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Creating an open, inclusive and expressive workforce

The future workforce must be an equal one, considering the needs and experiences of all its people

Diversity helps organisations to deliver the best work for clients. We are a business that depends on our people bringing innovation and creativity to their work every day. People can only do that if they feel confident that they can be their authentic selves in every situation. Expecting anyone to be expressive and creative while they’re having to hide their true selves is hardly a recipe for success. So developing a culture where people feel they can be open has been our focus for many years.

That’s the aspiration, but how can businesses put it into practice? In the LGBT+ space there are several initiatives that can demonstrate support across the whole organisation. For instance, an LGBT+ allies programme where employees are encouraged to support and be an ally to LGBT+ colleagues brings conversations to life and encourages a culture of understanding within a community.

An ally programme can be built around some very simple tools that have a powerful impact over time. At Accenture we provide an internal sign-up page, digital flairs on an employee’s profile signalling their support, and a searchable database that enables people to find an ally online. LGBT+ allies, identified by their rainbow lanyards, help foster an environment where people feel they can be open about their sexuality, and they help to raise awareness around the importance of equality, empathy and mutual respect. It’s a visible way of showing support and an approach that’s been taken by other organisations.

Another key action is to identify senior role models who are comfortable being open about their sexuality. Have leaders who demonstrate that expressing who they really are in the workplace is not simply compatible with success, it's a key ingredient to fostering a culture of equality. Their example inspires others and drives home the message that getting to the top is a path open to anyone. Our research backs this up: we found organisations that create a culture of equality help LGBT+ employees to thrive, making them 50% more likely to advance to manager or above and three times more likely to advance to senior manager or above.

The impact of openness extends beyond areas such as LBGT+ issues, gender, race or disability. Anyone can experience discomfort about an aspect of their lives, which can leave them feeling isolated and unable to express how they feel. But an open and inclusive culture is only possible if it extends to everyone.

Organisations should also make use of networks within their business. These connect people around specific issues and are a constant source of new ideas and support. Networks should collaborate closely with each other, as many of the issues organisations are trying to understand and address intersect; for example you might look at mental health issues that particularly affect LGBT+ colleagues.

The inclusion and diversity agenda is constantly evolving and it’s essential to keep pace with developments. Gender expression and identity are areas of increased attention, and last year Accenture updated its healthcare policy to enhance support for employees who do not identify with the gender they were assigned at birth and want to explore gender identity-related procedures.

As our people – and particularly those relatively new to us – get involved in our networks they’re challenging us to push the boundaries and raising issues that we may not yet have thought about. And that’s a healthy sign of an open and engaged workforce.

When it comes to creating a culture of equality every organisation will have its own unique challenges and specific ways to address them. But one imperative will be key to every organisation’s success: just keep talking.

Candida Mottershead is HR director for Accenture in the UK and Ireland