When George Floyd was murdered by Minneapolis police officers in 2020, it sparked difficult conversations about racism, inclusion and prejudice in many boardrooms. These include Accenture, the global professional services firm with nearly 700,000 employees worldwide.

“We already had many diversity and inclusion programs in place for women, LGBTQ+ communities, and ethnically diverse talent,” says Amanda McCalla-Leacy, global managing director of inclusion and diversity at Accenture. United Kingdom. “But when George Floyd was killed, it sparked new discussions.

Most existing programs focused on broad issues, such as pay equity, diversity in hiring, and retention among key demographics. “We were good at staying strong in those areas, but we had to work on the more nuanced issues,” McCalla-Leacy said.

His team started talking about systemic racism and how it can hinder the career progression of black talent in even the most forward-thinking organizations. This would be a critical issue to address for the company to meet its public goal of increasing the percentage of black people at all levels of the company by 2025.

So they started thinking about ways to overcome these obstacles. It was the natural next step for Accenture, which is often praised for its diversity and inclusion efforts. The company has been ranked among the top 50 companies for diversity 16 years in a row by Diversity Inc., which reviews companies based on their diversity measures of human capital, executive accountability and other notable measures of diversity.

The UK leadership team has begun to explore day-to-day decisions that can embed unconscious bias in the workplace, such as how teams are selected, who receives coaching, and how individuals receive attribution for a successful project or a share of sales. “A lot of women and minority ethnic groups are disadvantaged in these situations, but nobody talks about it,” McCalla-Leacy says.

When these events go unresolved, it can thwart D&I’s efforts in creating a culture where white cisgender men get all the support and opportunity needed to accelerate them into leadership roles.

In 2021, the Accenture UK management team decided to solve this problem through Engage! Engage it! program brings together Accenture UK’s high-potential black managers and supervisors, as well as their black line managers, sponsors and leaders they work with, into a single leadership development programme.

Culture change in the ecosystem

Engage! Not meant to be an employee resource group or unconscious bias training program. Its goal is to promote inclusive behavior and support emerging black leaders through mentorship, career planning and training to help them achieve their goals.

The structure of Get Involved! is in response to research that has shown how proper career advice and sponsorship makes a significant difference in outcomes.

“It’s a 360-degree leadership journey, which means we’re focused on driving culture change by targeting the employee ecosystem,” McCalla-Leacy said. “The goal of the program is to drive cultural change and foster an environment in which all of our leaders can thrive.”

The pilot program launched in December 2021. It included around 25 black managers and senior staff, 25 people managers and 25 sponsors from across the UK organisation. Richard McGowan, Senior Director of Google Cloud Practice, was one of the top performers invited to participate.

He admits to being a little skeptical at first: “We talked for a long time about the need to do something about these issues, but I had never seen it go anywhere.”

However, when he heard about the goals of Engage! and senior leaders who had agreed to be sponsors, he decided to participate. “Everyone involved was motivated to do the right thing,” he says.

Plan your trip

The program lasts nine months and involves a regular cadence of monthly meetings using material from books and research, as well as internal company metrics and external trend data. These include:

  • A monthly all-group meeting where participants discuss general topics on company politics and issues related to microaggressions, workplace bias and representation.
  • A monthly meeting with travel teams made up of smaller cohorts of participants who share their stories and support each other in travel planning activities.
  • A monthly one-on-one between participants and their sponsors to discuss their personal needs and set goals.
  • A monthly one-on-one between participants and their team leaders to share what’s going on in the program and how it relates to their day-to-day performance and long-term career goals.

McGowan found the travel team meetings to be the most impactful part of the program. All the members of his travel team had very different life and work experiences and were at different points in their careers.

“I was able to talk to people about what they had achieved and what they had done to get there,” he says.

It was a supportive experience that helped him start thinking differently about his own goals and personal journey.

“At first, for me, it was all about the money,” says McGowan. “But as we challenged ourselves to think about the impact we were having, it was about becoming a role model for the next generation of black people. It took a lot of introspection to get there. »

Eye opening

Neil Wetherell also found the experience rewarding. Wetherell is managing director of Accenture Technology and McGowan’s sponsor for the program. He and McCalla-Leacy were among the top executives selected to sponsor Engage! attendees. Wetherell already knew McGowan and was already an active coach and mentor at Accenture.

Like McGowan, he wasn’t sure at first about the program’s intent, but after looking at the statistics showing the impact of unconscious bias on high achievers of black background, he knew it was something. he wanted to be part of it. . “We spent several years trying to make Accenture an inclusive workplace for everyone,” he says. “To do that, we need to make it a place where everyone can thrive.”

He loved that Engage! was proactive in helping individuals achieve their career goals and how he diverted the conversation from what black leaders should do to overcome prejudice and instead focused on what sponsors can do better.

“It changes the narrative of what people of black descent hear,” McGowan notes. “It’s not about what we have to do to fix ourselves. This is what the organization can do as a collective to address these issues.

difficult conversations

Prior to the start of the program, sponsors received training on what topics to cover, how to have conversations with downline about their experiences, how to provide feedback, and how to foster these relationships.

“You can’t give constructive feedback without establishing a close relationship,” McCalla-Leacy says. “When you build trust first, the experience of giving and receiving feedback is vastly improved.”

At first, Wetherell admits he was a little nervous to hear McGowan and other attendees talk about their experiences with racism in the workplace. But the experience was instructive.

“It opened my eyes and got me to work on my own unconscious biases,” he says.

These conversations also helped Wetherell better understand what McGowan needed from him and how he could help him create his travel plan and find opportunities for advancement.

He was not alone. “All of the sponsors came with a desire to learn and they left feeling like the experience had been transformational,” McCalla-Leacy said. “We gained a lot of understanding.”

The program seems to have had the expected impact. Although this is still only the first cohort, McCalla-Leacy reports that many participants have been promoted to senior management positions and one has moved into a general manager role. The company’s employee survey also shows an increase in satisfaction among black employees. “We raise public awareness about this,” she says.

Engage! was considered such a success that Accenture is now looking at ways to expand it to executives in the United States and mid-level black employees who are still early in their careers.

“When you do a pilot project like this, you have to ask yourself, ‘How can we scale it up to others?'” Wetherell says.

How to get involved!

For companies interested in launching their own version of Engage!, McGowan suggests starting small with a pilot program before rolling it out enterprise-wide. This way, leaders can see what the program requires and what impact it can have. They can use this data to help secure funding and convince more sponsors to get involved.

Management support is also essential. “When people see that our UK CEO is a sponsor and attends all the sessions, it has a huge impact on everyone,” McCalla-Leacy says.

It’s a short-term commitment that can generate desired results and help companies combat some of the hidden biases that otherwise deter great employees from doing their best, she says. It’s another way for Accenture management to demonstrate its commitment to diversity and inclusion in a way that drives real results.