Women Multitaskers Could Hurt Their Careers

March 9, 2015 6:49 pm

By Barbara Frankel

Accenture #ListenLearnLeadAre technology and multitasking actually harming women’s chances to advance in corporate America?

Potentially, according to Accenture’s recent study on the ramifications of distractions on listening—and concentrating—done in conjunction with International Women’s Day.

While being distracted obviously impacts everyone, women seem to be impacted more.

“We benefit so much from technology, especially when we are working virtually. But at the same time, it diminishes your ability to disengage, disconnect and have thinking time—and that impacts your ability to be innovative and creative,” said Nellie Borrero, Managing Director – Global Diversity & Inclusion, Accenture (No. 12 in The DiversityInc Top 50 Companies for Diversity).

Nellie Borrero, Accenture

Nellie Borrero

Why would this be exacerbated for women? B0rrero thinks it is societal conditioning to be there for everyone. “Women almost always feel they have to respond right away. We have to multitask even when we are going to be in front of our families at dinner. We have to be careful that we understand that it’s OK not to be on 24/7, that we can disengage,” she said.

The research, #ListenLearnLead, surveyed 3,600 professionals from 30 countries.

Here are key results:

Women Men
Technology overextends leaders & impacts work 62% 54%
Listening is harder at work 66% 62%
Distractions impact best work 39% 34%


The solution, B0rrero advised, is to have senior leaders, especially women, let everyone on the team know that it is OK—and important—to shut down and disengage for several hours. Junior employees, she notes, will follow the leads of their bosses and if they see their bosses on email 24/7, they will be afraid to turn it off.

“We talk to our most senior women. We explain that if I am getting an email at 11 p.m. and I respond by 11:15 and copy all my team, I am sending the message that it’s required to do this,” B0rrero explained.

The global nature of Accenture’s workforce, she noted, makes it harder sometimes to shut if off. “I’ll say, ‘Let me just wait till midnight so I see if they can answer that.’ It diminishes your ability to disconnect.”

B0rrero’s personal solution (and she notes that everyone needs to find what works for them individually) is to end each day in prayer. “And I go to sleep. I made a commitment that I do not pick up that phone to look at email in the middle of the night. That is what works for me,” she stressed.

Other Survey Findings

The Accenture survey also looked at women’s expectations of promotions and raises (this is examined annually) and found that women continue to be less likely to ask for a raise but more likely to receive one if they do ask.

Asking for a Raise

Women Men
Have asked for raise 61% 67%
Got raise and it was more than expected 25% 17%


Unlike Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella, who said women should rely on karma to get raises, the leaders at Accenture are pushing women to gain the confidence to ask for—and receive—raises and opportunities.

“Pay equity is important for us,” B0rrero said. The company urges women, and men, to be vigilant about their “personal brand, what you want that brand to be. Stretch yourself. And with that comes the confidence to ask for more things, like raises and promotions.”

The company’s leaders, male and female, want to help coach, mentor and sponsor. “But they need to know your story and our aspirations,” she said.

B0rrero and other Accenture leaders are traveling across the globe to talk to women about having the confidence to ask for real feedback and then accepting the responses. “Women in some cases believe their work will speak for themselves. They don’t want to bother their leaders to have THAT conversation. They need to get comfortable with asking,” she said.

She advised women when they receive their annual performance reviews to hold their leaders accountable for the three things they need to do to reach the next level or get the next promotion.

“We get too comfortable hearing the great things we are doing,” she explained. “You have to ask the right questions.”