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Developing a global disability strategy at Accenture

Barbara Harvey, Accenture

Barbara Harvey, Accenture

By Barbara Harvey, Managing Director, Accenture Research, and UK Mental Health Sponsor

For International Women’s Day this year Accenture undertook a piece of  research (published as ‘When She Rises, We All Rise’)  that started out as a project about women but ended up as a project about inclusion. We looked at the workplace cultures of over 22,000 working men and women in 31 countries around the world. We were able to look at the differences between those that worked in very inclusive environments and those that worked in the least inclusive environments and the difference was astonishing.


In the most inclusive environments, we found that men and women were much more likely to love their jobs. They were much more likely to be happier with the pace of their careers and less likely to be planning to leave. They were much more likely to aspire to be in senior leadership and most importantly they were much more likely to advance to senior manager levels in their organisations – women four times as likely and men twice as likely. It turns out that a positive workplace culture works for everyone, but especially for those who are in the minority in the workplace.

The need to retain and grow great people is one of the reasons why our CEO Pierre Nanterme stated his personal ambition for Accenture to be the world’s most inclusive and diverse workplace by 2020. He is not doing that just out of the kindness of his heart. Although, believe me, his heart is there too. He is doing it because it’s a business imperative for us to do it.

With over 440,000 employees worldwide we need talent. We need diverse talent because we need to innovate every single day and you don’t innovate by having a workplace full of the same people. So, Pierre’s passion to create an inclusive workplace extends across every aspect of inclusion that you can possibly imagine. Our research tells us you have to start with three things, you have to:

  1. Make it a strategic priority
  2. Set targets,
  3. Put metrics in place to track progress

You also have to have a leadership team that is accountable for delivering against those targets. So strategic priority, yes, it is.

city01In the context of disability inclusion Accenture has established a global accessibility council. That council includes senior members of our organisation who are responsible to the CEO for delivering against our plans. They have at their disposal a dashboard of metrics that allows them to measure how things are progressing. It includes everything from the culture in the organisation right through to the things like the accessibility of our own technology.

We also use a maturity index and that index allows us to look country by country at where we are on a maturity scale using five different measures: leadership, talent, accessibility, culture and ecosystem. It allows us to pinpoint in each geography what it is that we need to do next and that we need to prioritise something that is particularly important in the field of disability where countries are such different stages and where the local context can vary enormously. When it comes to mental health, our ambition is to make Accenture a place where it’s safe to talk about mental health. But how do you measure that? In the UK we are starting to explore this by using a survey that allow us to measure how willing our employees are to raise a concern about their mental health. Being a global company has tremendous power and brings responsibility and challenge. For example, our mental health programme started in the UK where we now have over 1500 mental health allies fully trained. But the question was how to bring what we do here to the rest of our organisation?

Visitor arriving at reception of an officeWell, it started with an opportunity to present what we were doing in the UK on mental health through an award scheme. We have a global inclusion and diversity award scheme which is designed to help best practice from around the world to bubble up to the surface. Our team were lucky enough to win that award last year and since then we have set about rolling out our mental health programme to countries around the world.  Nine more countries are already up and running  with more to follow.

People often ask how we know whether our programme is working and what metric we have for success, but for me it’s about the individual people whose lives we touch. One small example, following an LGBT discussion on mental health, a young gay man told us  that he was seriously worried about his partner who was living in Latin America and who was experiencing severe depression and possibly at a point where he was thinking of taking his own life. How do you get to someone in a country where it’s illegal to be gay?

So, we used our network to put him in touch with a confidential therapist who helped him talk through the situation he was in. That’s the power of a global organisation – to make the workplace a safe place for all people whatever the local context. But with that power comes with tremendous responsibility to make sure that we take the best of what we do wherever it bubbles up in the world and make it relevant in every single country.

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