The global surge of the Black Lives Matter movement, the lack of diversity at Dutch listed multinationals, IT companies or in the boardroom, and discussions about the procedure to appoint a new coach of the national football team. These examples are just a small sample of the many diversity topics currently taking center stage.

Inclusion and diversity (I&D) in the workplace have rapidly become a higher priority for organizations in recent years. Just in the beginning of this year, the Dutch cabinet has echoed the advice given by the Social and Economic Council (SER) to accelerate efforts in incorporating diversity into organizations.

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Recent events related to inequality and racism around the world show us even more that committing to equality is more important than ever. Many other organizations are taking a stance against racism and inequality, even though these topics are sensitive or politically and socially loaded.

Equally so, this year’s Pride edition of our Getting to Equal report found that 18 percent of the Dutch LGBT+ employees keep their sexual gender identity and expression or sexual orientation to themselves. What’s more, a meager 28 percent is fully open about their personal situation, meaning that a whopping 72 percent of Dutch LGBT+ employees is not always their true self at work.

Our own CEO Julie Sweet announced this year a set of new actions to stand together against racism. She said: "We have an unwavering commitment to equality and justice for all, zero tolerance for racism, bigotry, and hate of any kind, and we stand against all violence, no excuses.”

We believe that engaging in dialogue and taking a positive stance toward equality can help any organization grow and thrive. However, making progress in inclusion and diversity at the workplace requires a thoughtful approach, structured actions, and sponsorship throughout the organization.

While business leaders increasingly see the need for creating a workplace that is equal to all, many find that translating that need into reality in a way that makes sense for the organization and its employees can be difficult. We believe that committing to a culture of equality is not only the right thing to do, it’s also a driver for innovation and growth.

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Creating a culture of equality

More than just equality itself, we’ve found—in our Getting to Equal 2019 and Getting to Equal 2020 reports—that a culture of equality is a powerful multiplier of innovation and growth. For example, the innovation mindset is six times higher in the most-equal organizational cultures than in the least-equal ones, while employees of most-equal cultures are also less afraid to fail.

Furthermore, customers are increasingly concerned with the ethics of the businesses where they spend their money. This means that building a culture of equality—measured by the 40 specific workplace factors we identified in our 2019 research—is not just an ethical imperative, but also a business priority.

To create a culture of equality and move your organization toward one that is inclusive and diverse, you need to incorporate equality in your business strategy. By developing an inclusion and diversity strategy that is synchronized with the overall business strategy, the organization will have a critical foundation on which leaders can take action and drive progress.

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Committing to a culture of equality is not only the right thing to do, it’s also a driver for innovation and growth.

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Incorporating an I&D strategy in your overall business strategy can be as drastic as you want, depending on the context, willingness, and maturity of inclusion and diversity in your organization. We can help in developing an approach to incorporate inclusion and diversity into your organization, whether it’s by assessing I&D maturity, developing a comprehensive I&D strategy, or translating the strategy into actionable roadmaps.

Our 2020 research identified the most important factors that influence a culture of equality at work. Where more of these are present, employees are more likely to advance and thrive. In this article, we will aim to inspire you with a sneak peek into the three groups of factors that influence equality in the workplace: bold leadership, comprehensive action, and empowering environment. Build your Inclusion & Diversity strategy using these three pillars to move your organization towards a culture of equality.

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1. Empower bold leadership

Leadership needs to embrace that creating a culture of equality is at the top of the business agenda. It starts with the belief that diversity is not only the right thing to do but an imperative that is treated the same way as any other strategic priority. This includes prioritizing culture, especially in challenging financial and societal times.

Our research shows that there's a large perception gap between leadership and employees. Of the interviewed leaders, 68 percent believed the company had created empowering environments in which, for example, employees can be themselves, raise concerns and innovate without fear of failure. Only 36 percent of employees agree. What's more, the proportion of employees who do not feel included in their organizations (20 percent)— those who do not feel they are welcome at work and can contribute fully and thrive—is 10x higher than leaders believe ( 2 percent).

To make creating a culture of equality actionable, leadership should establish a roadmap based on data, track progress, and hold leaders accountable. Establishing the importance of shared success in addition to rewarding and recognizing leaders and teams for progress creates momentum for the inclusion and diversity agenda.

