Accenture: putting the I before D to bolster potential

Amanda Leacy, head of global I&D for Accenture, talks about the importance of inclusion in the workplace for enabling people to achieve their full potential.

Organisations are increasingly recognising the importance of having a D&I policy and Accenture is no exception. But what sets the company apart is it puts the I before the D.

“That’s because we really believe that the inclusion part is more important than the diversity part because it’s where you unlock the potential of people,” says Amanda Leacy.

“We want to be a company where everybody feels there is a place for them, to represent the communities in which we work. Feeling included and part of a team can have a tremendous impact on people’s mental health, their well-being and their performance.

“They say that performance can dip by 50% if you feel excluded, but I think it’s even more than that.”

Amanda heads I&D for Accenture worldwide, representing more than 480,000 people in 52 countries. Every year she agrees on a global I&D strategy with the management committee. It includes set targets that are reviewed monthly to ensure that they are met in all the different countries. There are five structured programmes covering gender, ethnicity, disability, LGBT+ and cross-cultural.

“Pretty much everyone at Accenture is working in a team with people from different cultures,” she explains. “Also, it helps us in a lot of the countries where we don’t talk about ethnicity – it’s illegal in a lot of European countries to track ethnic data.”

With the aid of a psychometric tool called GlobeSmart, the company can build awareness of different cultures and how we can best work together.

Inclusion starts with I

The importance of inclusion – that everyone has a role to play in advancing it within the company – is underlined in a video campaign called ‘Inclusion starts with I’.

As well as a global video, there are individual ones for India, South Africa, Argentina and Brazil. The campaign for inclusion has also inspired the company’s clients to create their versions.

It was launched at a leadership development event in the US, involving 500 managing directors from around the world. Some were even moved to tears.

“The effect on people was huge,” Amanda reveals. “But that’s why it’s so important to talk about it. When people watch the video, they are empathising with others and thinking about themselves.

“We’ve all felt excluded, and it’s helping people to tap into that and why it makes such a difference if you can work together to eliminate that for everybody.”

An interactive documentary about unconscious bias was launched this year and is used in training for anyone in a supervisory role. Virtual reality is playing a part in coaching people from diverse backgrounds and enables managers to practise difficult conversations and get feedback.

>See also: Diversity and Inclusion: Why we need to put the ‘I’ in team

More women on board 

As part of the global strategy, the company is aiming to have 30% of women at the top table. All countries have recruitment, retention and promotion targets by level. There are also targets by ethnicity in the US, UK and South Africa to ensure the local community is fairly represented. 

At the same time, Accenture is one of 50 global companies to sign up to Paradigm for Parity to achieve a workforce of 50% women by 2030.

“We used analytics to show that we could achieve it by 2025 if we implemented a very simple strategy of starting at the bottom of the pyramid and promoting people within,” argues Amanda.

“Particularly in those countries where women make up 60% of the graduate population. Using analytics was the way I got our leadership team on board with having a very progressive gender target.

“Then there’s the business case. We can show that the client accounts on which we have more women are actually more successful.”

Development courses for women aim to inspire them to aim for the top; build strong networks; gain sponsorship and help to remove self-limiting beliefs.  

>See also: Valuable: How one woman’s campaign for inclusion can change the way we do business

Ethnic social silos

While the Accenture leadership is striving to level the playing field on race – including targets for recruiting from ethnic minority groups – Amanda believes that a major challenge is that most people’s social circles are “very ethnically siloed”.

She says that, while promoting gender works well with leaders who have daughters, there weren’t enough white leaders in the company who have black friends. From a personal point of view, Amanda, who is married to a man of Jamaican heritage, has experienced this.

“When we go to a wedding or funeral on his side of the family, I’m the only white person,” Amanda offers.

“Then, if it’s my family, he will most likely be the only black person. We’ve still got a long way to go before we are more integrated from a social standpoint. And I think it’s one of the things holding us back. We also all need to get more comfortable talking about ethnicity”

So, how do you tackle that in the workplace? 

“We’ve got a network and make sure everyone is invited and that our leaders attend the network’s events,” she says. “We’ve also got targets, a steering committee, a senior sponsor for the network, and we include it [ethnicity] in our monthly leadership meetings.

“We offer very focused training for our ethnic minorities, leadership development, mentoring and sponsors for all our executives, trying to move them through the levels. It’s really hands-on talent management, helping people understand how they can build their career and feel supported.”

Good communication

Amanda is looking forward to the ethnicity pay gap reporting, although hopes it will extend beyond BAME. She believes Accenture will be able to extrapolate the data, particularly as 75% of the workforce have self-identified.

This has been achieved through good communication, making people aware of what’s in it for them. 

During unconscious bias training, people are asked to examine their social networks, who they are following, to whom they offer opportunities.

>See also: Johnson & Johnson’s ‘You Belong’ campaign sets the benchmark for D&I communications

People with disabilities can travel

On disability, Accenture is leading the way by researching the business benefits of employing people with disabilities. The company also has mental health programmes in the majority of its operating countries and has developed technology to help people with sight or hearing deficiencies to work seamlessly.

Accenture has taken steps to challenge any preconceptions relating to its persons with disabilities. For example, a leadership course in Bangalore, which brought together differently-abled people from across India, is being extended based on the positive feedback received. 

 “The first thing they said was ‘thank you so much for not assuming we couldn’t travel,’” says Amanda. “So, we’re going to run one in Europe and the US and continue to have one in APAC.”

>See also: How small workplace adjustments can lead to big wins for disabled people

Making a difference

The signs are all there that Accenture’s focus on I&D is having a positive impact. In the three years that Amanda has been in post, the number of female employees has increased by 55% from 130k to over 200k and now accounts for 43%.

Shareholders have been impressed by the company’s approach, and have wanted to understand the details and how Accenture will achieve its goals.

Amanda is, understandably, delighted to be part of the changing environment. She has always been fascinated by different cultures and is enjoying the opportunity to help people.

“You’ve got to be able to roll up your sleeves and look at what’s happening and at every point in the employee life cycle know what’s working and what’s not and how you can move the dial,” she says.

“The I&D space is ever-evolving. For example, no label meets the needs of an individual, we are all multi-layered and intersectionality helps us to consider additional needs of sub-groups; and whilst gender balance is our goal we also recognise our non-binary employees and their specific needs.”

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