Each year, on March 8, we celebrate International Women’s Day to show our appreciation toward women and highlight the importance of equality among all genders. With the goal of a fully equal workplace in mind, we also conduct an annual Getting to Equal survey, to determine where we can do better and how we can move toward cultivating a culture where a feeling of belonging and equal opportunities is a reality.  

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Recap: What did our previous International Women's Day research reveal? 

In Getting to Equal 2018, we uncovered 14 key factors (out of 40) of gender equality, categorized into three groups: bold leadership, comprehensive action, and empowering environment. These elements together were found to support the development of a culture of belonging, trust, and accountability. In such a workplace, people are more likely to advance, especially women, for whom such a culture is essential for progressing within the organization. 2019's Getting to Equal results revealed that a workplace where a culture of equality is central, in addition to diversity, substantially increases innovation.  

This year, once more we emphasize, we’re Getting to Equal. We focus on workplace culture and close in on the perception gap between employees and leaders. We also examine the best form of leadership position for equality, focusing on Culture Makers

More than 1,500 senior executives and more than 30,000 employees in 28 markets responded to our 2020 survey, our largest sample yet. Results indicate that the perception gap still exists and that there are steps you can take to improve your workplace culture. 

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International Women's Day is an important moment in the year to reflect on how we are doing, to celebrate the progress that we’ve made in achieving an equal workforce, and also to raise awareness on where we can still make progress. -Irine Gaasbeek, Country Managing Director Accenture the Netherlands.

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In the Netherlands...

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...culture remains a low priority for most leaders

Culture seems to be important for most employees. This appears to be the case especially for women, as 64 percent report culture elements such as working in diverse teams, seeing people like themselves in leadership positions, and pay equality and transparency as (very) important. 

However, according to our research over the last three years, employees perceive no improvement in leaders’ efforts to build more inclusive cultures. What’s the reason for this?

Even though most leaders (59 percent) also believe an inclusive workplace environment and culture is vital to the success of their business, culture seems to remain a low priority, with just 22 percent reporting it as being in their top priorities. 

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Figure 1. Top priorities according to leaders in the Netherlands. (Source: Accenture, 2020).

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For most leaders, other factors, such as financial performance, innovation, and brand/quality, seem to take the front seat in what is considered most important. Because of this, it could be that less attention is paid to taking concrete and actionable steps toward an inclusive culture; rather, it seems that leaders are inordinately focusing on other organizational facets. 

Misalignment between leader and employee perceptions 

Leaders’ perceptions do not align with those of employees in several areas: 

  • Inclusion: Leaders (76 percent) believe the number of employees who feel a sense of inclusion in their organization is more than four times higher than the actual number of employees that feel included (56 percent).
  • Work flexibility: Few employees (38 percent) believe that they have a lot or complete flexibility over when and where they can work, as contrasted with the large number of leaders (81 percent), who feel that employees mostly or completely have the ability to work from home and/or the freedom to work around personal commitments.
  • Empowerment: Most leaders (54 percent) feel like they create an empowering environment in which employees can feel free to be themselves, state a concern, and engage in innovation, while merely 44 percent of employees agree.
  • Safety in raising an issue: Employees don't feel as safe to raise their voice about a sensitive issue, such as a physical disability, LGBT+ identity, or mental health as leaders believe.

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Figure 2. Leader versus employee perceptions of safety in raising an issue. (Source: Accenture, 2020).

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How will closing this perception gap benefit us (globally)?  

Narrowing the gap by half would most likely help women feel more included, as well as positively impact their leadership aspirations and retention. 

In addition, closing the gap would help boost global profits. If we were to close the perception gap by half, global profits would be increased by 33 percent, exceeding $3TRN globally. Importantly, narrowing this gap would also empower workforces and women in particular. 

Culture Makers could help 

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Culture Makers are essential, as they lead the way by ‘saying, doing and driving’ cultural change.

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What do these three words entail: say-do-drive?

  • Say: The leaders say building a more inclusive culture is an organizational priority. 
  • Do: The leaders recognize the importance of culture and identify change as a personal goal. 
  • Drive: The leaders reward their people for building a more inclusive culture.

But there are still too few… 

Despite the importance of these Culture Makers, only six percent of leaders (nine percent of women leaders) globally are completely committed ‘Culture Makers’.

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Figure 3. Percentages of Culture Makers who Say, Do, Drive. (Source: Accenture, 2020).

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While many leaders focus on just one of these aspects, Culture Makers say, do and drive simultaneously. These Culture Makers know that culture is essential for employees. As they are more in tune with the workforce, the level of importance they assign to culture is very similar to that of the employees. For example, they place importance on a workplace environment being free from discrimination and harassment, and where equal pay and transparency, and freedom to be creative are a reality.

Importantly, they have a workforce that is more inclusive to youth and females. Organizations they lead see twice the growth of organizations lead by their peers, as seen for instance by their higher sales and profits. 

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The Culture Makers

Discover why Culture Makers are so important for diversity in the workplace.

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Next International Women's Day: let's be closer to equality

So, where do we stand now? At the moment, we are not advancing as fast as we'd like, and there is still some way to go. However, by taking the right steps, we could get closer to our goal of equality. How? Our research gives us more insight into ways of taking action. 

We could become Culture Makers, for example by: 

  • Engaging in thoughtful dialogue with employees about how they experience biases, discrimination, and barriers.
  • Inspiring employees to develop and manage their own agenda and giving them freedom over when and where to work is essential.
  • Allowing employees to explore their creativity by giving them trust and freedom.
  • Creating a clear line of sight and sharing the purpose and context of the work.

By prioritizing culture within the organization alongside financial performance, talent and productivity, Culture Makers allow for everyone to have the ability and opportunity to speak out, dare to be different and ‘get ahead of the curve’.  

Moment of reflection

International Women's Day is a chance for us to take a look at ourselves and our organizations and to examine where we stand. This, as we continuously look for ways to improve our workplace and workforce into one that is fully characterized by equality. 

Want to find out more and check out our global research? Watch the video below, or simply visit the global research page.

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Getting to Equal 2020 Research

What our research found in a nutshell.

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Accenture the Netherlands

Accenture the Netherlands

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