Leaders and Employees Hold Differing Views on Progress Toward Equality: Survey

March 18, 20201:56 pm561 views
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A significant gap exists between the way leaders and employees view progress toward equality in their organizations, 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 organizations are at an inflection point: Today’s workforce cares increasingly about workplace culture and believes it is critical to helping them thrive in the workplace (reported by 77 percent of women and 67 percent of men), and a majority of leaders (68 percent) believe an inclusive workplace culture is vital to the success of their business.  

At the same time, there is a perception gap: Two thirds of leaders (68 percent) feel they create empowering environments where people have a sense of belonging, yet just one third (36 percent) of employees agree. Additionally, the proportion of employees who do not feel included in their organizations is 10x higher than leaders believe (20 percent vs 2 percent, respectively).

Most leaders also rank diversity and workplace culture low on their list of top organizational priorities. Approximately three-quarters of leaders ranked financial performance and brand recognition and quality at the top of their list of priorities (76 percent and 72 percent, respectively), while only 34 percent ranked diversity and 21 percent ranked culture at the top.

“Creating a culture of equality must be at the top of the business agenda. It starts with the belief that diversity is not only the right thing to do, but a business imperative that is treated the same as any other strategic priority,” said Julie Sweet, CEO of Accenture. “When a strong, equal workplace culture is prioritized, everyone benefits — and as a result, organizations unlock greater innovation and growth.” 

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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 1-in-4 to more than 1-in-3.
  • The annual retention rate would increase by 5 percent for women and by 1 percent for men.
  • The proportion of women who aim to reach a leadership position in their organization would climb by 21 percent.

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 (75 percent vs. 64 percent, respectively).

“Closing the perception gap starts with leaders understanding there is a gap,” said Ellyn Shook, Accenture’s Chief Leadership and Human Resources Officer. “It is an opportunity for leaders to connect with and involve their people — to truly understand how they feel at work. Based on what matters most to their people, leaders can prioritize and take action to close the gap, accelerating true equality for all in their organization.”

See also: UN Research: 9 in 10 are Biased Against Women

The Culture Makers

The report identified a small percentage of leaders — ‘Culture Makers’ — who are more committed to building equal cultures. These leaders recognize 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 percent vs. 35 percent of all leaders) and sexual harassment/discrimination (51 percent vs. 30 percent). They hold themselves accountable, leading organizations that are nearly twice as likely to have publicly announced a target to hire and retain more women.

While just 6 percent of leaders surveyed are Culture Makers, they represent a more gender-balanced group compared to the broader group of leaders surveyed (45 percent women vs 32 percent of all leaders, respectively). Additionally, a full 68 percent of them are Millennials, compared to 59 percent of all leaders. They are more likely to lead organizations where people advance, focus on innovation and remain committed — and their organizations’ 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 prioritize it. For example, benchmark progress toward a culture of equality by setting and publishing targets; and reward and recognize 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 organizations and find ways to bring leaders and culture-minded employees together to develop specific, actionable solutions. 

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