This is my third blog in this series: Building a Diverse and Inclusive Enterprise: Four Things that Work.
The first blog, "Diversity Moments" was about encouraging impromptu, unstructured discussion. The second was about sponsorship—developing meaningful one-to-one relationships. The third is about driving top-down change and holding people accountable.
I will tell it as a story—the story of Accenture’s Canadian business deciding to get to a gender parity workforce, and then working to make it happen.
Two years ago, we established our Canada Diversity Council (CDC), which I co-chair with Claudia Thompson, our Canada Inclusion & Diversity (I&D) lead. She also leads one of our five business groups. The CDC was Claudia's idea, and she said that it needed to include all business unit leads. After all, each of our approximately 4,000 Canadian people report in to one of these leads. Additionally, the CDC now also includes the leaders of each of our Employee Resource Groups (Women, Pride at Accenture, Accent on Enablement, Men, Indigenous Peoples, Military and soon, Interfaith).
The first thing that Claudia did was to focus us on gender diversity. She commissioned an independent review by WXN Founder Pamela Jeffery. Pamela interviewed clients, alumni and employees. She then presented the findings at a CDC offsite which we held at Niagara-on-the-Lake. After presenting the findings report, Pamela developed the strategy recommendations and worked with Accenture's talented HR team to help create the action plan. She demonstrated that clients expect their long-term professional services partners to be at gender parity. She also helped us understand the power of combining a bold vision with strong accountability and transparency throughout the organization.
It was Pamela’s readout that inspired the CDC to step up. At this off-site, we decided to get to a gender parity workforce. With 43 percent of our 4000 people and 28 percent of our leaders being women, we were positioned to get to parity sooner than comparable countries within Accenture. We left Niagara feeling pretty chuffed, but little did we realize what we were signing up to do.
In the following three months, I was afraid our resolve would fall apart. We asked our HR team to model the math to get us to 50 percent. We needed a realistic year-by-year and unit-by-unit path forward that my leaders would buy into.
The Excel model started with our “as-is” population and gender mix, by level, in each of our 10 business units. We then used four variables to model the changes required by each business unit, each year:
Attract: The gender mix of those who apply.
Recruit: The gender mix of those we hire.
Retain: The gap between the retention percentage of men vs. women (the "retention gap").
Promote: The gap between the promotion percentage of men vs. women (the "promotion yield gap").
The early iterations of the model showed that we could get close to parity in five years if we hired and promoted 50 percent women. Then the debates started, and raged. The idea that we would promote women (or men) at a higher percentage than the gender mix within a cohort was just not meritocracy. The same for recruits, where hiring at 50 percent from, say, a 40/60 slate of tech applicants was equally unacceptable. Accenture is committed to meritocracy, and we had to find a way to get to parity.
The model helped us realize that the only way to get to parity is to attract a disproportionate share of women from the available graduates and qualified workforce. This has not been a challenge in our Consulting business. But for our large Technology business unit, as well as our Digital team, they are facing the realities of women being only 40 percent of Canada’s annual STEM graduates, and they still fill less than 25 percent of STEM jobs overall.
We gave our stellar recruiting team the mandate to tell us about how we could become the most compelling employer for tech talent in Canada. We learned that there was a path forward, but we would have to do a lot of things differently.
The other imperative was to retain and promote our women, in all workforces. While our metrics today show no material retention or promotion yield gap between men and women, our model made clear that retention of women needed to be better than that, particularly in the middle levels of the organization.
The day we landed on the final model was exhilarating. While we concluded that the five-year projection from the first model was not realistic, the math showed we would approach parity in 2025. The contentious debates receded and there was a new consensus and commitment to the granular goals in the model. I now realize that the modeling and debate was critical to the level of commitment that we have had since.
What has transpired since then is giving us confidence. Accenture globally came out with a commitment in 2017 to get to gender parity by 2025. We are excited about the company-wide goal. It puts more pressure on us, because we in Canada are closer to the target than comparable countries.
We are now into our second year working the model. In the last fiscal year, over 46 percent of our more than 1000 new hires were women. While our consulting workforce had long hired at parity, where we really moved the needle was in our technology and digital teams. Here are a few things we did:
Targeted STEM schools where we felt we could position ourselves as top employer for women.
Increased our recruiting referral bonus for employees and alumni for women, persons with disabilities and military.
Increased our engagement with organizations which are working hard to impact the number of women graduating with STEM skills. We held Ladies Learning Code events in our offices, sponsored women's hackathons, and kicked off new outreaches into first and second year classes on campus.
Sourced more through our long-time partners, ACCES Employment (new Canadians) and NPower (Canadians from under-served communities).
Overhauled how we recruit (re-wrote job descriptions; unconscious bias training for recruiters; more women recruiters; greater flexibility to support different ambitions).
While our recruiting team was hard at work attracting a balanced slate of applicants, our gender parity vision has been widely embraced. That has helped us to set goals throughout the organization. It has also encouraged us to be more transparent about them. We are seeing our people mobilize, which is what Pamela said would happen.
Bold targets are lip service until you do the math and establish accountability and commitment to the targets. When I reflect on the two-year journey, I now think that the most frustrating time was the most important time. The iteration of the model and the debates that we had built consensus and commitment that wouldn't have been there otherwise. We got to granular targets that each leader believed they could hit.
Our model is working—and the best is yet to come.