“Future generations need the role models they deserve”

My greatest passion as a teenager was space exploration. I found my first role models in that interstellar world. One was Sally Ride, an astronaut and physicist, who in 1983 became the first American women in space (and the third woman ever in space). The other was the brilliant astronaut Judith Resnik, who sadly died in the Space Shuttle Challenger disaster. Judith was particularly inspiring for me because she was an engineer.

We all remember the names of men who went into space, but what about the women? There are as many female firsts as there are male firsts throughout history and today. Their stories deserve just as much visibility. Although there are as many women as men in the world, this is still not reflected in their representation. The day we achieve 50/50 representation, or even 40/60, women will no longer be treated as a minority. Future generations need the role models they deserve.

“Accenture is one of only a few companies in the world with an official KPI for gender equality”

My hometown is Bruges, but my father’s job took him to the Middle East and Africa, so I spent a lot of time abroad with my parents. This gave me an international outlook that I have never lost. It influenced the way I approach the world – and problems – always looking beyond the local context or what’s in front of my nose, to see the bigger picture.

Even back then, if something was complex, it was for me. I have always sought multi-faceted roles, and never one specialization. This was what attracted me to Accenture. My ambition is to further unlock the potential of innovative technologies such as 5G by combining it with Cloud and Edge solutions. Amongst others, this will further drive the convergence between the IT industry and the telecommunications industry. The other deciding factor was that Accenture is one of only a few companies in the world with an official KPI for gender equality: 50/50 by 2025. There is strong commitment to achieving gender equality from the top and numerous initiatives in place at all levels to get us there. Although the journey isn’t always easy, this is by far the best effort I have ever seen during my career and I’m proud to be part of it.

Accenture also has a clear vision on what it expects from its leaders: the ability to assert yourself in difficult situations and the ability to listen to those who place their trust in you. Men tend to be better at the assertiveness part, while women show greater empathy and have better listening skills. You need both to be successful in business. The end game is about creating greater value for your clients.

“Solutions are not only found in the analysis of the problem”

My career journey was influenced by several factors. The first (and most obvious) was that my father was an engineer. But in fact, it was my mother – a clothes designer – who encouraged me to follow in his footsteps. I was looking for a challenge, and electronics and telecom engineering ticked all the boxes. I’ve always been open for challenges. I remember going on a scorpion hunt as child in the desert with five other kids, all of whom were boys. At the same time, I also had so-called ‘female’ passions growing up, which were just as much about engineering as the rest. I designed and created a world for my dolls, making (and re-making) their clothes, even building them a car. This developed my spatial skills, and I learned how to see and think three dimensionally, which are key aspects of being an engineer. I don’t make things with my hands anymore, but I still want to understand how things work, and to make them work better.

“Refuse the status quo, and act”

Engineers are good at seeing things in the round. I always tell my teams that solutions are not only found in the analysis of the problem. Once a problem has been identified, it’s important to move away, think creatively and out-of-the-box. We are solution experts, and that makes women – who are generally pragmatic, and solution oriented in daily life – great engineers. So, I get very frustrated that more women don’t choose to study engineering. Why is this happening?

I began asking this question 25 years ago when I started working. Unlike at university, I experienced discrimination in the workplace, and I often had to prove myself more than male colleagues. Joining the Flemish engineering association www.ie-net.be and its Women and Engineer Think Tank, I met other women who were experiencing the same. How come women engineers like us were not in managerial positions? We realized that we were accepting the status quo and had to act. Between 2005 and 2010, we participated in a research project at KULeuven that investigated the obstacles facing female engineers in their career. The conclusion was that we need more role models because females sometimes have different needs to their male counterparts.

Through this project, I joined the board of Amazone asbl/vzw, and I am now President of the Board. The Amazone House in Brussels is home to a large variety of women’s organizations, with facilities including a congress center for non-profit organizations, a social restaurant, and a documentation center, all of which are focused on bringing about structural change. This commitment outside Accenture adds an extra layer of meaning to my work on gender equity. Again, it’s about seeing the bigger picture. You can’t change everything from the inside. You also need external structural change. I’m convinced that we can change systems if we want to. We can re-think systems, structures, and processes to be gender neutral. It’s not an easy thing to do and along the way, women will need male allies, and vice versa. But everyone will benefit in the end.

“I want to encourage more girls to choose STEM subjects”

In 2022, I was honored to chosen as a “woman leader of the moment in the technology sector” by InspiringFifty Belgium for my work on gender equity and advocating the female perspective at the decision-making table. Now, as ICT Woman of the Year, I have another opportunity to be an ambassador for something very close to my heart: encouraging more girls to choose STEM subjects. My ambition is to work closely with schools and companies in a structured way to understand why girls would choose STEM in the first place and then approach them in the right way to support their ambitions. As the research project at KULeuven showed, females sometimes have different needs from males. Visiting building sites and wearing hard hats is only one aspect of engineering. It’s also about improving people’s lives, even saving lives on a massive, societal scale and that speaks to women. It’s the same for technology. We need women to participate equally in its evolution so that it operates in a gender-neutral way, using the best data and the best-designed algorithms, without bias. I have always believed that if technology solutions benefit from the female perspective, they will be stronger and better able to solve more real-world problems. 

And with the right role models, new generations of technology and engineering women will flourish.

Valérie Tanghe

  • Started working at Accenture: 2021
  • My favorite food & drink: Avocados and a White Lady cocktail
  • My favorite writer: Tomas Chamorro-Premuzic, the organizational psychologist
  • My favorite place on earth: The village of Loonbeek in Flemish Brabant
  • The person I’d like to sit next to on a long train journey: Former US President Obama
  • The best lesson life has taught me:  Hang on in there
  • Life motto: People forget what you said or what you did, but they forever remember how you made them feel” – Maya Angelou