With a silver win for Excellence in Women Empowerment Strategy at HR Excellence Awards 2020, Singapore, Accenture’s SEA Head of HR Grace Yip reveals to Priya Veeriah the team’s winning strategy to achieve a 50/50 gender balance workforce by 2025, and stresses the need for experimentation and a continuous learning mindset.

Q What is your organisation’s winning HR strategy, and what are some milestones you’ve accomplished along this journey?

We believe that a culture of equality is key to creating a sense of belonging, and a place where everyone can thrive. To us, the future workforce is an equal one where the best talent are valued regardless of differences such as gender.

Hence, we set bold goals to accelerate gender equality. We made a commitment to achieve a 50/50 gender-balance workforce by 2025 with approximately 30% women in managing director roles by 2025. To achieve our goals, our team implemented targeted interventions in the areas of attracting, developing and retaining women. The aim is to provide females with the support and tools to be at their best, and create an environment where they are supported personally and professionally.

Since FY17, we observed a 6% uplift in gender mix and a 7.4% improvement in recruitment mix.  This is attributed to our close partnership with the business in executing our strategy, and the effectiveness of our initiatives such as extended parental leave and alternative work arrangements, among others.

Q How has this strategy helped you achieve your HR priorities, and what role has the leadership played in helping make this initiative a reality?

We are in the business of people and people are our business. Regardless the speed of innovation, people are still people and we all have our own needs that require attention. As such, when designing our solutions, we anchor strongly on the principle of for our people, by our people in active partnership with the business.
 
To build this strong collaboration between HR and the business, we developed an engagement model that articulates a shared vision of achieving a gender balanced workforce. The engagement model establishes a clear governance model, with defined roles and responsibilities so that stakeholders are aware of, and deliver on, what is expected of them. Leadership sponsors are responsible for driving events/ initiatives that promote gender diversity and encouraging regular conversations, with the support of their action teams.

With this governance structure in place, there is greater accountability and consistent engagement levels. The active involvement of our business partners has enabled us to co-create interventions that drive meaningful change and powerful experiences that effectively move the needle.

Q Unexpected roadblocks are part and parcel of executing any initiative. What were some of the barriers that you and your team experienced while rolling this out, and how did you successfully get past them?

The biggest challenge we faced was declining gender figures, particularly in Singapore over the past two years. Upon gathering data and insights, we uncovered the area we needed to fix – new mothers returning to work.
 
By experimenting and learning along the way, we were able to build on agile principles to design and roll-out targeted solutions, based on our data. We partnered with the business to co-create interventions such as increasing parental leave. We saw initial success through an uplift in our metrics and this drove us to continue to experiment and build further targeted solutions to positively impact returning mothers (e.g.: 'No Fly' policy).
 
By grounding our solutions in data, impact and understanding the employee experience, this has allowed us to drive continuous impact for our people.

Q As evidenced by the win, this initiative clearly delivered some amazing results. What was your gameplan for measuring ROI, and what are some proud achievements you can share on this front?

In addition to actively tracking our metrics, we embed the accountability for diversity into many things as we found that it is most effective if it shows up in multiple ways throughout the organisation. Firstly, we have the engagement model as described above. Secondly, we infused shared success principles into our leadership’s scorecards. This ensures that all leaders are aligned around a shared goal to achieve 50-50 as there is shared accountability for our gender equality results.
 
Today, Accenture is a preferred organisation for women. We ranked 1st on Refinitiv’s Diversity & Inclusion Index for 2 years in a row and 7th on Diversity Inc’s Top 50 Companies for Diversity in 2019.

Our gender mix in SEA is currently at an upward trend of 46.7%, well above our FY20 target. A recruitment mix of 49.3% women also suggests that Accenture is indeed an employer of choice for women. These achievements are testament to our efforts in promoting gender diversity.

Q What’s your secret to gaining stakeholder buy-in for your women empowerment strategy? What are the three key messages that your organisation communicates to the workforce with regards to women empowerment?

By leveraging data and insights, we have been able to design successful, targeted interventions. We reduced unconscious bias in hiring practices (e.g.: Pymetrics), enhanced policies to build an environment that respects women’s needs (e.g.: 'No Fly' policy) and curated initiatives that empower them with skills and knowledge to succeed in their careers (e.g.: Forward career development programme).
 
Our data-driven approach allows us to frame the problem and devise innovative solutions, allowing the wider community to adapt our approach. Within our own geography, individual business units have further innovated based on our framework and deployed additional initiatives tailored to support their female talent (e.g.: Remote working programme launched by Resources).
 
We were deliberate and thoughtful about the problems we wanted to solve, and we addressed them in a holistic manner. An example would be the holistic approach we designed to enable a family-friendly environment that allows parents with young children to effectively balance work and family responsibilities (eg: Extended parental leave, portable nursing pods, alternative work arrangements/flexible work arrangements and no-fly programme for returning mothers).


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