35 Women Under 35: where are they now?
Since appearing in MT's 35 Women Under 35 list back in 2012, Alexis Rose has risen up the corporate ladder to become one of the most senior women in Accenture Strategy. She tells us about coping with an abusive father and being bullied at school, to juggling a career and cabarets.
On her childhood:
I’m London born and bred. I don’t tend to talk about my childhood; my father was a violent man and a domestic abuser so I didn’t have a happy upbringing. I was an extremely shy and super geeky; I could read by the age of 2.5.My mum used to stand me in the books section in WHSmith and watch people’s faces as this tiny little person read things by herself. If it hadn’t been the 1980s, I would probably have been a YouTube viral.
My home was a scary place, so I spent an awful lot of time under my bed reading, and that filled my imagination with other worlds. I read Enid Blyton, Roald Dahl and even Tolkien. Escaping into wonderful, magical stories of adventure taught me that there were choices and to go after what you want, no matter what your situation. My mum sent me to North London Collegiate School, one of the top independent day schools for girls in country. I was so lucky to be educated there. I was smart and my dream was to go to Cambridge so I worked as hard as I could until I had my A Level results in my hand. For me, that felt like holding Charlie’s Golden Ticket.
I came out of my shell at university, where I studied social and political sciences and then did a year of management studies at Cambridge Judge Business School. I was at St John’s, which is a very male-dominated, rugby-focussed college. Up until that point, I didn’t actually know any boys; I’d been in this girls’ school bubble. Suddenly I had to find my feet, fit in and learn how to hold my own. I volunteered to be on a charity committee and that led me to becoming the first female entertainments officer, organising drum and bass nights. That gave me confidence – and it earned me respect.
On her early career:
I knew I wanted a job in the City – but I had no idea what. I’d never considered consulting. It’s not like there’s a Management Consultant Barbie! I did the milkround at university, started meeting employers and loved the idea of helping clients to solve problems. It came down to Bain vs Accenture – and Accenture won. When weighing up jobs, I always tell people to base their decision on gut instinct and the people in the company. Can you imagine sitting next to those people in an airport lounge or working with them late at night? Those colleagues will form your social circle. I deferred my start date by four months to travel around Australia, then joined Accenture as a strategy consultant in 2001. I’ve been with the company for 17 years and worked my way up to director of business operations for Accenture Strategy Europe.
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I’m blonde, petite (5ft) and look young for my age so I faced a lot of discrimination when I started my career. It was the noughties and going to strip clubs was classed as ‘corporate entertainment’. There was a lot of inappropriate behaviour and I’d frequently get hit on by clients. I remember doing a presentation on SAP to a room of ten middle-aged men. At the end of the meeting, I said ‘Any questions?’ and the client nearest me said, ‘Yes darling, what are you doing later?’ I wore trousers religiously and completely defeminised my appearance to try and look less girly. The minute I made senior manager, I vowed to only wear dresses to work. It was an act of defiance. You shouldn’t have to wear a suit jacket to be taken seriously.
On her passions:
In 2006, I was asked to speak at an event for graduates and I had to fill out a PowerPoint template on ‘My university’, ‘My favourite project’ and so on. When it got to the section on ‘My hobbies’, I was completely stumped. I didn’t have any! I’d regularly work until 11pm and had completely sacrificed my personal life for my career.
At the same time, my mum became ill; I needed to be around to nurse her, not be tied to my desk. So my first step was to move from strategy to operations; that allowed me to work virtually at a time when I really needed it. My next step was to sign up to a singing class on a Monday night. After a year, my teacher took me to one side and said, ‘Do you realise you can actually sing?’ That gave me the courage to sign up to Pineapple Performing Arts School and then AMTA (American Musical Theatre School).
I was a back-up dancer for Dizzee Rascal at the London 2012 Olympic Opening Ceremony, I've performed in cabarets and musical theatre, and I’m now chair of the board of trustees for Centre Stage London. I’ve learned how important it is to create space in your life to do the things that inspire you - to combine your career with your personal passions. Enid Blyton is largely to blame for me having a to-do list which never gets any shorter.
On gender parity:
I head up Accenture’s ‘Accent on Gender’ network, which is about supporting and investing in women from the moment they join the company and throughout their careers. We’re committed to achieving a gender-balanced workforce by 2025 and increasing the percentage of women in managing director roles to at least 25% worldwide by 2020. We need more female role models in business. Junior women need to be able to look up the ranks and see someone they would like to emulate.
I’ve always been really keen to work in diversity and inclusion. My parents split up when I was 11 and although that created a much happier home environment, I was then the only one in the class from a ‘broken home’, and that was pretty hard as a teenager when at the time the newspapers were full of doom and gloom stories around how children of divorced parents were condemned to a life of teen pregnancy and drugs. I know what it’s like to be teased, bullied and excluded for being ‘different’.
On her ambition:
I’d like to take on a global role and get experience in the growth markets. I’d also keen to do more mentoring and coaching to inspire the next generation and help women who struggle with confidence and gravitas.
Image credit: Alexis Rose/Accenture