Diversity is a fact in modern society. It’s also an engine for innovation and economic prosperity. So why is diversity still a hot topic?

This question was explored during an afternoon of keynotes and lively panel debate with an Accenture audience in Brussels to celebrate 2018 International Women’s Day. Across all the discussions there was consensus that a new, shared leadership style based on collaboration, communication and involvement of all stakeholders and the active use of collective intelligence is key to addressing the complex challenges society and business face today and in the future. More diversity, not only in gender, is a key ingredient. Inclusion is the glue that makes the diversity mix work.

Bringing the outside, inside

Keynote speaker Elke Jeurissen (co-founder of Glassroots and founder of Straffe Madammen Network) argued that shared leadership is the only truly future-proof leadership style. Companies and individuals (both women and men) must open up to the outside world and change their attitudes towards diversity: from seeing it as a problem to recognizing it as the solution for achieving greater prosperity, creativity, innovation and growth. Elke’s advice: start from your strengths, become more visible and connect with others.

Christine Cecil (Director of Strategy and Business Development at JUMP) cited the findings of a recent JUMP survey among 1000 business women in Belgium and France to identify Women’s Transition Barriers. The survey explored individual, organisational and transitional barriers to women entering leadership roles. Overall, 47% of those surveyed women experience quite strong organisational barriers that prevent them from moving up in the organisation. Practising true inclusion (bringing people in and accepting their difference) rather than assimilation (the minority adapting to the majority) could help to address this. To be truly inclusive, we all need to behave differently: to really listen, be aware of and ready to approach and include less vocal groups.

René Mat (Managing Director Accenture Technology, and Inclusion & Diversity Sponsor for Accenture Belgium & Luxembourg) highlighted Accenture’s goal of gender parity by 2025. This goal is catalysing change and getting things moving but more needs to happen on a day-to-day basis to get women into leadership roles. Ways to do this include making sure women are placed in a position to grow and take responsibility, providing role models that women at every level of the organization can relate to, and gender-neutral communications in recruiting.

The 2018 edition of Accenture’s annual #GettingToEqual research identifies 40 factors that influence the advancement of gender equality, and groups them into three areas (bold leadership, comprehensive action and empowering environment) where organizations can take action.

Working in a male-dominated domain like technology, often leaves women feeling that they must adapt their behaviour. However, Krithika Balasubramanian (Associate Manager Accenture Digital Technology) argued that as we enter the AI era, the workforce must become more creative, innovative, hands-on and humane to understand what is ethical and what is not. This job description is unlike any other in the previous century. Inclusion is essential to be able to tap into talent pools needed to fulfil this role, based on skills sets rather than gender or background, wherever they are, whoever they are.

A big thank you to Elke, Christine, René, Krithika and our facilitator Helene Feuillat (Corporate Coach from the Future Leaders program).

Diversity and progress are interlinked

Bart De Ridder (Country Managing Director Accenture Belgium & Luxembourg) explained why and how Accenture is taking action, underlining the business imperative for diversity. An inclusive work environment improves engagement and team performance. Diverse teams, recruited from the widest possible talent pool, are more likely to experiment, share ideas, and innovate. “The days when Accenture only hired people with a certain kind of degree are over. We need all kinds of talent for the New. Whoever you are, you can be yourself at Accenture.” 

Attending the International Women’s Day celebration in Brussels for a third consecutive year, Accenture COO, Jo Deblaere once again emphasised how important diversity is to Accenture’s business strategy globally. “We’ve come a long way: inclusion is no longer a nice thing to do, it’s an essential thing. Our ‘Inclusion Starts with I’ video campaign sends out a clear message: we need a diversity of skills, talents, backgrounds and visions to create something new. Because diversity and progress are interlinked. Accenture is always looking for the next frontier, and as diversity leads to innovation, we have to lead in diversity.”

Read more about our commitment to Inclusion & Diversity