In April 2016, we published our Accenture Canada Workforce Demographics. In September 2016, we announced to our Canadian people our decision to drive to gender parity in our workforce. These were two decisions were made by our Canada Diversity Council (CDC), which is co-chaired by Claudia Thompson and me. The CDC is made up of our business unit leaders and our Employee Resource Group (ERG) leads. Since establishing the CDC two years ago we have learned a lot about building a diverse and inclusive enterprise. We are making progress. For example, last year 46 percent of our Canadian recruits were women. Also in the past year, the expectations of us have increased. Earlier this year Accenture globally announced a commitment to get to gender parity by 2025. I am the first to say there is a ton more to do, but we have learned some things that work. While being out front will give us a real competitive advantage, I am excited to share my learnings. It is a societal priority to solve the equality gap and the faster we all get there the better.
I plan to share four things that are working. Today I will share what I call diversity moments. In the coming weeks, I will share the other three.
Here's an idea that helped us unfreeze mindsets when it comes to inclusion and diversity.
I spent much of my career serving clients in the oil and gas, chemicals and mining industries. If you have spent time in those industries, you know about the “safety moment”. Meetings start with someone telling a story about a situation, experience and/or lesson that brought awareness to a health or safety measure required to keep them, their family, or colleagues safe. After many safety moments, I noticed my mindset change, and then my behaviour. As an example, I started keeping one hand on the railing every time I went up and down the stairs at client offices. I then found myself doing the same thing at home, and letting others know the importance of it.
When WXN founding president Pamela Jeffery put the idea of diversity moments on the table, I jumped at it. I kicked it off with my Canada Leadership Team, which meets often to discuss and make critical decisions for our business. Since we have started this practice, we have shared more than 25 diversity moments in these meetings. I can now see mindsets changing, so let me share why this idea is working.
Here’s what happens: there is no preparation, and no one is asked in advance. I start the meeting asking who has a diversity moment to share. While we call them diversity moments they cover inclusion as well. It took some prodding during the first few months, but today there is always someone with something interesting to share and discuss. We allow ten minutes, but sometimes it stirs a debate, and we have gone for up to 45 minutes. The range of topics has spanned policy issues (like rigid rules of our benefits providers) to unconscious bias.
I will share three of our diversity moments and their impact on our growth as leaders, and our ability to drive towards our ambition of being the most diverse company in Canada.
While client RFPs rarely specify the need for diverse teams, it is now a common expectation because our clients recognize that diverse teams are often the most successful ones. Our own client surveys make that clear. While my leadership team gets this, we have discussed how to help teams who say, "We tried but couldn't find diverse people who ‘met the spec’.” We unglued our thinking and have helped our bid teams understand that they are strongest when they are diverse. We are in a different place today in how we think about configuring teams.
We recently discussed the resignation of one of our senior managers. The leader who put it on the table was bothered by her departure. His peers asked: where was her active sponsor – someone who is willing to advocate and intervene before it is too late? Damn good question. I could see my leaders mentally reviewing their teams to see who did not have an active, vocal sponsor. What I liked about this discussion was that this leader took this departure personally and just put it out there. A year’s worth of diversity moments made him comfortable, to be uncomfortable.
Our leaders share front line situations, including examples of where unconscious bias was identified, managed and overcome. These discussions led to us extending unconscious bias training to newcomers as a mandatory part of New Joiner Orientation so that it is fresh the minute they join a project. These diversity moments have also led us to creating new ERGs.
Many of these diversity moments were relatively easy discussions, but as the months went by, we progressively moved to controversial topics to address conduct issues that have arisen in our workplace. These cases are treated confidentially and anonymously, and have served to provoke some of our most intense discussions. It is important that leaders understand what happens in the day-to-day interactions in the company.
One of our two publicly announced Canadian inclusion and diversity goals is to “Build a diverse leadership team that better reflects the diversity of our workforce, including the make up of our client teams in respect of gender, ethnicity, aboriginal status, sexual orientation and persons with disabilities.” While we have much work to do on this, our diversity moments have illustrated the power of this goal. The diversity in my leadership team has contributed greatly to the rich discussion. Adding more diversity will take us further.
Diversity moments are breaking the ice, and opening up previous “no-go-zones.” Unfreezing mindsets is critical for driving real change. It doesn't happen overnight. Diversity moments allow unplanned dialogue to happen based around real situations. Our leaders continue to show real courage by putting situations out there.
This is an idea that really works.