We are in the heart of the Fourth Industrial Revolution — surrounded by rapid surges of technologies that fundamentally transform the way we work, live, and interact. Now more than ever businesses must think about their responsibility to lead from the front on equality.
Research shows that consumers believe companies have a responsibility to go beyond profit and make a positive impact on society. They’re also more likely to be loyal to companies that demonstrate strong ethics.
And we know that building diverse and values-driven companies lead to real business impact. There’s a lot of research out there that indicates workplace equality drives innovation, makes for a more engaged employee base, and even has a direct link to higher profits.
We are at a time of limitless possibilities where the decisions we make today are reshaping the future for better or for worse. We all have a responsibility to be thoughtful about the impact we have on society and the people we serve.
A lot of effort has already gone into ensuring companies are responsible stakeholders in their communities. We’ve made some progress in areas like improving equality and diversity in the workplace — but there is more to do.
Increasingly, we live in a world where the traditional lines between work life and private life are blurring. More and more employees want to bring their personal interests and beliefs into the workplace. Social media has strengthened their voices, and many now expect to have the equivalent freedom to express their identities in their place of work.
But marginalized communities still find it difficult to do so — we still have work to do in building cultures where everyone can be their most authentic selves at work — both professionally and personally.
How equality can help in the war for talent?
As companies, we want to attract and retain the best talent possible and have them perform the best work of their careers. To do this, fostering an inclusive culture where everyone feels a strong sense of belonging is key.
While some companies are making progress, many people still feel they can’t reveal their true selves in the workplace. They may not feel comfortable sharing a hidden disability, for instance. Or, they may feel the need to keep quiet about their religion or sexual orientation.
It’s tough for people to focus on performance and success when they’re constantly playing these tapes in their minds — Will people find out? What will they think? Will I be judged? Will I progress in the organization?
Studies show that employees who feel valued rather than marginalized are more likely to be productive, innovative, motivated, and assertive. They take more risks, and they challenge or suggest more ideas. When companies focus on freeing employees from spending time analyzing how they are perceived and working out how to fit in better, it empowers them to perform at their full potential.
Salesforce research has found that appreciated and included employees are more loyal and proud to work for their organizations. At a time when businesses are entangled in a widespread war for talent, retaining and engaging employees is a top priority. By creating an equal workplace culture where people feel seen, valued, heard, empowered, and have a strong sense of belonging, you position your company to be a destination workplace for all and a place to unleash everyone’s full potential.
Accenture’s research underscores this, proving that a culture of equality — a workplace environment in which everyone can advance and thrive — is a powerful multiplier of innovation and growth. The study finds that employees’ innovation mindset — their willingness and ability to innovate — is six times higher in companies with a robust culture of equality, where everyone can advance and thrive, than in least-equal companies.
Being committed to equality is also linked to tangible business outcomes. Another report from Accenture showed that companies who lead in areas specific to disability employment and inclusion had higher revenue, net income, and profit margins than their peers. Another proven example of its impact can be seen in the retail industry. A recent survey finds that consumers not only expect retailers to engage in conversations around social issues, but that inclusion and diversity directly influences their purchasing behaviors.
Despite the overwhelming evidence, only one-third of those surveyed for a recent Salesforce report said their companies were actively working to be more diverse. And less than half said their companies were engaged in community service.
So, while we’ve taken strides forward, we recognize that we as leaders can do more to actively cultivate truly equal workplaces where everyone has the same opportunity to succeed, innovate, and drive the business forward.
Three ways to empower employees
Our experiences at Salesforce and Accenture have taught us that there are three keys to success in building a more equal culture and ensuring that everyone feels seen, heard, valued, and empowered.
Those three keys? Representation, allyship, and employee resource groups.
1.Increase representation to build a workforce that reflects society
As the saying goes, “you can’t be what you can’t see.” There is immense power in representation. A company should consider representation at all levels of the business and strive to build a workplace that looks like the diverse communities they serve.
At Salesforce’s recent Representation Matters event, the company created an environment where the most underrepresented populations in the technology industry — including Black, Latinx, and Native communities — could see themselves reflected in the presenters on stage. We also have the ability to impact the community in front of and behind the camera. For example, in addition to the speakers, all our vendors were people of color.
People at the event said they felt energized, inspired, understood and, perhaps most importantly, confident that they, too, could one day be up on that stage as a board member, founder, or leader of a company.
2. Create an inclusive culture with allies
Everyone has a role to play in creating a workplace where all people feel they belong. That’s what allyship is all about. You’re an ally if you support a group or individual who you don’t necessarily personally identify with.
It doesn’t mean that you agree on every issue, but it does mean that you support your peers in your employee community. At Salesforce we guide our employees to be allies through our four practices — ask, listen, show up, and speak up. And at Accenture, we regularly create opportunities for people of all backgrounds to engage in open, honest dialogue, even about typically sensitive topics — like race or religion.
As an ally, you act to create a more equal culture. You’ve got to go to bat for your group, and that requires the courage to stand up for what you believe is right.
3. Empower and enable employee resource groups
Employee resource groups (ERGs) are entirely employee-led communities that allow employees to express themselves freely and drive organizational change. They are open communities that support and empower underrepresented groups and educate and inspire allies to drive equality.
Salesforce and Accenture have both developed their ERGs into business functions that drive customer engagement, transform culture, and spark innovation.
Aligning ERGs with business imperatives and priorities show how an employee community can add value to an organization as well as develop its functions and brand. Also, ERGs give people the chance to develop their careers by learning new skills, presenting in front of leaders, managing budgets, leading strategies, and helping address business issues.
Accenture and Salesforce are committed to driving equality in our communities and workplaces. We share a passion for building diverse and inclusive companies that reflect society. This passion has led us to collaborate and continue this journey along with others in our industry.
If you take steps to nurture true equality and authenticity in your company, you’ll not only empower your employees to be themselves but also increase their creativity, productivity, and engagement. When everyone in an organization is empowered, free to be themselves, and inspired to innovate, together they can unlock unprecedented opportunity.