Ask most bosses and inclusion and diversity will feature high on their list of their business priorities. As well as helping staff feel more engaged, evidence suggests that it has a tangible impact on the bottom line.
However a new report suggests that over-optimistic senior management is failing to accurately take the temperature of company culture - leaving their employees feeling unempowered and more excluded than they may think.
According to Accenture’s latest research, Getting to Equal 2020: The Hidden Value of Culture Makers, senior leaders are more likely than their wider workforce to believe their business enables all employees to thrive.
The survey of 1,748 leaders in organisations employing more than 50 and 30,382 employees identified “a clear perception gap” between c-suite bosses and their wider staff base.
While two thirds of leaders (68 per cent) felt they created empowering environments where people have a sense of belonging, only one third (36 per cent) of employees agreed. Likewise, it was found that the proportion of employees who did not feel included in their organisations (20 per cent) was ten times higher than the two per cent leaders thought.
This discrepancy was not indicative of a lack of top-level initiative, however. On the contrary, the majority of leaders (68 per cent) believe an inclusive workplace culture is vital to the success of their business, suggesting a new approach to evaluating culture could be needed.
With employee expectations only set to rise as new generations enter the workforce, “creating a culture of equality must be at the top of the business agenda,” says Accenture CEO Julie Sweet.
It has to start 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, Sweet adds.
Based on Accenture’s calculations, if the "perception gap" reduced by just half, the proportion of women who felt like a key member of their team with real influence over decisions would rise from one in four to more than a third; the annual retention rate would increase by five per cent for women and by one per cent for men; and the creation of a more visible career-ladder would increase the proportion of women who aim to reach a leadership position in their organisation by 21 per cent.
Ellyn Shook, Accenture’s chief leadership and human resources officer, says the first step is acknowledging there’s a gap in the first place.
“Closing the perception gap starts with leaders understanding there is a gap,” says Shook. “It's 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 prioritise and take action to close the gap, accelerating true equality for all in their organisation.”
Accenture suggests bold leadership, comprehensive action and the empowerment of "culture makers" - those who are especially dedicated to the cause, and who recognise the importance of concrete factors such as pay transparency, family leave and the freedom to be creative in helping employees thrive - as ways of doing that.
“When a strong, equal workplace culture is prioritised,” Sweet believes, “everyone benefits, and as a result, organisations unlock greater innovation and growth.”
Image credits: Matteo Colombo via Getty images