Focusing on inclusion at Accenture

Written by
Candida Mottershead

25 Jun 2018

25 Jun 2018 • by Candida Mottershead

Candida Mottershead, HR director for the UK and Ireland at Accenture, discusses how the organisation has reframed 'diversity' and provides advice on how you can make inclusion a core part of business strategy.

For me, inclusion is creating an environment where everyone can bring their full selves to work every day, without the need to self-edit, and can achieve their personal and professional aspirations.

Inclusion is tremendously important for Accenture and the ability to get the best out of a diverse workforce is a source of competitive advantage for any business.  We believe that when people feel accepted, included, and valued, they are more engaged in their roles, team with colleagues more effectively, and deliver better outcomes for the business.

Reframing D&I

While diversity brings different perspectives and backgrounds into the room, without an inclusive culture that enables this diversity to bond and collaborate then it’s only half the battle.

We refer to Inclusion & Diversity (I&D) at Accenture, rather than Diversity and Inclusion – the focus is on inclusion to realise the benefits that diversity can provide.

As an example of our focus on inclusion, we are running a global campaign called #inclusionstartswithi which is based around a video that showcases the challenges some of our employees perceive in the workplace, expressed in their own words, and presents some of the external statistics about the benefits of an inclusive workplace.

Opening up conversations around difficult subjects

We have found it an effective way to raise awareness of the challenges all our people face in the workplace, and it has opened conversations on topics that many of us still find difficult, such as race and mental health.

We have also encouraged people to make personal pledges about how they will drive a more inclusive environment. It follows the behavioural psychology that people are more likely to commit to a pledge they make in public, and enables us to achieve macro outcomes through 425,000 micro-changes.


Inclusion aspirations - not just an 'HR thing'

The inclusion agenda is owned and driven by the business – it is not an “HR campaign”. Part of my role is to ensure inclusion and diversity is embedded into every HR process and touchpoint, and to continue to bring best practice into everything we do to support the aspirations of the business.

A great example of this currently is a virtual reality approach to tackling unconscious bias that we are piloting, to assess whether the approach is more engaging and ultimately more impactful than other delivery mechanisms.

Where the I&D agenda succeeds or fails is at the team level, and the way we all hire talent, allocate work, provide mentoring, coaching and personal development, and ultimately conduct performance management – or ‘performance achievement’ as our process is known.

Much of my role is around continuing to focus on the culture that enables the I&D agenda to thrive, and equipping our line managers in all parts of the business with the confidence and competence to be inclusive leaders.

The other part of my role is to lead our HR teams to ensure that we are supporting the development and delivery of market-leading I&D best practice.

We declared our global aspiration to have a 50/50 gender-balanced workforce across all 425,00 employees by 2025 a few months ago, along with a target of 25% female managing directors by 2020.

My teams work closely with the business to identify and attract diverse talent to Accenture, support leadership development, mentoring and sponsorship programmes across the business, and continually assess how we can provide a more inclusive environment across our full talent lifecycle.

A broader mission for society

Globally, we have a mission to improve the way the world works and lives, and recognise that some of the challenges that UK businesses faces around the diversity of their workforces is driven by inequity in broader society.

We want to leverage our skills to expedite change, and a great example of that is the work we are doing on the STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering & Maths) agenda, to encourage more young women to consider career opportunities in these fields.

In January, this year we ran Europe’s largest STEM event, bringing together 2,000+ 11-13 year olds across 6 locations in UK & Ireland to provide an immersive day of robotics, drones, automation and coding to convey the excitement and opportunity that STEM careers can offer young women. We are pushing our expectations further for our 2018 event, looking to extend the audience to 7,500, through a range of virtual sessions and by partnering with Accenture teams in other geographies.

Delivering ROI

We see the benefit of our focus in many ways. Our perception in the market as an employer of choice for talent in its broadest sense allows us to attract the very best talent, and we are delighted that we are gender balanced in our recruitment across all our entry-level talent programmes.

The diversity of our workforce allows us to design complex digital and technical solutions that can be used by all consumers – for example we have a dedicated team of visually-impaired employees that support our teams in designing accessible technology solutions for all. We also believe that diversity makes us smarter, and enable a broader set of perspectives and experiences to bring solutions to our clients’ challenges.

Recognition that diversity lenses overlap

Our ambition is to be the most inclusive and diverse organisation in the world, and to achieve this we aspire to have a workforce that reflects the clients we serve and the communities we operate in.

As a result, we have a broad focus on many lenses of diversity and the intersectionality between them, but let me share some more specifics on some of this work.

We have a public focus on a gender-balanced global workforce by 2025, an aspiration I am extremely proud of, and a difficult one given the well-documented under-representation of women in STEM careers in the UK market, estimated to be c.14%.

We are very much focused on engaging our male workforce in our gender initiatives – we have an employee network focused on gender rather than women alone, and celebrated International Men’s Day recently.

