Speak up about what's best for you


Who are the people behind Accenture? What drives Hester Prins and inspires her on a daily basis? How has Javier Leonor's life, career, ambitions and dreams developed over the years? What difficult choices has Mark Ruiter made in his life? Through a series of portraits, we answer these questions and introduce you to our people: those who make Accenture the thriving company that it is.

Introducing, Mirthe Wallinga, Senior Manager at Accenture.

‘After finishing my master’s thesis, I decided to take some time off before starting “real life”. Having spent six months focusing solely on my thesis and, by association, myself, I felt a strong urge to now do something for other people. So I visited South Africa for four months to volunteer in a children’s home near Cape Town. Those months were eye-opening for various reasons. For one, the time away from my then-boyfriend, Frits, who I started dating in high school at the age of 15, made me realize that he was indeed the man I wanted to spend the rest of my life with. But those four months also highlighted that I actually had life much more figured out than I thought t I did before leaving for South Africa.’

  • Brunette woman with blue eyes smiling at the camera

Please note that this interview was conducted in early 2018.

‘What did “real life” look like for me? Well, to start with, I knew I wanted to move in with Frits. So I did exactly that, first in Groningen, but as soon as he graduated, we packed our bags and moved to “big city” Amsterdam. After having worked at Essent for 1,5 years, I was hired by Accenture in December 2010 to work as an analyst within the Sourcing and Procurement team.’

Confidence in my own decisions

‘I loved my job, especially during the first years when the learning curve was at its steepest - I felt like I was developing both professionally and personally. Working for Accenture is fantastic, but also challenging - after all, deeply rooted in the company’s DNA is the idea that you can always grow and improve your skills. For an ambitious person like me, that meant I put a lot of pressure on myself to keep performing better. Over the years, I’ve gained more confidence and learned to trust my own judgement. When I believe I’ve done something well or “well enough”, I find reassurance in that when people give me feedback or question my decisions.’

‘I was climbing the career ladder quite successfully when I found out I was pregnant nearly three years ago. I would be lying if I said I wasn’t dreading the moment I had to tell my Managing Director. “Are you leaving us?” he asked hastily when I told him there was something I wanted to talk to him about. “No, it’s not that bad,” I replied. “Or, at least, I hope you don’t think it is”.. He didn’t. While finding someone to stand in for me - a functional expert in a senior role - wasn’t easy, it was done.’

Finding my managerial feet again

‘When Boris was four months old, I returned to work from maternity leave. It was actually pretty smooth sailing: Boris was an easy child, he liked daycare and spending time with his grandparents, and he didn’t seem to mind his mother being away. Personally, I was happy to be back at work, but I did have to find a way to focus on my job and not think about my son too much, while still expressing three times a day. The fact that I was in between projects during my first six weeks back helped a great deal in finding my feet again.’

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‘While I might have thought I struggled a little after Boris came into our lives, that was an absolute breeze compared to what I went through after our little girl, Hedwig, was born earlier this year. When I returned to work this time, I was assigned to a demanding project straight away. But even more demanding was Hedwig, who didn’t cope as well as her brother did without her mother. She was simply miserable when I wasn’t around - of the three days she was meant to spend at daycare, I was called to pick her up on two of them by the childminders because she just wasn’t managing without me. And it didn’t make sense for Frits to fetch her because it was me - or more specifically, my breast - that she needed. I found this conundrum incredibly difficult - as much as I wanted to do my job to the best of my ability, I couldn’t bear the thought that my daughter was broken-hearted.’  

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Standing my ground

‘Two weeks after my return I decided I needed to set priorities, and so I did exactly that. I called my manager and discussed leaving the office at 3pm every day from then on. Just like when I went on maternity leave, finding a suitable replacement for me wasn’t easy, but I stood my ground - I wasn’t going to let anything change my mind. I won’t say it’s been easy since, but Hedwig and I are both definitely doing a lot better.’

