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July 30, 2018
Time to consider the role of gender on the balance sheet
By: Alexis Rose

The corporate world is awash with messages about inclusion and diversity. Just take a look at more or less any company website these days and it will tell you that they are striving to build a balanced and inclusive workplace. But progress has been infuriatingly slow, and it is becoming clear that we need a different approach.

The answer may lie in the question of transparency. After all, transparency builds trust. In a world where so much uncertainty prevails, trust that companies are doing the right thing by their people and their clients goes a long way.

The government's recent introduction of mandatory gender pay reporting and the transparency it generated has blown the issue of pay discrimination wide open, creating a greater urgency for businesses to get their houses in order. All of a sudden, the hiring, progression and retention of women has moved from a nice-to-have to a business imperative.

However, none of this is just "the right thing to do." Having a diverse, balanced and inclusive workforce makes commercial sense—both when it comes to people and profitability.

Winning the talent war

It seems like not a day goes by without us hearing one industry or another is experiencing a skills crisis. Needless to say, over the coming years, the competition for the best people of all ages and levels will only intensify and winning or losing in the war for talent will hinge on more than just pay and benefits.

When weighing up jobs, I always tell people to base their decision on gut instinct and the people in the company. When it comes to people, our Getting to Equal research shows that organisations with a culture of equality enable all people, regardless of their gender, to progress more readily, with 95 percent of employees being satisfied in their career. Put simply, it is in everybody's interest to create an equal workplace, including businesses themselves who need to attract the best people in a competitive market.

I head up Accenture’s "Accent on Gender" network, which is about supporting and investing in women from the moment they join the company and throughout their careers. We’re committed to achieving a gender-balanced workforce by 2025 and increasing the percentage of women in managing director roles to at least 25 percent worldwide by 2020. That is quite a target but, in a nutshell, we need more female role models in business. Junior women need to be able to look up the ranks and see someone they would like to emulate.

After all, if given the choice, who wouldn't opt to join a business with a clear sense of purpose and balanced, diverse culture where everybody can achieve their potential?

Making the business case

Of course, inclusion and diversity aren't there merely to make the workplace fairer. Gender diverse teams are more profitable too.

Research shows that teams with a strong gender balance are more creative, able to solve complex problems faster and achieve better growth. In fact, the most gender diverse companies are 15 percent more likely to have financial returns above their industry means.

On top of this, when these pieces are in place, our research shows that women are four times more likely to reach senior manager and director levels. And, if every company had a culture of equality, each woman could earn up to an additional £22,000—that’s a 51 percent salary increase. Imagine the impact on the wider economy and GDP if that were the case.

It is easy to forget how far we have come. As somebody who started out on their career in the early noughties, the workplace is a very different place today to what it was fifteen or so years ago. Many of the practices that would have put women off from applying or even aspiring to work in one industry or another are thankfully now confined to the dustbin of history.

That said, many issues—both structural and cultural still exist—and it should not take the government to introduce mandatory reporting legislation to make industry realise that things need to change for the better.

At Accenture, we want to be the most inclusive and diverse organisation in the world. That’s not easy but we have identified that, in order to get there, we have to make it everyone’s responsibility to create a better working environment for all. We also work with a number of clients to share what we are doing around inclusion and diversity, engagement and talent planning. After all, gender balance is true competitive advantage in so many ways.

For us, it is not just something we say about ourselves on a corporate website, it is in our DNA. And, on a personal basis, I am very much looking forward to the day when searching a corporate website, I no longer find any reference to inclusion or diversity. When that day comes we will have achieved a fairer and more productive working world.