What I've Learnt: Yasmin Ahkter, Head of Talent & Employee Proposition at Accenture Digital
Yasmin Ahkter has worked for a variety of Northern tech businesses such as Jet2 and tech unicorn Sky Betting and Gaming.
As Head of Talent at Leeds' Accenture Digital base, she's responsible for delivering the talent strategy and finding the very best people in Leeds, and supporting the successful establishment of the regional office.
Not only does Yasmin sit on Leeds Digital's board for skills, but she has also been named on the Northern Power Women Future List. Yasmin's passionate about driving the Northern Diversity agenda, not to mention the retention of talent in the North of England.
We found out what drives her.
Which single daily habit or practice could you not do without?
I always find time to exercise whether that be morning or evening as I find it helps me to focus better and is a big reliever of stress.
I try not to let work dictate my gym schedule, although sometimes it can be difficult - we all have occasional meetings that can’t be avoided! In the earlier stages of my career I used to work straight through lunch and not take any breaks - if the weather is decent enough, I always try and get some fresh air at lunch just to clear my head.
Sitting at your desk constantly isn’t healthy so making the time to move around during the day and speak to people face to face is crucial and is better for relationship-building at work.
What's been your luckiest break?
I don’t believe that luck has much to play in career success. I faced redundancy in my early twenties with the recession, and it was pure resilience and determination that got me to where I am now. During my second redundancy period, I took a temp position at Jet2 and was there from the start.
Anyone who has worked there will say it gives you the grit and speed to work anywhere - particularly at such a young age. I was given the opportunity to work across a wide variety of disciplines which expanded my knowledge, I met some great people and I also got to travel frequently.
This year, I chose to take redundancy by having a bit of faith that I could move on to bigger and better things, and that positive approach paid off with my role at Accenture Digital. I’m now Head of Talent and Employee Proposition for Leeds working closely with Channel 4 on everything from building our local brand and talent proposition locally, recruitment - which is still ongoing - and employee engagement, as well as events, PR and marketing.
I think you can be in the right place at the right time, but you create your own luck career-wise and it’s a by-product of hard work and determination that will open opportunities for you.
What's your best failure?
I’m too in the detail sometimes, and I find it hard to trust people to get on with things. I learned to relinquish a few things when I managed a team, but I’m always so used to my own way of working and doing things in a certain way that it was really difficult for me - I’m a bit of a control freak!
The only way to alleviate this is to trust your team, and naturally they will develop and you’ll develop better as a manager as a result. I don’t think this is something that I’ll ever lose, I’ll just learn to manage it.
What is the best investment you've ever made, either financial or time?
I don’t regret the time I’ve invested in my career or trying to better myself. I’ve always been really ambitious and I think it’s important, particularly with the distinct lack of women leaders in businesses and the issues around the gender pay gap, that we do more to encourage younger female leaders into business or entrepreneurship and make sure that there are enough support networks for them to be able to achieve this.
At Accenture, our aim is to have a 50:50 balanced workforce by 2025, and it’s great to work for a business that is so invested in its commitment to closing the gender gap.
How would you describe your work/life balance?
Better! I think it depends on the culture of a business and you need to work somewhere who really cares about its people.
I worked at Sky Betting and Gaming for four years, and while it was very fast-moving and expectations for delivery were always high, they had a culture of looking after their people like I’d never seen anywhere else before and this helped me to manage my time better.
I started taking time at lunch to go to a gym class as it made me more productive in the afternoon. If I needed to respond to things in the evening I would, but I’d rarely or never go home and get my laptop out. You have to also be confident enough to push back and actually understand that by continuing to respond to things outside reasonable working hours, you help to drive that culture of expectation.
It won’t necessarily propel your career any faster, and it’s more likely to result in burnout.
Which book would you recommend others to read and why?
There’s too many! I’m really enjoying 'Feminists Don’t Wear Pink & Other Lies', which is a collection of excerpts on what feminism means to people and really dispels that myth that to be a feminist, you have to be bra burning and campaigning constantly. The movement is so much bigger than that now, and really it can mean whatever you want it to mean for yourself.
Another is 'How to Own the Room: Women & Public Speaking' by Viv Groskop, which is a great guide on how to build your confidence and amplify your voice in those situations.
Accenture Digital hosted an event in partnership with Empowering Women with Tech not so long back, where Viv was one of our keynote speakers. The masterclass she gave on the evening was so enlightening and empowering.
What one piece of advice would you give your 21-year-old self?
Save more money, appreciate your twenties, please go out for lunch and get some fresh air, don’t change the way you are to suit other people, stop fad dieting and listen to your mother.
Who or what has had the single biggest influence on your working life?
Probably my Mum, who raised us on her own and sent us to university and always made us believe we could do anything regardless of social status and background.
I think social mobility is really important in today’s society; there needs to be enough access for everyone into education or work without the barrier of money or any kind of social status. Everyone is the same and deserves equal opportunities.
Tell us something about you that would surprise people.
I get really nervous about public speaking! (I'm outwardly very confident and vocal, hence, surprise).
Whether it’s in front of 300 people or 30 people - and I’ve had plenty of experience now - I’ll still work myself up about it every time. I’ve been in with the board, senior leadership, presented at conferences and it never gets easier.
I think it’s something you have to force yourself to do and in time it will become natural… if you’re nervous, always take the attitude that it must mean that it’s important to you!
What does success look like to you?
Success to me is being in a career that makes you happy and doing a role that doesn’t feel like work. It helps to be passionate about what you do so I think that’s a massive win.
It’s always nice to be recognised for your career achievements and I think one of my proudest moments in my career to date was making the Northern Power Women Future List in 2018 for my contributions to driving the diversity agenda in my role at Sky Betting and Gaming, ensuring that we had an early talent proposition that was accessible and attractive to females.