Perception gaps persist over flexibility and progressiveness, says report

Accenture inclusivity
Cormac Harris, BT Young Scientist Winner; Sasha Terfous and Alastair Blair, Accenture; Izzy Keane, Izzy Wheels; Dr Michelle Cullen, Accenture in Ireland; Alan O’Sullivan, BT Young Scientist Winner

Accenture research shows gulf between employees and leaders over work and equality progress



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6 March 2020 | 0

A new study from Accenture has found that significant gaps exist between how leaders and employees view flexibility and progress towards equality within their organisations.

The vast majority (86%) of leaders in Ireland believe employees have flexibility and control over when, where and how they work, by contrast just over a quarter (27%) of employees agree.

The report, entitled Getting to Equal 2020: The Hidden Value of Culture Makers, is based on research carried out across 28 countries, including Ireland, and builds on previous Accenture research exploring how to build a workplace culture of equality and the attendant benefits for organisations and employees. The report polled more than 30,000 professionals and 1,700 senior executives, with a model that combines employee survey results with published labour force data. Accenture said that it leveraged its Getting to Equal research from 2018 and 2019 to create new data and analysis using three steps: quantifying the perception gap, measuring the impact of the perception gap on employee outcomes, and measuring the impact of closing the perception gap.




The report said that organisations are at an inflection point, as today’s workforce cares increasingly about workplace culture and believes it is critical to helping them thrive in the workplace (reported by 83% of women and 67% of men working in Ireland), and a majority of leaders in Ireland (73%) believe an inclusive workplace culture is vital to the success of their business.  

The report was released as part of Accenture’s sixteenth annual International Women’s Day event at the CCD, Dublin.

Empowering environments

Along with the perceived gap over flexibility between employers and employees, more than three quarters (78%) of leaders feel they create empowering environments where people have a sense of belonging, yet only one third (32%) of Irish employees agree.

“We are at an inflection point. Employees care increasingly about workplace culture and more companies recognise the importance of equality. Despite growing awareness, progress just isn’t fast enough,” said Dr Michelle Cullen, managing director and head of Inclusion and Diversity, Accenture in Ireland. “Creating a culture of equality must be at the top of the business agenda. It starts with the belief that diversity is not only the right thing to do, but a business imperative that is treated the same as any other strategic priority. When a strong, equal workplace culture is prioritised, everyone benefits – and as a result, organisations unlock greater innovation and growth.”

The report said that employees surveyed in Ireland feel much less safe raising a range of sensitive issues than leaders believe. Nine in 10 leaders (90%) believe their employees feel safe enough to be open about a physical disability, whereas only 70% of employees agree. Similarly, 85% of leaders believe employees feel safe enough to raise a concern about their mental health, but only 60% of their employees would share this view.

Diversity and workplace culture were generally ranked low by most leaders on their list of top organisational priorities. Approximately three-quarters of leaders ranked brand recognition and quality, and financial performance at the top of their list of priorities (81% and 74% respectively), while only 40% ranked diversity and 28% ranked workplace culture at the top. 

Tangible benefits

The report argues that the benefits of improving diversity and workplace culture are not just soft. According to the report, aligning leaders’ perceptions with those of their employees would yield significant benefits. Everyone, says the report, both women and men, would advance faster, and profits would increase by 33% globally.

“Closing the perception gap starts with leaders understanding there is a gap,” said Alastair Blair, country managing director, Accenture in Ireland. “It is an opportunity for leaders to connect with and involve their people — to truly understand how they feel at work. Based on what matters most to their people, leaders can prioritise and take action to close the gap, accelerating true equality for all in their organisation.”

According to the report, if the perception gap were closed by half, the proportion of women who aim to reach a leadership position in their organisation would climb by almost half (49%). The proportion of women who feel as though they were a key member of their team with real influence over decisions would rise from one-in-five to more than one-in-three. Furthermore, the proportion of women planning to stay with their current employer over the next 12 months would rise by 4%.

The report set out measures to close perception gaps and drive progress toward a more equal culture to the benefit of all, that enables leaders to continuously evolve strategies to meet changing needs. It affirms that “bold leadership, comprehensive action and an empowering environment are proven anchors for creating a culture of equality.”

The report highlights:

Bold Leadership

Leaders must truly believe that culture matters and prioritise it. For example, benchmark progress toward a culture of equality by setting and publishing targets; and reward and recognise leaders and teams on progress. A culture of equality starts at the top.

Comprehensive Action

Go beyond the data. Leaders should solicit meaningful, continuous dialogue with employees. Consider face-to-face meetings, focus groups, town halls. Additionally, ongoing, real-time conversations with employees help capture feedback and empower leadership to quickly drive change. 

Empowering Environment

Encourage and cultivate Culture Makers. Create opportunities for future Culture Makers to opt-in and take on specific culture-related roles within their organisations and find ways to bring leaders and culture-minded employees together to develop specific, actionable solutions.  

The report identifies a small percentage of leaders, which it dubs Culture Makers. These are people who are more committed to building equal cultures, recognising the importance of factors such as pay transparency, family leave and the freedom to be creative in helping employees thrive. 

Culture makers are much more likely to have spoken out on a range of workplace issues, says the report, including gender equality and sexual harassment/discrimination. They hold themselves accountable, leading organisations that are nearly twice as likely to have publicly announced a target to hire and retain more women. 

While just 6% of global leaders surveyed are culture makers, they represent a more gender-balanced group compared to the broader group of leaders surveyed (45% women vs 32% of all leaders, respectively). They are more likely to lead organisations where people are advancing, innovative and committed – and their organisations’ profits are nearly three times higher than those of their peers.  

The report is available at

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