Being invited to attend the recent ‘Under the Skin Conference’ was a real privilege, as diversity and inclusion, with a particular focus on supporting BAME networks, is a cause close to my heart. This event was a great opportunity to share the challenges we faced and the achievements we have made with our BAME population, with like-minded people. It also allowed me to hear and learn from others.
Over the course of my fifteen-year career with Accenture, I can certainly say with confidence that there has been a material shift in emphasis on this population within the workplace; the need to openly talk about BAME is now clearer than ever. This imperative is not just one of equality in the “doing the right thing” sense, which for me is just non-negotiable, it is increasingly about business competitiveness, relevance and connection to our customers. Sustainable business growth is now being driven through the demographic and cognitive diversity of our workforces. Increasing the equality of our BAME population is no longer a topic for debate, it is a necessity for businesses to thrive.
“It is very positive to see BAME being talked about – but talking is simply not enough.”
I am proud to be part of an organisation that has set itself the target of becoming the most inclusive and diverse organisation in the world and we will only achieve this and see success if we take practical actions that have meaningful outcomes. In 2015, our data showed that 20% of our workforce identified themselves as being from a BAME background, but only 2.6% were from African or Caribbean heritage. The attrition rate for black employees was higher than for any other group. There was also a lack of black employees in senior management roles.
Getting the data, understanding the data and drawing insights from it, however, is the easy part. Moving past symptoms, getting to grips with the “why” and getting to a diagnosis around which we can mobilise people and action is another story altogether. What we chose to do at Accenture is to develop a dedicated leadership programme called Accelerate, to retain our black employees in a more proactive and consistent way. We focused relentlessly on increasing engagement, reducing attrition and driving better representation at all levels of the organisation.
We took a multi-lateral approach to this programme. Underpinned by data and insights, the programme included:
The combined effect and impact of a programme such as Accelerate has been felt, most importantly, it has been felt by the participants, who have seen and experienced first-hand Accenture’s commitment to giving them every opportunity to succeed.
For me personally, it has enabled me to be more alert to the cultural nuances that cut through our workplace, and more deliberate about how I lead. I take practical steps with my team to ensure I am not only contributing to our corporate targets and vision, but that I am also ensuring everyone has the same opportunity to reach their full potential. I take time to listen and understand barriers that individuals perceive they face in the workplace, be these around access to opportunities, visibility, sponsorship, and yes, casual, unconscious acts of bias and racism. Each individual’s experience and challenges will be different, and we need to personalise and individualise management interventions.
So, what does this mean in reality? Whilst we are not yet fully there, we are seeing some tangible results from Accenture’s Accelerate programme. In 2018 we saw 25% more black promotes, a reduction in attrition, and we had 57 UK MDs actively engaged in our programme, including all 17 UKI Executive Board Directors.