“I see my job as a catalyst and connector, making sure innovation and technology are at the service of my clients and their clients”

Meet Rima Farhat, Managing Director - Technology Resources Industry Lead & ICT Woman of the Year 2021

When I started my career at Accenture, fresh from university, my four-year-old son asked me to explain what my job was about. The best description I could find back then was that I was a “doctor” for companies. Fourteen years later, and with the experience and client exposure I now have, I see my job as a catalyst and connector, making sure innovation and technology are at the service of my clients and their clients. This goes far beyond delivering projects. My ambition is to improve the way people work and live, to make education and learning easier, decisions fairer, protect health and the environment. Through technology, I want to empower my clients to continuously take the best out of a changing world and overcome disruption while being the best version of themselves.

"We not only aim to deliver sustainable solutions; we also want to make a difference in the way we deliver these projects"
  • © Leyla Hesna

I enjoy the challenge of change, getting things done and seeing the impact of what we achieve together. As such, the delivery side of projects has always been my main focus, from implementing large-scale technology platforms to data lakes and data hubs. I spent my first nine years at Accenture working for clients in the financial services sector, where I witnessed the disruption of banking with the rise of Fintech. Customers started looking for products tailored to them, which created the need for customer centricity and hyper-relevance in banks’ strategic objectives.

Now as Technology Resources Industry Lead, I see something similar happening in utilities, chemicals & natural resources companies. They too are going to encounter more and more disruption in the form of new energy sources and green solutions. My #1 priority is to stay ahead of the trends and find the best, most relevant solutions to our clients’ contexts, with a specific focus on Data & AI, sustainability (circular economy), new energy consumption, renewables, and green mobility.

 

We not only aim to deliver sustainable solutions; we also want to make a difference in the way we deliver these projects. We strive for the smallest possible environmental footprint in every project, ranging from working in the Cloud to teaching our developers to code more efficiently so that even the way we code is more ‘green’. The exponential rise of data is making storage an environmental issue. The possibility to have a positive impact on all those fronts is one of the reasons why I chose to work in the Resources sector.

"Young people, especially girls, should not see technology as something nerdy"

My parents brought up my sisters and I to be independent women, making our own decisions and choices. However, my father, a former teacher in Algeria, was strict about our studies! I had to be a doctor, a lawyer or an engineer. I chose engineer. When it came to the entrance exam for university, I only saw men. Did I really want to do that for five years, sitting there alone as the only woman? I took the exam, but also started looking for something else. The Business Engineering course at Solvay Business School, which combined engineering with more business-oriented subjects, proved a better choice for me.

That was 20 years ago. Today, I see things a bit differently. If someone had had a conversation with me back then about my decision, I might have gone into that classroom full of men after all. IT, engineering and STEM subjects need to be demystified and we need to make it clear that they are just as relevant for girls as for boys and both can be successful in them. Whenever I speak to young people in schools, especially girls, I always insist that they should not see technology as something nerdy. It is something we can use to improve our lives.

For example, I strongly believe that data & AI can improve the way we work and live, which is the main reason why I oriented myself to this field. However, it comes with a caveat: if we want algorithms to make decisions, they have to be ethical. While I was leading Accenture’s Data & AI team, my main focus was equipping this team with the right skills and tools to always be relevant and focused on the value data brings through data visualization, analytics, governance, etc. It was an exciting time, the early days of data science and machine learning. We learned together, and we were always very careful to bring as diverse a group of people as possible to the table. With a diverse team, not only men and women but also people from different backgrounds, roots, religions…, you enrich the way you collect data and train an algorithm. With more and more companies becoming data-driven, it is vital to avoid built-in bias. Companies that embrace data-driven decision-making perform better towards their customers and perform better as employers. When we use data (ethically) it helps us to take better, more sustainable and ethical decisions.

"Right now, I have an architect and photographer on my team, both of whom wanted to start new careers!"
  • © Leyla Hesna

I currently lead a project with a team of +300 people involved in the delivery of a data hub. This is a huge opportunity for me to focus on bringing the best technology solutions to our client and shape the leaders of tomorrow. I take this responsibility seriously and invest time in coaching my colleagues and sharing my experience and knowledge. This extends to my interest in the way we hire people and bring diversity into Accenture. Today, we make a conscious effort to look at candidates differently, not only based on their technical knowledge, but also on their capacity and attitude to learning, their social skills, etc. One of the ways we do this is through our partnership with BeCode, an organization that retrains unemployed people or people who want to change career path to become IT professionals. I’m proud to say I was the first person at Accenture to hire a BeCode intern!

Making sure we attract and keep female talents is obviously very close to my heart. I’m proud to sponsor our Female Tech Academy initiative, which was launched 18 months ago. We started out by posting a message on social media that we were looking for people, especially women, from any background, as long as they were interested in technology. We ended up with around 20 candidates, who then received a contract and the necessary training to reorient themselves. Right now, I have an architect and photographer on my team, both of whom wanted to start new careers! One of my ambitions is to expand this type of program beyond Accenture to other companies willing to give women a greater chance of success in IT.

"Stay curious about the changes happening around you"

Attitudes towards women’s careers have happily changed over the years. At Accenture, it is possible to temporarily put your career on hold and focus on other things and then come back. We have also developed a Maternity Returners Program to help new mothers make a sustainable return to work and also tackle the limiting belief that if you are a mother, or pregnant, you no longer count professionally.

 

I had my first son at 19 and the second at 22, both in parallel with my studies at Solvay Business School. I started at Accenture with two littles boys in my arms and I have since had another son. Motherhood taught me many skills that I apply in my career, such as efficiency, prioritization, organization and the most important one, resilience. It influenced my leadership style and my ability to be empathic. I’m not suggesting that only mothers can be good female leaders. But motherhood shaped me, and I am proud to share my tips

and also failures with my female colleagues. This is important, because in a society where so much communication happens on social media, we tend to only share success stories. This can create a sense of guilt and stress. Sharing stories about things that don’t work helps us to feel ´normal´. I keep reminding the colleagues I coach that we are only human and that our main goal should be to stay curious about the changes happening around us and use them to shape a better world.

 

Rima Farhat (1982)

Studied: Business Engineering – Finance
Started working at Accenture: 2006
Relationship status: A daughter, sister, wife and mother
Loves: Beautiful little things that often go unnoticed but make me smile, like seeing an old couple sitting on a terrace holding hands, the colors of trees during fall or seeing a group of children happily walking back home after a day at school
Gets annoyed by: A lack of courage and discrimination
Favorite food & drink: My mother’s couscous and the wine of my country of origin, Lebanon

On my nightstand: A bottle of water
Listens to: All types of music. Every time I like a song, I put it in my favorite play list, which makes it a real melting pot
Would like to sit next to in the plane: My father (who passed away 14 years ago, a few months after I joined Accenture) to let him know all about us and read the pride in his eyes
Life-changing event(s): Becoming a mom and the overwhelming feeling of responsibility and ownership

The best lesson life has taught me: I have experienced multiple life-changing events so I’ve had to learn to adapt. I believe adaptability is the best lesson life has taught me
What I learned last week: I followed a training course about Living Systems
Most beautiful place on earth: I like simple things, so sitting in the garden next to my husband on a beautiful summer’s day and watching the kids play football

Hobbies/passions: I love spending time with my extended family (mother and siblings) over a good dinner that we all cooked together while laughing and chatting about everything and nothing
What nobody knows about me: I am quite an open book, so if there is something nobody knows about me, it is for a good reason!

Life motto: Life is not waiting for the storm to pass; it’s learning to dance in the rain