s meeting no one’s needs.”
For young women beginning their career, Silverstone says, “Bring your A game – feel confident. Women are just as smart and capable as men, but we don’t always have confidence to speak up.”
“Ask for things, be demanding. Many women feel they have to do everything alone – but when you don’t network, you put all the responsibility on yourself, which can create a lot of pressure.”
The most important lesson Silverstone said she has learned is about patience and maturity. “It’s a lesson about time – listening, taking a breath, and seeing things in context. It’s about maturity – the whole idea that you can step back and see things in context, and solve problems with other people. Nothing is so pressing that you can’t, and there is usually a better outcome if you step back and take a breath, and engage other people.”
“It’s about being centered and capable,” she added.
Networking and Giving Back
Silverstone is involved in a number of affinity groups at Accenture, including the company’s Senior Executive Women’s Networking group. She explained, “We end up in environments where there are very few of us and this can be lonely. We’re often very busy and can’t even talk with each other. Having a formalized network for senior executive women to get together is very helpful.”
She is also involved in Accenture’s mentoring program. “It gives you a sense of who has what kind of knowledge, and if they are using it in the right way. You can move someone into a different leadership role if it is appropriate. And I have been meeting very interesting people, who I would not otherwise be having these conversations with.”
For example, she said, “I wouldn’t necessarily have relationships with other mothers [of younger children]. I have an 8 year old, and most mothers with children the same age are 20 years younger than me.”
Finally, the firm’s c-level executives host luncheons throughout the year. “They provide women with the opportunity to talk about the kind of things they care about and what they are doing. There is a high interest at the top of the organization in collaborating to build that kind of network.”
Outside work, Silverstone said she is mainly focused on spending time with her family. “We give so much at work – how do we pass our values to our family?” Silverstone is a member of Hands On Atlanta, where she volunteers with her children at shelters, packing food, or serving breakfast to the needy. “It’s so they can see a different state, and so they can contribute.”
“And once a year,” she said, “We go on a huge adventure. We do all kinds of things to connect back with family and emphasize the importance of giving back.”