March 08, 2019
A winning workforce—how can equality produce better employees?
By: Barbara Harvey

Does the idea of being innovative in your everyday work excite and interest you? Yes? Then you’re among friends. According to our latest research, just nine percent of employees said they were not interested in innovating in their organization.

This is good news for business leaders who know that innovation is essential to respond to the challenge of continual disruption.i

But if employees want to innovate—and leaders need them to—why do only 4 in 10 employees feel encouraged and enabled to do so? Our 2018 research on diversity, culture, and women in the workplace suggests a starting point to answer that question.

Last year, to understand how workplace culture affected women's ability to advance at work we developed a model to determine which, of more than 200 factors, made a difference to women’s success. It turned out that 40 of the factors were influential, 14 strongly so. These factors fell into three groups:

  • Bold leadership: a diverse leadership team that sets, shares and measures equality targets openly.

  • Comprehensive action: policies and practices that are family-friendly, support both genders and have proven to be effective.

  • Empowering environment: one that trusts employees, respects individuals and offers freedom to be creative and to train and work flexibly.

In workplaces where more of these factors were present, women were more likely to love their jobs and aspire to be in leadership roles. They were also four times more likely to advance than in the less equal companies. But it wasn’t just women who thrived in more equal cultures; everyone benefited: LGBT+ professionals were three times more likely to reach senior manager and twice as many men did, too. In the words of our report, “When she rises, we all rise.”ii

This year our research revealed that these same factors—the ones that help men and women to advance and thrive at work—also have the power to help them to innovate. In the more equal workplace environments, almost nine in 10 employees feel encouraged and enabled to innovate (compared with the 42 percent in average companies and only five percent in the least equal companies).

To explore the relationship between culture and innovation in more depth, we developed an innovation mind-set index to measure an individual’s willingness and ability to be innovative at work. The index is structured around six elements of innovation:

  • Alignment around the organization’s purpose

  • Having the autonomy to act and follow through on ideas

  • Being inspired by what happens outside the organization

  • The attitude of the organization to failure and experimentation

  • Having the chance to collaborate and work across skills and teams

  • Access to the resources needed to be innovative

What we found was that employees’ innovation mind-set grows as workplace culture improves. In the most equal cultures it was twice as high as in average cultures and six times higher than in the least equal cultures. All three aspects of our culture factors relate to an increasing innovation mind-set, but the most important—accounting for 70 percent of the uplift—were the empowerment factors; for example, keeping employees’ skills up to date, giving them some flexibility over where and when they work and ensuring people feel they belong.

As business leaders look to innovation to support how they compete for the long-term, addressing workplace culture is a priority. And, if all organizations improved their innovation mind-sets by just 10 percent, around US$8 trillion could be added to global gross domestic product (GDP) over the next 10 years.

i95 percent of leaders reported that innovation was “important” or “very important” for the “competitiveness and long-term viability of your organization.” C-suite survey, Getting to Equal 2019, Accenture, March 2019
ii“When she rises, we all rise,” Accenture 2018

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