Consultant. Technologist. Leader. Woman. Mother. These attributes, according to statistics we’ve collected, don’t come together often enough in Accenture. And, in all likelihood, that’s almost certainly the case beyond our organisation. To truly get to equal, a goal we at Accenture have set for ourselves to achieve by 2025, we urgently need to look beyond formal sponsorship and programs and instead find answers to the more fundamental question: “Do we need to treat our female employees differently?”
There are plenty of unconscious associations we all form about gender and the workplace that make asking that question so vitally important. For too long, we have assumed aggressiveness and boldness are the same thing. That loud means smart, or that dark suits are somehow emblematic of professionalism. And when our women colleagues hesitate when given opportunities, listen more than they speak, or own more pairs of shoes than there are days of the week, we subconsciously discount their level of readiness or their strength as leaders.
So how do we begin to address that? We need to correct our well-intentioned, but misplaced, perception that the workplace has to be gender neutral. It can’t be. But taking gender differences into account does not mean accepting a lower bar for performance. No one will accept that, least of all women. Instead, what it means is that we first have to remove the biases that block us from truly seeing the talents that all of our colleagues bring to the table. And that we find new solutions to harness those diverse strengths to benefit the business.
What this translates to for us this year is the intent to address the challenges of returning-to-work mums among us. These range from addressing practical necessities such as an appropriate environment at project sites to pump and store milk, to the more substantive, including role redesign to help balance the stress new mums may be subject to at work.
This all matters not simply because it is the right thing to do, but because creating an environment in which everyone is able to feel that they can be their authentic selves – a culture of true equality – is a business imperative. Our research shows that if people feel a sense of belonging and are valued for their unique contributions, perspectives and circumstances, they are empowered to innovate more. In fact, the most equal cultures show an innovation mindset that’s six times that found in the least equal. And with innovation at the heart of how all organisations will drive growth, it’s a finding that no-one can afford to ignore.
At Accenture we are committed to creating an empowering environment that enables every one of our talented employees, men and women alike, to thrive. I welcome the contribution of like-minded individuals to join us in this urgent task and Get Us to Equal.