Shaping the future of work
“There’s inherent tension at the intersection of
technology and humanity. I’ve found that tension
to be where the opportunity lies.”
There are few instances in which one has a chance to shape the future. Fewer still are the companies that give their employees space and resources for such endeavors. At the Center for the Future of Work, my role is similar to that of an analyst—examining industry trends, generating thought leadership and helping clients implement new ideas and strategies.
Through my work I get to inspire and inform business leaders, policy writers and any other citizens with the desire to actively shape our future at the intersection of technology and humanity. There is inherent tension at that intersection, and the tension is where opportunity for innovation lies.
I started my career in digital strategy, while moonlighting as a radio DJ in Atlanta. Given that the city is such a major media market and hotbed for hip hop, I had a significant platform at a young age. Having such a prominent platform taught me the importance of rigorous preparation and fully engaging my audience. That experience shaped how I approach the work I do now as a consultant and how I present ideas to my new audience in boardrooms and on conference calls.
Shortly after joining Cognizant, I cofounded our African American & Latinx Business Resource Group (AALG) with an eye on the future. This group helps cultivate the relationships that make us all better consultants. Our clients are increasingly diverse and it’s critical that we have people who look like them and have lived lives like them. AALG is also an opportunity for me to give back, to make sure under-represented minorities in tech find their own voices.
Forging a different path
“It’s been a long and winding road to
where I am now. My work today in
diversity and inclusion is the payoff.”
Two years ago, I took the lead marketing role for our Women Empowered initiative. Now, as part of the marketing team for diversity and inclusion, I love the fact that my role has broadened. Being a woman, being African American, I now have the opportunity to help raise the profiles of other groups within Cognizant.
I’ve taken a nontraditional route to get here. When my career in architecture turned out to be more about construction than design, I took inspiration from my mom: A year after she went back to school to get her MBA, I did the same. But while my B-school classmates focused on finance and economics, I studied marketing. I started with software marketing, completed a special project with the Dallas Museum of Art, and then ended up at Cognizant, where I marketed IT and consulting services to the retail, consumer goods, and travel and hospitality industries before transitioning to Women Empowered and then to D&I.
My love of travel has also helped to shape me. When I was an undergrad at the University of Virginia, I did a semester abroad in Ghana. Experiencing Ghana definitely changed me. It’s a totally different, non-Western culture that opened my eyes to different people, foods, experiences and ideas. It also gave me the travel bug. I spent a semester in Paris during graduate school, and last year I traveled to Peru with family—hopefully passing the travel bug onto my son as he experienced new cultures.
In many ways, it’s been a long and winding road to where I am now, but my work today in diversity and inclusion is the payoff.
Builder of bridges
“We all need to be vigilant and care about
each other. There are always others
we should put our hand out to.”
It’s probably no surprise that after attending a conservative, 500-year-old high school (think Downton Abbey), I blossomed when I was let loose at university. I spent a lot of time in politics and drama. Exploring different ideas. Oxford was a very supportive environment. It gave me a chance to find my moral compass and explore what was important to me. Queer theory. The role of LBGT in society. It helped me understand who I am.
I started my law career at a traditional firm. I made a lot of sacrifices in terms of hiding who I was and my sexuality. A big white-shoe law firm wasn’t the place to talk about that. I had gone from being a campus activist to putting myself into a suit, literally and metaphorically.
When I interviewed with Cognizant associates 11 years ago, there was such a human side to the people I met. We do things by consensus here, and we believe in each other. It’s about doing the job well and doing it with integrity. That message continues to be present.
I’m grateful the world has moved on in many ways. But it’s important to not be complacent regarding social injustice. It’s important we remember things can change very quickly. We all need to be vigilant and care about each other. There are always others we should put our hand out to.
Leader and veteran
“I’m interested in coaching and mentoring
and fixing the obstacles that create
the problems we’re trying to solve.”
I proudly served four years in the Air Force as an air traffic controller. It’s one of the most stressful jobs imaginable. In addition to being responsible for billion-dollar aircraft, you have the responsibility for a lot of lives in your hands. After I left the military and went to college, my first entry-level job in the communications industry was an outside plant technician for Pacific Bell. I installed a variety of communication services in customer’s homes and businesses.
Different experiences, but those early days in my career are invaluable to me as a leader: They help me to understand what all levels of an organization go through. They’ve given me the compassion to make sure we run effectively and that we all share the same aspirations.
Here at Cognizant, I work on some of the largest accounts for our Communications practice. My job is about partnering with clients to constantly drive innovative ideas, provide leadership and work with people on the internal side.
