#IWD2020 - Leaders and Employees Hold Differing Views on Progress Toward Equality, @Accenture Research Finds 

Cutting the gap by half would boost global profits by US$3.7 trillion (£2.9trillion), along with workforce ambition and empowerment  

A significant gap exists between the way leaders and employees view progress toward equality in their organisations, according to new research from Accenture. Closing the gap will yield substantial benefits for companies and their employees.  

The report, “Getting to Equal 2020: The Hidden Value of Culture Makers,” which includes research across 28 countries, found that organisations are at an inflection point. Today’s UK workforce cares increasingly about workplace culture and believes it is critical to helping them thrive in the workplace (reported by 80% of women and 66% of men), and a majority of leaders (62%) believe an inclusive workplace culture is vital to the success of their business.   

At the same time, there is a perception gap: Nearly three quarters of leaders in the UK (73%) feel they create empowering environments where people have a sense of belonging, yet less than a third (29%) of employees agree. Additionally, the proportion of employees who do not feel included in their organisations is 15x higher than leaders believe (1% vs 15%, respectively). 

Most leaders also rank diversity and workplace culture low on their list of top organisational priorities. More than eight-in-10 leaders ranked financial performance at the top of their list of priorities (85%), while only 19% ranked diversity and 11% ranked culture at the top.  

Rebecca Tully, UK Inclusion and Diversity lead at Accenture, said: “It’s positive to see that more companies are focusing on building a culture of equality, but the disparity between how leaders view their progress and first-hand experience of workers on the ground needs to be addressed.”

Narrow the gap, accelerate progress

Aligning leaders’ perceptions with those of their employees would yield significant upsides. Everyone—both women and men—would advance faster, and global profits would increase by US$3.7 trillion.

If the gap were closed by half: 

  • The proportion of women who feel like a key member of their team with real influence over decisions would rise from 3-in-10 to more than 2-in-5.  
  • The annual retention rate would increase by 13% for women 
  • The proportion of women who aim to reach a leadership position in their organisation would climb by 52%. 

The research is especially timely for leaders, as employee expectations are only set to increase: It found that a larger percentage of Gen Z is more concerned with workplace culture than Boomers (79% vs. 57%, respectively). 

Rebecca Tully continued: “Businesses cannot just pay lip service to diversity; it has been a crucial point on the agenda for years so companies need to start driving real change, and fast. Consumers and employees have wised up to companies that don’t walk the talk, meaning that business which doesn’t take steps to transform their workplace culture will see likely see a negative impact on their bottom line in the future.”

The Culture Makers

The report identified a small percentage of leaders, ‘Culture Makers’, who are more committed to building equal cultures. These leaders recognise the importance of factors such as pay transparency, family leave and the freedom to be creative in helping employees thrive. 

Culture Makers are much more likely to have spoken out on a range of workplace issues, including gender equality (52% vs. 35% of all leaders) and sexual harassment/discrimination (51% vs. 30%). They hold themselves accountable, leading organisations that are nearly twice as likely to have publicly announced a target to hire and retain more women. 

While just 6% of leaders surveyed are Culture Makers, they represent a more gender-balanced group compared to the broader group of leaders surveyed (45% women vs 32% of all leaders, respectively). Additionally, a full 68% of them are Millennials, compared to 59% of all leaders. They are more likely to lead organisations where people advance, focus on innovation and remain committed – and their organisations’ profits are nearly three times higher than those of their peers.  

Achieving a culture of equality

The report lays out steps to help close perception gaps and drive progress toward a more equal culture that benefits everyone and enables leaders to continuously evolve their strategies to meet changing needs. 

The research reaffirms that bold leadership, comprehensive action and an empowering environment are proven anchors for creating a culture of equality: 

  • Bold Leadership – Leaders must truly believe that culture matters and prioritise it. For example, benchmark progress toward a culture of equality by setting and publishing targets; and reward and recognise leaders and teams on progress. A culture of equality starts at the top. 
  • Comprehensive Action – Go beyond the data. Leaders should engage in a meaningful, continuous dialogue with employees. Consider face-to-face meetings, focus groups, town halls. Conducting ongoing, real-time conversations with employees helps to capture feedback and empower leadership to quickly drive change.  
  • Empowering Environment – Encourage and cultivate Culture Makers. Create opportunities for future Culture Makers to opt-in and take on specific culture-related roles within their organisations and find ways to bring leaders and culture-minded employees together to develop specific, actionable solutions.   

Methodology: Building on previous Accenture research that has explored how to build a workplace culture of equality and the benefits for organisations and employees, the report is based on a global survey of more than 30,000 professionals in 28 countries; a survey of more than 1,700 senior executives; and a model that combines employee survey results with published labor force data. Accenture leveraged it’s Getting to Equal research from 2018 and 2019 to create new data and analysis using three steps: quantifying the perception gap, measuring the impact of the perception gap on employee outcomes, and measuring the impact of closing the perception gap. 

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