Sarah Accenture Image featuredSarah Thomas always knew she wanted to work in medicine and science but after taking a “wild card” job application at Accenture she found herself in a position to take advantage of the transferable skills STEM (science, technology. engineering and maths) had to offer.

Now Managing Director, Marketing and Communications, Accenture Operations, at IT giant Accenture her career has taken her from technology to medicine and back.

She said it was the science side of medicine that first interested her at a young age: “My career wasn’t planned from an early age, but I knew I wanted to go into medicine and science and decided on pathology. I knew I didn’t want to be a doctor, so I decided to go down the science route as I had a fascination with viral diseases specifically HIV.

“It was a wild card job application at the time when I went into consulting at Accenture. That’s where I learnt about coding and programming, at Anderson Consulting, which later became Accenture.”

After a few years at Accenture ,Thomas said science was still calling her: “I went back to science and to Vienna to do my doctorate, and I worked on HIV and gene therapies at Novartis. I have always been fascinated by the way viruses evolve and the devastating impact they have on the human body.”

She later came back to London to take her Postdoctural Research Fellow specialising in cancer research at Ludwig Institute for Cancer Research and then worked at the Medical Research Council.

“Then I was looking for something with a bit more of a dynamic environment and I had experience of the business world, so I ended up back at Accenture,” she added. “Networking was a big point there, as I had stayed in touch with past colleagues who let me know about available opportunities.”

Thomas said the bonus of working in STEM is that “you’re not judged in science for your gender. All that matters is that you’re an expert in your field. I haven’t found it a challenge being a woman in technology or sicence, as I’ve had some strong advocates and mentors in my career along the way.”

Accenture’s women’s network is called Accent on Gender which offers support for its female community. Accenture’s diversity agenda also features a Women’s Mentoring and Maternity Programme, a Connecting Women in Technology (CWIT) programme and International Women’s Day events.

Accenture has been working hard on increasing the amount of females in senior positions at the company, with a record 723 new managing directors and senior managing directors as of December 2015. Women now account for more than 28% of new managing directors and senior managing directors, a figure that is up from 21% in 2014.

There are now more than 130,000 women at Accenture, with the firm having pledged to grow the percentage of its new women hires by 40% worldwide by 2017.

Last year 39% of Accenture’s 100,00 new hires worldwide were women.

Thomas said it is not just the women at Accenture that are in support of diversity: “There are a lot of male champions at Accenture. Having male and female mentors is great, if you can secure them, as males will always tell me how it is whether I want to hear it or not. For example, if you’re over thinking something or you are not ready for a promotion.

“You need someone who has your back and who has your best interest at heart, but will tell it to you straight too. You need both strong women and men as support as both have different tactics.”

She has also on the board of not-for-profit Dress for Success and believes that you do not have to “box yourself in” when it comes to defining your role or career.

“You have to go out and grab what’s available to you. If opportunities are there and you think you have strengths that would be suited on a particular project then you should get involved, whether it’s on your own team or across the company,” said Thomas.

She advised making a plan: “I take time to map a ‘relationships map’, which is where I make a line graph to detail people you want to meet or get to know better. I don’t immediately call them all up, but I try to make a point to sit next to them at a dinner or event or I get involved in a project that I know that person will be working on. If you make a map then it’s more front of mind.”