HED: Satisfying work requires authenticity, says top technology executive

When Rocío López started working, she took a job that she hadn’t looked for or trained for. Now, about 24 years later, that field is the modern technology industry, and López sits near its peak.

As a senior manager in the technology organization for Accenture, the global business consulting company, it’s her job to understand the company’s future needs and have technology in place for those needs. She is also eager to helping people from under-represented groups advance their careers.

“We still don’t have the number of women we would like in Accenture. We still don’t have the number of Hispanics we would like. We are committed to getting to equal and are all personally committed in driving change,” she said.

López grew up on the south side of Chicago with her sister and brother. Their father was a factory worker. Their mother studied in Mexico to be a physician, but her studies would not transfer to the United States, López says.

Hers was one of the few Hispanic families in the area. Yet although her part of the city was mainly Irish-Catholic, she did not feel like an outsider.

“I never felt excluded in my Catholic education environment. I was smart. I was accepted. I never faced any racial anything growing up,” she said.

After high school, she earned a bachelor’s degree in science and business administration at the University of Notre Dame, and then interviewed with what was then Andersen Consulting. The interviewer said there was a vacancy in programming and thought López would be a good fit. At the time computers were simple and used mainly for word processing and email. López worked in Chicago, then in Madrid for nine years, then returned to Chicago.

Because of her background, when López entered the working world she expected to do well.

“I did face the barriers that women and Hispanics in technology do face,” she said. “I’m a very positive person, so I went through a phase thinking it’s going to go away if I just work hard until I finally said no, something has got to be done about this.”

Within Accenture she now helps lead the company’s drive for inclusion and diversity. Outside the office, she has encouraged women and Hispanics to gain the behaviors and skills they need for jobs in the technology industry. She’s done this through her association with Cristo Rey Network, which works with students from underserved and low-income communities, with the woman’s program of the Hispanic Information Technology Executive Council (HITEC), a global group of senior business and technology executives, and with Mind + Hand, which provides skill development and career education to underserved people on the southwest side.

Her encouragement may not emphasize moving up the traditional career ladder to the top office. While reflecting on her own experience, she came to understand that careers should look different for different people. She calls it being authentic. That means being true to who you are and what brings you joy instead of accepting conventional wisdom about how a career should progress. The same question confronts her and all corporate leaders.

“How are we allowing people to be themselves and be effective?” she says. “Are we creating molds, or are we allowing for an environment that truly is innovative and allowing people to be authentic?”

Advocating for diversity also helps society as a whole, López said, because different cultures have different perspectives.

“We need people who think differently about solving problems than the people who created them,” she said. (By David Steinkraus)

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