INTERVIEW: Patrick Rowe
Deputy GC, Accenture
Patrick Rowe describes Accenture's support of diversity, particularly (but not exclusively) in the LGBT field, and its impact on the corporation's success.
G C D I V E R S I T Y A N D I N C L U S I O N I N T E R V I E W
Firstly, diversity is about the war for talent. It is extremely competitive to get the best people: to attract them, retain them, to encourage the best out of them and to help career progression.
Secondly, many of our clients look at what we do in the diversity space and we are often asked about it in the context of bids for new work.
Finally, our experience is that you get the highest performance and the most innovation when you bring diverse perspectives to an issue. Diversity is a little bit like an iceberg, where only a small part of it is very visible, for example disability, colour, or gender, but it isn’t necessarily obvious if you are gay, or you come from different educational backgrounds. Different thought processes are not obvious either. So we have seen that when you harness all of that diversity you get the most creative thinking and innovation. We don’t want there to be any barriers to our people working in teams and collaborating effectively.
Our LGBT network was established in 2004. The network leads a variety of activities that support LGBT employees: social aspects, allowing members to get together and share experiences; proactive engagement with clients, talking about diversity issues with an LGBT lens; supporting policy formation, like ensuring that our policies address same-sex relationships. For example, our innovative shared parental leave policy includes same-sex parents and covers surrogacy and adoption. It is also very flexible − we have a maximum of 32-weeks’ paid leave and the parents can chop and change how the leave is taken.
We have an LGBT ‘allies group’ of about 1,200 in the UK and all around the globe, which is basically friends and supporters of the LGBT group. The coming out process never stops – you might be involved in a new team at work, and have to ask yourself, ‘am I comfortable with these new people? Can I be open, or will they judge me?’ And this impacts your ability to work and trust and collaborate within the workplace. When people censor themselves, they are investing emotional energy into it that would be better directed at creating better working relationships − collaborative relationships, with no anxiety. The allies network is important here; they are a friendly face to talk to.
We talk about the diversity of diversity. You might see two white men, but there is so much more going on. I am not defined by being gay, because there are a million other things to me. We try to collaborate with other parts of Accenture and coordinate with other groups in what we call the Accent On... programme. We collaborate with Accent On Family, where we think about adoption, same-sex relationships, and try to think about what the challenges might be and the strain people are under, and sharing that experience. Even within the LGBT community, the white gay men might be visible and vocal but it is important not to forget about the lesbians, bisexuals, transgender people or the people that come from different ethnic backgrounds, so we have been deliberate in trying to include the variety of issues that people can face.
The legal team plays an important part. Team members partner with HR in thinking about and shaping policy to support Accenture’s diversity goals. For example, how can you capture data, measure what’s going on, design and shape policies, then design and implement training programmes that impact behaviours in the workplace? We have a campaign called Conduct Counts which looks at how you demonstrate and encourage the right standards of behaviour in the workplace, how you support and maintain our principles on meritocracy – so that when we make decisions around our people we ensure that these are objective and fact-based.
I think diversity is a key contributor to business success because it comes back to innovative thinking and great talent. We continue to do more to make Accenture a great place for women to work and to take on senior roles. Our former GC stepped out of her role and is now running our North American business, which is the biggest market for Accenture in the world in terms of revenue. 60,000 people work in that country, which is an indicator of her great capabilities, and it sends a signal that she is the right person for the job and that a woman can succeed in this job here.
Three things are crucial: the articulation of the business case to senior leaders, learning how to engage with middle management and then the strength of the network.
Diversity isn’t soft and fluffy, or an adjunct to HR, but an essential business priority.