Last summer, I was invited to join an economic mission to Italy as part of King Willem-Alexander’s state visit. For the Italy enthusiast in me—my husband Sylvano is from Rome, and I speak the language fluently—this was an opportunity not to be missed. What was perhaps even more enticing than the destination was the fact that one of the key themes would be women's participation in the labor market, a topic very close to my heart—and not just because I’m a woman. I firmly believe that equality makes a direct contribution to meaningful, profitable growth and innovation. That’s why, as a corporate leader, I’m very alert to matters of equality, promoting it at every level imaginable, both inside and outside Accenture.
When it comes to equality, Accenture’s position is crystal clear: The team of the future is one that is perfectly in balance. We’re striving to achieve a gender-balanced workforce—50 percent women and 50 percent men—globally by 2025. And I’m sure we’ll succeed in this ambition. I’m extremely equality-driven, so much so that I refuse to accept even a slight imbalance. An imbalance as small as 2 percent is still a disadvantage for women. And if every department says, “It’s just 2 percent,” before you know it, it’s become 10 percent.
Our biases, whether conscious or subconscious, also play a role. It’s important to recognize this and to keep working on it. This is with good reason, too: The talent we’re searching for expects equality in the workplace. The boost equality gives to business and innovation is perhaps even more important. And these are not just empty words: Research shows that even a 1 percent increase in diversity results in a 3 percent increase in revenue.
The talent perspective
We’re working hard to achieve equality at Accenture. Of the 125 new employees we hired in November in the Netherlands, 48 percent were women. We’re making big strides at the management level, too: Three of our five top accounts are managed by women. Women are also leading our teams in key focus areas like robotics (Doenja van Kleef), analytics (Laurence van der Sande) and technology consulting (Nikoo Delgoshaie), and with three women and three men, our supervisory board is in perfect balance. To keep this progress in motion, we’re investing a lot of energy in attracting, retaining and supporting female talent, with measures varying from bonus incentives to special leadership programs and personal coaching programs. We also organize and participate in internal and external events such as Technology on Heels and Tedx Women, among many other initiatives.
A key factor in all these activities is that we continue the dialogue about gender equality, both within Accenture and beyond. That’s how we continue to learn from each other. It’s important to look at everyone from the perspective of talent; in other words, what can they do, what are their talents and how can we make the best use of these talents to develop them further?
My efforts on behalf of equality go beyond the walls of Accenture. For example, I recently attended the annual entrepreneurs’ breakfast organized by the Greater Amsterdam branch of The Confederation of Industry and Employers (VNO-NCW), the largest employers’ organization in the Netherlands. I gave a presentation on what today’s digitalization means for the Amsterdam-based business community and how we can make the much-needed quantum leap. This event happened to coincide with the International Day of the Girl Child, which I therefore addressed in my presentation.
At the request of Plan International, I was accompanied that day by Maria Deborah Aroza from the Philippines. Backed by her own personal story, she stressed the importance of girls in developing countries having better prospects for the future. As a young expectant mother, Deborah survived Typhoon Haiyan but lost absolutely everything in the disaster. With the help of Plan, she went on to receive an education, and now, in addition to being a mother, she’s also the breadwinner in her family. In my view, having made her own personal quantum leap, she’s a symbol of the power inherent in girls and women. Her story earned her several practical leadership tips and a valuable networking opportunity. Her experiences were very educational for me as well.
Equality is far from the norm everywhere. And that doesn’t just apply to developing countries. In fact, less than 5 percent of the Fortune 500 top management positions are held by women.
European female business leader’s database
Considerable advancement can and still needs to be made around the globe. That’s why I was very happy that women’s participation in the labor market was a topic of discussion during the state visit to Italy last June. I participated in a female leaders’ round-table meeting in Rome, and we did more than just talk. A joint declaration, signed by employers’ organizations and the Dutch and Italian governments, not only emphasizes the importance of greater participation of women in the labor market and female leadership for economic growth, but also combines it with concrete measures to achieve this.
These include things like organizing round-table meetings in the European Union and drawing attention on a wide scale to female role models in leadership positions. We agreed, among other things, to share our best practices. A good example of this is the Dutch database of female business leaders. Italy is currently setting up its own comparable database, and there are plans to do this across Europe as well.
While there are plenty of initiatives to support gender equality, a lot still needs to be done if we want to see it everywhere. We really must seize the moment. What helps is the knowledge that diversity makes good business sense. This is already a widely accepted view at Accenture, and it’s a view we want to share with the wider world. That’s why we launched the #InclusionStartsWithI campaign. Of course, equality and inclusion is a shared responsibility of the business community and society as a whole. But this campaign is a great start.
I can’t change the world on my own, but I’m doing everything in my power to make equality the norm. If you have ideas on how to get us there faster, I’d love to hear them.
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