We recognise the importance of engaging all our employees on our journey to gender equality, e.g. we have used our employee ‘Accent on Gender’ network to promote uptake of our shared parental leave offering, and have seen 200+ employees take this up since the legislation was introduced in February 2015 – approximately 12% of parents at Accenture vs. an estimated <1% uptake across the UK.

BAME employees
We are doing a lot of work with our BAME employees, looking at how we can drive greater representation at all career levels. We were proud to feature in the inaugural Top Employers for Race 2017 that was published earlier this month, and recently ran a series of really engaging events with our African-Caribbean Network for Black History Month that saw great participation from all our people.

We also used the month to run a series of training programmes exploring leadership development and progression through a cultural lens, and were delighted that this was short-listed by the Business in the Community Race Equality Awards as an example of best practice earlier this month.

Mental health
All of us have mental health, and the statistics reveal that 1 in 4 of us will experience a period of mental ill health each year.

We have been running a programme called 'Mental Health Allies' which aims to equip our people with the confidence and competence to have open conversations around mental health with colleagues.

The programme is voluntary, and we are delighted that c.1,500 of our people have now completed the 4-hour classroom-based training to advocate for mental health, support colleagues and direct them to the right support.

Our 2020 ambition is to have 80% of our workforce mental health aware, and 20% mental health trained. It is an important initiative, and one that we based loosely around our LGBT Allies programme, which now has 40%+ of our workforce voluntarily choosing to be allies.

Social mobility
We are also looking at the social mobility agenda to complement our programme to bring 200+ apprentices into our business in recent years.

It is an area that continues to evolve, and allows organisations like ours to access high potential young people who may not have been identified through traditional recruitment strategies. I

t aligns well to much of the work we do on our Corporate Social Responsibility agenda, and will continue to be an area of focus for us moving forward.

Going beyond paying 'lip service' to diversity 

  1. Define your reason and purpose. It is important to work out why the agenda is important for your business, and to develop your own business case.

    For some organisations, this may be about providing an environment which attracts and retains talent more effectively; for others, it could be about a customer-facing workforce that reflects the local community it serves.

    It is important that this business case is championed at senior levels and shared across the organisation to ensure employees in all areas of the business understand why I&D is a business priority.
  2. Visible, senior commitment is critical. This could be as simple as having senior leaders acting as role models for the I&D agenda, or as executive sponsors for employee networks.

    More progressive organisations typically have business-owned targets for the organisation’s diversity targets, which are linked to annual performance and remuneration discussions.

    However organisations choose to engage their senior leadership, there needs to be an agreement that this is a business-owned priority, and not something HR does in the background if it is to get the focus from middle management that it needs to be successful.
  3. Engage your managers. Organisational culture is a key component for inclusion to flourish, and that is often driven by line management.

    Although senior leadership support is critical, middle managers are closest to hiring decisions, the allocation of work, the identification of career opportunities and ongoing professional development, as well as the performance management and subsequent remuneration of employees.

    If line managers are not able to build diverse teams, and act as inclusive leaders who can create an environment where talent in all forms can thrive, then any successes in hiring diverse candidates are likely to be short-lived as there may be challenges with engagement and retention.

    You therefore need to consider how you embed I&D into your core recruitment, progression and retention processes, and how the equip middle managers with both the confidence and the competence to drive this agenda.
  4. Measurement is critical. It provides the ability to benchmark against others in an industry, allows measurement of progress and identification of which initiatives provide the greatest return on investment, and allows targets to be set for the organisation.

    It also enables HR teams to identify areas of unconscious inequity – where areas of the business many not be recruiting, progressing or retaining diverse talent in equitable yields e.g. are women leaving your business in greater rates at certain career levels, in certain business units, or after certain key moments (e.g. having children), and if so how should the organisation address this?

    The measurement and analytic capability could be as simple as understanding the current composition of your workforce at every career level for gender or ethnicity; or understanding the drivers for the gender pay gap data that organisations of 250 employees or more need to publish from April 2018 onwards.
  5. The agenda must be managed with programmatic rigour. We do a lot of work through our client advisory teams on the talent agenda, and sometimes see organisations that deliver hugely complex transformational change programmes successfully, but do not apply that same rigour to their inclusion and diversity agenda.

    A clear vision, measurable targets and monthly reporting against them, robust governance and clear responsibilities for the various teams across the full talent lifecycle are all essential to success in this space.
  6. Get back to basics. This agenda is simple – it’s about treating and respecting all of our people as individuals with different strengths (and weaknesses) that they can optimise in both their personal and professional lives if they are given the opportunity and freedom to do so.

    We shouldn’t crush someone’s individuality but embrace and celebrate it – we are all different and that is the true beauty of human beings. 

    Organisations need emotionally aware employees at all levels that recognise and respect difference, who can contribute to an environment where everyone’s opinion is sought and respected.