As part of my work, I’m interested in coaching, mentoring and fixing the obstacles that create the problems we’re trying to solve. I typically take on high-stress jobs. But I focus on balance. I’m a fundamental believer in getting the right processes in place and the right people to execute. When that works, you have harmony.
My work with our Veterans Program brings me full circle. It’s important to me to help Cognizant better understand the nuances of hiring veterans. We bring discipline and commitment to our work that’s as valuable as practical experience.
Turning new ideas into impactful products
“I’m drawn to the problem-solving aspect of
product marketing. I love the thought and rigor
involved in taking a product to market.”
When I graduated from Georgetown University, an advisor told me, “Go west. There’s this technology thing going on.” So I started a tech company, and I’ve worked in technology ever since. In particular, I’m drawn to the problem-solving aspect of product marketing. I love the thought and rigor involved in taking a product to market.
At Cognizant Accelerator, I help create new business models for the company as part of our corporate innovation efforts. That includes incubating new practices and internal startups, everything from product-market fit to positioning and messaging. We collaborate closely with our business units to identify good ideas and ensure they have the executive support and resources they need to grow.
New ideas are the heart of my work. I got an MBA from Harvard, then returned to the Silicon Valley startup scene, just as the market crashed. After Cisco acquired the startup I was working for, I led product marketing at various emerging technologies within Cisco, including its video content and IoT business units.
My focus at Cognizant draws from that experience: We're exploring ideas for new business models made possible by digital technologies such as blockchain, AI and IoT. My managers emphasize impact over activity and give me the autonomy I want to do the work and to make the changes needed to forward our agenda. I’ve also been able to take advantage of training, such as an executive speaker class, which has helped me develop some of the soft skills that are so necessary to be effective in a large company.
When I’m not working, my husband and our two young boys like to jam on instruments: I’m figuring out how to fiddle. I’m also learning ballet, which feels like a more painful form of yoga. I regularly hike the trails of an urban forest reserve behind my house. It’s one of the largest in the country—and yet another reason that advisor was right about going west.
Irene recently took on the new role of Vice President of Corporate Marketing focused on Mergers and Acquisitions.
— Brian Humphries, Chief Executive Officer
Organizations with a diverse workforce and an inclusive work environment are better prepared to meet the complex demands of today’s dynamically changing, digitally-driven business world. By challenging existing conventions and practices, your company can find innovative ways to enrich collaboration, heighten performance, and fuel profitable growth.READ MORE
As we look to tackle the thorny human issues ahead, we recognize that diversity and inclusion (D&I) remain chief among them. For our e-book we’ve assembled some of Cognizant’s keenest minds to share their thoughts on the importance of diversity and inclusion in the future of work from a variety of perspectives.READ MORE
Last fall, we launched a discussion on inclusion—beyond gender—at our first-ever inclusion event in New York. Co-hosted by Cognizant Women Empowered (WE) and the Center for the Future of Work (CFoW), the immensely successful event opened with Bonnie St. John, who spoke on cracking the code on inclusion. St. John is a Fortune 500 business consultant, Rhodes Scholar, former White House official, paralympic ski medalist and best-selling author.
Panels and TED-style talks covered topics such as the future of work, reskilling and human insights in tech and AI. The event concluded with an interview with Tiffany Bova, global customer growth and innovation evangelist for Salesforce and former Gartner analyst. All attendees received Making Room: Reflections on Diversity & Inclusion in the Future of Work, a book of essays on diversity and inclusion jointly published by the CFoW and WE.WATCH VIDEO
Pride season is underway, and Cognizant has been wearing its rainbow colors at celebrations here in the U.S. in Tampa, Dallas and Des Moines. We’ve also been in Dublin, Ireland. Come visit our booth at the annual NEPA Pride: March to the Park in Wilkes-Barre, Pennsylvania, on Saturday, July 13. We’ll be celebrating the LGBT+ community all day in Kirby Park. See you there.JOIN US
We’re continuing our sponsorship of MAKERS, an organization dedicated to telling the stories of today's trailblazing women to inspire the changeMAKERS of tomorrow. At the 2019 MAKERS conference, Cognizant pledged to employ at least 100,000 women around the world by 2020.
Cognizant attendees at the conference included MAKERS’ awardees: Meera Krishnamurthy, SVP, Insurance; Paul Roehrig, VP, Cognizant Digital Business; Vibha Rustagi, CEO, itaas, a Cognizant Company; and Chell Smith, SVP, Cognizant Consulting.READ MORE