Building a more diverse and inclusive workplace has become an increasingly high priority for organisations seeking to become more agile and innovative. How can leaders keep the momentum going?

With up to 40% of companies blaming their inability to adapt and innovate on talent shortages,1 inclusion and diversity (I&D) initiatives have never been so important. But, as Accenture’s research reveals, there’s still a gap between the initiatives companies are implementing to improve I&D and how the workforce feels about their impact.workforce evaluates their impact.

The Accenture I&D Insights Survey covered 1,340 executives around the world – 10% from Australia – looking at the impact I&D initiatives have on the people who they are designed to help. The big take out is that the measure of an organisation’s I&D maturity depends on who you ask. Those in ethnic minorities are more likely than any other employees to feel their organisation is doing the bare minimum. Men in HR believe their organisation is progressive at I&D than women in HR.

In other words, you don’t get an inclusive culture by simply changing your recruitment practices and running training programs – even if participants report behavioural changes after the workshops. You only move the needle on I&D when people in minorities actually feel included.

I believe the responsibility for making that happen lies firmly with organisational leaders.

How leaders act is key to ensuring I&D is integrated in day-to-day behaviour. If leaders model inclusive behaviour – if we include, welcome, respect and value people equally – this will cascade down through the organisation.

But this is not just about being respectful in meetings. It’s also about proactively supporting I&D:

  • Never take your eye off the ball – Unconscious bias is alive and well and living in your team – and in your own brain. Despite all the training, I still see it occasionally in performance management meetings. The ‘good bloke’ who’s always buying rounds at the pub gets a bigger pay rise than the quiet, infinitely more hard working and competent woman who never goes to the pub because 1) she doesn’t drink and 2) she has a family. As a leader, your job is to be constantly vigilant about the merits of performance management decisions. This is not just about gender. Keep an eye on people who choose teams or promote people who look like them.
  • Watch what people do, not what they say – Ask yourself, is this person actually achieving great things, or are they just very good at promoting their achievements? Were they solely responsible for the win, or was there a great team behind them. And, importantly, did they acknowledge their team’s input?
  • Put together a balanced team and expect others to do the same – I’ve learnt not to surrounded myself with people like me. In my case, this is less about diversity of background and more about diversity of thinking. Some people make decisions based on hard facts; others are guided by their values. Some people are conceptual; some are detailed. You need all types of thinking to make the best decisions. I’m a highly conceptual thinker, so I seek out people who I know will challenge my thinking and make sure we get the details right.
  • Encourage work/life balance – I was in India recently, and I think they’ve leap-frogged Australia in I&D. I saw very diverse teams – well balanced right up to senior levels. Flat working environments. People really respecting each other and valuing everyone’s opinion. But what really struck me was, even though everyone works incredibly hard, work/life balance is a priority. When someone had to leave early to pick up their kids from school, the team didn’t miss a beat. People adapted to fill the gap. And when I said how great that was, people were surprised I’d even mentioned it.                                                                                                       

In India, family is just as important as work. We don’t always get that right in Australia. People try to be sympathetic about family commitments, but those left behind to do the work are often resentful. We need to talk more about what really matters and how to mobilise together to both get the job done while also supporting everyone on the team.

  • Redefine what a ‘good team player’ looks like – I look for people who are always solving for the client – not for the company or for themselves. I value the ability to listen and those who make sure everyone is heard. But I’m not looking for “nice”. I need people who can clearly contribute their own opinion and who understand how to give constructive feedback – who can focus on the idea, not the person who came up with it.

The big take out is that I&D maturity is not simply about having programs in place – or even about having those programs deliver on their owners’ metrics. It’s not about how many unconscious bias training sessions you run, how many of your employees go through them, or even if participants report behavioural changes after the workshops.

I&D supports agility and innovation

As leaders, we need to make I&D a priority because this is the key to becoming more agile.

Old ways of working and inflexible structures are hampering execution. In our increasingly ambiguous world, we need more agile ways of working. Cross-functional teams moving to problem solve at speed. Business functions that can pivot, create and innovate.

That can only happen in an inclusive culture with a workforce that reflects society. Balanced teams and inclusive practices allow us to collaborate more effectively, better understand our clients and make faster, smarter decisions.

And, in my experience, they also make work a lot more fun.

1 Shaping the agile workforce. Accenture research

Steven Yurisich

Managing Director - Chief Growth Officer Accenture Interactive

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