‘No doubt, there are plenty of people who don’t understand my decision, or who assume I must be feeling very distressed, burdened or even embarrassed about my choice to shorten my work days. But I’m not - not for a minute. Nor am I worried that this could potentially mark the end of my career at Accenture. I have no difficulty explaining to a client why I am only available between 8.30am and 3pm, and when I have told partners about the arrangement, I haven’t yet had one negative response. On the contrary, clients tell me how proud they are of Accenture for taking such good care of young moms. And I agree - I’m certainly grateful we have come to this agreement.’

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The importance of speaking up

‘I think it’s important to be open about matters like this, because wanting to spend more time at home or with loved ones is still somewhat difficult in our industry. And I’m not only talking about parents wanting to spend time with their children, but also those who need to take care of a sick family member or give attention to a partner who requires it. I can’t emphasize this enough to my team members: “When you’re ill, please go home and don’t worry about that meeting later today. If you want to work from home for a few days because your girlfriend’s not feeling well, then do that!” The option is always there; you just need to be honest and straightforward about what’s best for you.’

‘The reality is that we tend to give more leeway when it comes to our work and employers, but be less willing to do so for our private lives. For some odd reason we find prioritizing our personal life difficult. It’s a mindset that needs to change. There has to be give and take. For me, it means that if a client calls me at 3:30pm, it will have to wait until the next morning or I find somebody to take over. Similarly, I won’t hastily reply to emails during my kids’ nap time on my day off. That said, if necessary, I’ll put in the time later at night or make sure I am at the office by 7am the next morning. After all, that’s how give and take works.’

Disrupt the status quo

‘To shift that mindset and disrupt the status quo, a change in culture is needed. And that’s why I share my story - I want to show people that it can be done, as long as you learn to prioritize, speak your mind and stand your ground when the situation calls for it. Working parents seem to be hesitant to pack up at 5pm, as if there’s something wrong with wanting to head home. Or what about young women with the potential to become managers who choose to leave companies before starting a family because they believe it’s too difficult to combine a senior position with motherhood.’

‘We just need more role models showing us that it is possible to strike a balance. Here I am, a 33-year-old Senior Manager who had two children within three years and took maternity leave twice, and I not only got a promotion during my last pregnancy but currently temporarily leave the office at 3pm every day without feeling bad about it. I’m living proof: it can be done!’

  • Man, woman and two children sitting in the staircase

Mirthe Wallinga (1984)

Studied: Master of Business Administration, University of Groningen (2007)

Started working at Accenture: December 2010

Relationship status: Living with Frits; mother to Boris (2,5) and Hedwig (nearly 6 months)

Loves: Waking up a cheerful Boris and Hedwig in the morning, just the four of us, in our big bed - it’s the best start to the day

Gets annoyed by: Slow-moving people, traffic jams

Favorite food: Frits’s homemade lasagna

On my nightstand: Baby monitor

Listens to: In the car, Boris insists we listen to Dutch hip-hop - he has a special preference for The Partysquad. When I’m on my own, I prefer to listen to the radio or to Freshlyground (a South African band)

Last purchase: Baby clothes

Would like to sit next to in the plane: My mother. She’s a wonderful grandmother to Boris and Hedwig - she travels from Groningen to Amsterdam every week to look after them. Even though we see each other often, we never really get to spend time together anymore. I’m looking forward to a surprise weekend I’m planning just for her and me in October

Life-changing event: Even though the birth of my children was life changing, I think moving from our beloved apartment in Amsterdam-West to a “grown-up” house with a garden and extra bedroom in Hilversum this summer will be even more life altering

The best lesson life has taught me: Only four people really matter - it’s what Frits has been telling me day in and day out these past few months

What I learned recently: There really is no such thing as a one-size-fits-all approach; there will always be elements that surprise you and you constantly have to adapt to the situation

Most beautiful place on earth: Schiermonnikoog

Hobbies/passions: I wish I had time for hobbies, but right now, ensuring the happiness of those four people is my work, hobby and passion, all at the same time

What nobody knows about me: My physical sense of balance isn't great, so I'm not the best bike rider and often fall over spontaneously

Life motto: Treat others the way you want to be treated yourself.

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