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68%

68 percent of the leaders believe their company has created empowering environments in which employees can be themselves, raise concerns, and innovate without fear of failure.

36%

Only 36 percent of the employees agree with their leaders. 

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Microsoft as an inspiration

A great case study on bold leadership can be found in Microsoft. The tech giant found it was not meeting its goals, and in some cases losing ground. In 2016 Microsoft made a bold move to energize and spark broader leadership engagement by making diversity one of the strategic performance goals that determine annual incentives, which is a measure that we have implemented as well. Microsoft has now made diversity and inclusion ‘a core priority’ for everyone working there, factoring how well employees meet that standard into their performance conversations.

Microsoft currently has about 22 percent more female employees globally than in 2016, and in technical roles alone, the company has 49 percent more women. Since 2016, Microsoft has seen a 56 percent increase in women executives. This progress is attributable to many factors, including the work done to engage executives on the tech company’s broader cultural transformation of which diversity and inclusion is one aspect.

Real progress comes from making inclusion and diversity a core priority. Your actions do not have to be as drastic as Microsoft’s, but it goes to show how effective acting on a commitment to I&D can be.

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2. Take comprehensive action

While it is important to consider data and KPIs, leaders must go beyond the numbers to fully understand the culture and drivers for equality in their organization. By engaging in meaningful dialogue with employees allows them to hear firsthand how included their people feel and identify where gaps exist.

There are many ways to engage in meaningful dialogue, depending on your preference. Consider face-to-face meetings, focus groups, and town halls, in addition to a standard survey. We recommend that your methods are varied, ongoing, and sensitive to a plethora of frequencies, by trying to find ways to allow employees that might be less vocal or fewer in number to be heard.

An example of engaging dialogue within Accenture in the Netherlands is the Unconscious Bias workshop, which is hosted by our own Inclusion and Diversity team. We find that hosting workshops on the importance of diversity and unconscious biases in an interactive way leads to open dialogue and new insights. It gives you the chance to not only help your employees grow but to also learn from their perspective.

Taking stock of where your organization stands is a great starting point. An analysis of your organizations’ maturity in inclusion and diversity by using Accenture’s I&D Maturity Model can help assess your current abilities in order to develop an actionable strategy.

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3. Create an empowering environment

To bring everything together, leaders need to create an environment in which inclusion and diversity can thrive. Creating a strategy and measuring progress are good ways to hit the ground running, in moving your organization toward a culture of equality, but a full realization can only be achieved when your employees embrace and drive progress together.

A great way to achieve this is by connecting like-minded employees. People that drive inclusion and diversity across an organization are present at every level. Some may be obvious leaders, while others may need a nudge to step forward. Inclusion and diversity-building programs can be used to create opportunities for future I&D leaders. When you bring culture-minded employees together, brief them on the challenges the organization is facing and work together to develop specific and actionable solutions.

Sensible workplace policies, practices, and programs that are backed by research are needed to increase advancement for all in an organization. To illustrate this, our research has shown that some policies targeted at women can actually work counterproductively. For example, implementing additional maternity leave alone is likely to hold women back from career progression. But when companies encourage parental leave for both men and women, the negative impact on women’s career advancement is eliminated completely.

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Getting to Equal 2020 Research Results

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Embed inclusion and diversity into your business strategy

In summary, inclusion and diversity is not only a people imperative but also a business imperative. The case for moving your organization toward a culture of equality is driven by both ethics as well as performance.

We believe that your I&D strategy should be integrated into your overall growth strategy and communicated throughout the organization. If leaders prioritize a culture of equality now, they will create an environment that is more likely to produce the results they want and need. If people feel a sense of belonging and are valued by their employers for their unique contributions, perspectives, and circumstances, they are empowered to innovate more. Eventually, leaders will evolve to see performance and culture not as separate elements, but as tightly interdependent goals, both crucial to success.

How can your business incorporate inclusion and diversity in such a way that it drives both equality and results? We can help you with developing your inclusion and diversity strategy and initiatives. Learn more by reading our latest research on Getting to Equal or contact us to discuss what integrating inclusion and diversity can mean for your organization.

Jelmer Silvis

Management Consulting Analyst – Accenture, Talent & Organization, Financial Services

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