Janet Onyia

Project & Programme Manager at Accenture

We were delighted to sit down with Janet Onyia, Project & Programme Manager at Accenture to talk about her career journey to date and unpick some of the core inclusion challenges in her industry.

Headshot of Janet Onyia in black and white

The work that Janet Onyia has put into a number of diversity and inclusion programmes over the past few years has been nothing short of remarkable.

As a young Black woman growing up in a small town outside of Newcastle, belief is not something she had always instilled in herself. In a career that started almost a decade ago, it is only in her last two roles – firstly with Lloyds Banking Group and now with Accenture – that she has been made aware of her value and her impact.

Janet didn’t feel like the spotlight was for her. In her own words, she was always someone who went about their work with little fuss or fanfare – a demeanour that, she later realised, had been shaped by bad experiences in the past.

“At the beginning of my career I experienced some pretty toxic workplaces,” she explained. “I didn’t stand up for myself, I didn’t challenge anything, and I felt like I couldn’t because of my race. I was very different to everyone else that was there and I realise now that I’d almost been programmed to just carry on, to keep going.

“By the time I joined Lloyds [as a Project Manager] I was someone who just focussed on their work and kept their head down. I didn’t realise the impact of my work was being widely discussed and celebrated until it led to me being approached by Accenture.”

Making that move in May 2019, to take up the position of Project & Programme Manager, sparked a change in Janet’s approach to her work. Since joining Accenture, she has truly stepped into the position of a role model by getting involved up a number of initiatives centred around diversity, inclusion and representation.

Within just a couple of months of joining, Janet took up the position of Scotland Lead at Accenture’s African Caribbean Network (AACN), and more recently has been appointed as Diversity & Inclusion Scotland Lead. Still wanting to make more of a positive impact, she founded Accenture’s Women in Technology Scotland community.

“In an office of nearly 400 people, I realised there was a great opportunity to create a community focussed on our technology,” Janet said. “All of the big events were happening down in the London head office, where people would meet up, share their knowledge and network – so when I arrived at Accenture in Edinburgh, I spotted a gap.

Janet standing next to an Accenture Edinburgh sign

“My mindset changed, and I wanted to make the world a better place for people.”

“I spoke to the Managing Director who would be in charge of providing a budget and they were on side. It started as a small idea when I joined, and it has grown into something big – we even have people travelling up from the London office for some of our events!”

Spearheading these groups and initiatives has opened the doors for Janet to continue being a force for good, and to continue making positive changes both internally and externally. She has participated in a number of panels and speaking engagements that range from the Accenture Scotland International Women’s Day event to a Women in Technology & Entrepreneurship panel, and was involved in a UK Tech Cluster talk, supported by the DCMS, on how diversity and inclusion could drive the post-Covid economic recovery.

But the move to Accenture wasn’t the only catalyst for a change in perspective: a couple of years before taking up her current position, Janet’s daughter was born. While it is normally the parent who influences the child’s behaviour, the roles are sometimes reversed in this instance.

“She is so sure of herself, so certain,” Janet said with a laugh. “She knows exactly what she wants and barely takes no for an answer. When she does, she’ll make a different suggestion altogether – ‘okay, well how about this instead’ – and still end up getting her way.

“I have always wanted to be more like that, to be more certain and assertive. I see my daughter doing that on a daily basis and it makes me realise that I can do that myself, I can stand my ground, and when I look back at how my career has progressed over the last four years, there’s a marked difference.

“My mindset changed, and I wanted to make the world a better place for people.”

Janet only mentioned one other name when talking about her role models – that of June Angelides MBE, the founder of the UK’s first child-friendly coding school for mothers and several other inclusion initiatives. She was awarded her MBE in the Queen’s Birthday Honours last year for services to Women in Technology, and is one of very few Black women in the world of Venture Capital.

The list of Janet’s role models isn’t as exclusive as it is by design. Throughout her career, Janet has been set on forging her own path, choosing not to listen to phrases like ‘you can’t be what you can’t see’ because she was determined to achieve what she wanted to achieve. She knew what she could do, and she was going to go and do it, no matter the odds.

But more recently, she has realised the importance of role models and actively encourages those who are just starting out in their careers have them.

“In the last few years, I realised that if I actively sought some role models, whether they were in my line of work or in a different area of business, it gives you that extra emphasis on knowing you can achieve it,” she said.

“I’d been brought up with my parents, and with society, telling me that I needed to work twice as hard as everyone else because I’m a Black person in a corporate environment – just because that’s ‘how it is’. It was drummed in and there just weren’t enough hours in the day.”

Janet and two colleagues standing in front of Accenture Edinburgh sign

“There’s no unicorn, no one person who made it. I realised there were people out there with young families, trying to accelerate their careers and overcoming challenges that were set out before them. [Angelides] is a mother, she is Black, she works in technology and she is an entrepreneur. Seeing her success is something I can draw on.”

Not only can Janet now draw on the experiences of others, but also on what she has been through in the past eight years of her career. From over-committing for fear of having to prove herself because of her race, to the impact that inclusion initiatives can have on the sense of community within a workplace, her journey is a captivating one.

She explains the sense of expectation she felt to be in the office from seven until seven, working long hours for the sake of demonstrating commitment to the cause. She now knows that’s not the way it had to be, or has to be for those currently in the shoes she was wearing eight years ago.

“I’d been brought up with my parents, and with society, telling me that I needed to work twice as hard as everyone else because I’m a Black person in a corporate environment – just because that’s ‘how it is’. It was drummed in and there just weren’t enough hours in the day

“You have to work smarter, not harder. There’s a difference between the people who spend more of their time shouting about the job they’re doing, rather than just getting their head down and getting on with the job. There’s sometimes a stigma that it’s the people shouting loudest who were put forward for promotions and for progression, but they’re not the ones who are delivering better work.”

That culture of shouting the loudest means some voices don’t get heard, and it’s often those from underrepresented groups whose voices fall by the wayside.

Holding a number of positions on the boards of extracurricular initiatives and programmes, Janet is set on making sure those voices are heard, and that the playing field is levelled. Drawing on her experiences in the workplace, she knows what it takes to do just that.

“It requires emotional intelligence,” she outlines. “The Executive Chair of FinTech Scotland, Stephen Ingledew, is a great example of what is required from a leader, he embodies inclusion.

“He has set up a reverse mentoring programme so that he and others can learn from the experiences of others. Then, armed with that information, he asks ‘what can we do in terms of policies and procedures? What can we put in place to make sure nobody is being left out, or left behind?’

“It opens people’s eyes and gives a voice to those who aren’t necessarily the loudest in the room. That’s how you create a truly inclusive workplace.”