Despite her mom being a Human Resources Manager, Ilham El Khayari never really understood what HR was all about. That is, until she chose to study HRM and it all started to make sense. So much sense that, in 2016, she was awarded the HR Talent of the Year Award.

Ilham El Khayari is Senior Learning & Talent Development Advisor Benelux at Accenture.

‘I grew up in the Watergraafsmeer in Amsterdam. As it’s essentially like a separate small town within the city, I’ve never considered myself a true “Amsterdamse”. I come from a non-traditional Moroccan family. I say “non-traditional” because my mom was the parent who worked full-time, while my dad stayed at home to look after me and my three younger sisters, who are two, seven and nine years younger than me respectively. My dad was the one who took us to school, picked us up and did all the cooking and cleaning at home. For me, that was normal - just the way it was.’

‘I always felt very responsible for my younger sisters. While the eldest is more like my best friend, the two younger ones really look to me as their big sister, in every sense of the word. Above all else, I have always wanted to be someone my sisters can look up to and learn from. I am not sure if I’m the role model I hope to be just yet, but I do know that my family is very proud of me and where I am today.’  

Rather than being confused by my mixed heritage, I now consider it one of my greatest assets.

‘I went to a predominantly white primary school. So when I went to high school, which was far more culturally diverse, I was faced with quite a culture shock. For the first time, I met other kids who shared my Moroccan cultural background, but who had grown up in completely different environments. For one, their families were more traditionally structured, but I also benefited from a better economic situation than most of them had. Some of the kids used a lot of “slang” that I had never heard before. On top of this, I think the rest of my class considered me a “goody-two-shoes” - for instance, it bothered me when teachers were bullied. These disparities made me feel quite disconnected from my Moroccan peers - more “Dutch”, so to speak - and so I battled with some uncertainty around my identity. But today, that struggle is far behind me: now I proudly refer to myself as a Dutch woman with Moroccan roots. Rather than being confused by my mixed heritage, I now consider it one of my greatest assets.'

Make way for the HR Talent of the Year

‘Apparently, it was my ability to make people feel heard and appreciated, coupled with my results-driven approach, that got me nominated for the HR Talent of the Year award. Once nominated, I set my sights on winning the title, and the further I got in the contest, the more competitive I became. That’s very me: when I do something, I commit myself to it wholeheartedly. There were 50 nominated candidates to start with - 20 made it through to the semi-finals, and only eight, including me, ultimately got through to the finals. I was surprised, honored, and above all, excited when I found out I had won, and not only based on the professional jurors’ opinions; I had secured second place in the Audience Award too. The judges named my ability to stay true to myself, stay out of office politics and speak my mind without fear of judgment as some of the key reasons as to why I was selected.’

The judges named my ability to stay true to myself, stay out of office politics and speak my mind without fear of judgment as some of the key reasons as to why I was selected.

‘Aside from the contest being a very interesting experience, I was also keen to take part because of the final prize: the chance to benefit from a year-long HR development program centered on training participants to become HR business partners. I finished the program in May 2018; I’ve found it even more interesting and useful than I had anticipated. Essentially, it has given me valuable insights into certain aspects of HR, and also proved to be a fantastic way to develop myself further, both professionally and personally.’  

Giving back as a moral duty

‘I consider myself very fortunate to have been given the kind of opportunities I’ve received so far to grow and progress in my career. A few years ago, I decided not to only pursue success for myself, but to help guide others along their journeys to prosperity too. It’s important to me to give back to others without expecting anything in return. When I was younger, I had a strong urge to care for others. I always played “mother” to my younger sisters, and over the past years, giving back has become something of a moral duty to me. Not only do I have the right resources and skills to give back, but it also gives me a lot of energy, so why on earth wouldn’t I?’  

Not only do I have the right resources and skills to give back, but it also gives me a lot of energy, so why on earth wouldn’t I?

‘One of the most impactful ways I believe I make a difference is through the work I do with the Moroccan Dutch Talent Platform (MDTP) that I co-founded with four others in 2016. Through the Future Leadership Program we developed, we aim to empower young, talented Moroccan-Dutch high school students to excel and, potentially, become role models for others too. We specifically focus on students receiving upper secondary education, a group that is often assumed to be better off than students only completing lower secondary education. However, statistics reveal that these students often still struggle to find their way to university or to choose a field of study that best suits them. Through a “21st Century Skills” course and one-on-one coaching sessions, we hope to train and inspire a successful troop of Dutch-Moroccan high school students who can inspire other young, talented Dutch-Moroccan scholars. Ideally, it should have a ripple effect.’

A whole new family

‘What’s most fulfilling about my work at MDTP is seeing that sparkle in the students’ eyes and watching their confidence rise right in front of me. I love how they gain so much from small gestures and actions. Seeing the students unlock their full potential, grow more enthusiastic and develop personally is an amazing experience. Moreover, they really have become like brothers and sisters to me - it is like I’ve acquired a whole new family.’

The quote “don’t give to get back, give to inspire” really resonates with me.

‘I also regularly host or moderate social events. In my mind, that’s what giving back is all about. The quote “don’t give to get back, give to inspire” really resonates with me. Coincidentally, or maybe not so coincidentally, my name means “inspiration” in Arabic, which is ultimately exactly what I strive to be.’

‘What's great is that Accenture actually supports my efforts to get involved in projects outside my work at the company. They let me, and other employees at all levels, work four days a week (4x9 hours) so that I can dedicate time to MDTP and other initiatives. I think this shows that Accenture is invested in both giving back to its staff and helping them have an impact on others.’

Political aspirations?

‘I have been asked once or twice before whether I don’t secretly aspire to go into politics one day. But I don’t. I believe I can make a bigger impact by investing my time in small-scale initiatives, on the ground. In the political arena, good intentions seem to get lost among the rules, regulations and power games. In any case, the impact I aim to have doesn’t need to be huge, as far as numbers go. On the contrary, if I manage to inspire and motivate just two students to step outside their comfort zones, that alone would make me very happy.’

‘Moreover, working for a big corporate stimulates me because I find myself surrounded by passionate, ambitious colleagues, who, like me, want to reach their full potential every day. It's the combination of working at a high-performing company while also having a lasting impact on society that allows me to grow and develop personally. And this way, I can have an even bigger impact. At the end of the day, it truly is the best of both worlds.’

Working for a big corporate stimulates me because I find myself surrounded by passionate, ambitious colleagues, who, like me, want to reach their full potential every day.

Ilham El Khayari (1994)

Studied: BA Human Resources Management, Hogeschool van Amsterdam

Started working at Accenture: November 2016 (first internship: Feb to Aug 2016)

Loves: People who unlock their own potential and bring the best out in others too

Gets annoyed by: People who are insincere

Favorite food: Watermelon

On my nightstand: My phone, a journal and a reading book

Listens to: Everything from Moroccan songs to hits by Beyoncé

Last purchase: The Subtle Art of Not Giving a F*ck by Mark Manson

Would like to sit next to in the plane: Ellen DeGeneres

Life-changing event: The foundation of the Moroccan Dutch Talent Platform

The best lesson life has taught me: That you can achieve anything if you just put your mind to it

What I learned last week: The importance of adjusting your behavior to align with the person in front of you

Most beautiful place on earth: Bali

Hobbies/passions: Photography and writing

What nobody knows about me: That I am actually very adventurous; skydiving is very high on my bucket list

Life motto: Make sure that what you’re doing today is getting you closer to where you want to be tomorrow.

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