How firms can champion cultural diversity: two case studies
The need for diversity at every level of a company’s workforce has recently become a focal point for companies worldwide. A culturally diverse labour force includes individuals of every race, gender, sexual orientation, socioeconomic background, religion and disability status among many other protected characteristics. Even though many think his diversity can bring new types of talent and points of view to the table, issues such as the gender pay gap and workplace discrimination, or harassment are unfortunately still making headlines.
But, thankfully, it’s not all bad news. Even though there’s still a long way to go to ensure equal opportunities for every person, some firms are leading the change thanks to successful initiatives to make the corporate world more accessible to historically disadvantaged groups such as women, people of colour and the LGBTQ+ community. So, who is making progress? This article includes two examples of firms leading the way in cultural diversity, what they are doing and how they can improve.
Accenture is a professional services and consulting company specialising in information technology. They are a large global firm operating across 50 countries.
The firm’s efforts in increasing diversity have been recognised by various diversity & inclusion rankings, such as holding 1st place on the Bloomberg Gender-Equality Index, and 3rd on Refinitiv’s 2021 Diversity and Inclusion Index. Moreover, Accenture has been included on the Human Rights Campaign’s Corporate Equality Index for 15 consecutive years.
What they’re doing and its benefits
The first step into incorporating diversity in the workspace is transparency; indeed, in 2016 Accenture became the first professional services company to make public extensive data on their workforce demographics, reporting statistics on gender, ethnicity, disability and veteran status.
Following their finding, the firm has promoted a variety of initiatives to further integrate diversity and inclusion into its practices. This includes the goal to achieve a gender-balanced workforce and significantly increase the number of people of colour in leadership by 2025. Currently, the numbers don’t look too bad. In 2022, CEO Julia Sweet lead a diverse US team of executives, 31.9% of which identified as women, and 41.6% belonged to ethnic minorities.
Racial diversity within the firm has been achieved thanks to programs such as Building Bridges, a discussion series on race and the workplace, and the Black Founders Development Program which supports Black entrepreneurs in North America. Accenture has also increased efforts to champion employers with disabilities through their Accommodation Support Tool, an initiative that makes it easy to ask for flexible work arrangements such as screen readers or sign language interpreters. Other valuable programs within the company include their Pride Networks and their annual internal Inclusion & Diversity Excellence Awards.
The figures and global initiatives look promising, but true inclusion and diversity should be present and implemented at every level within the workplace. Accenture – and all other companies – may not always genuinely foster a culture of equality and community at the office. For example, British woman Sanju Pal is seeking financial compensation from Accenture, alleging racial and health discrimination when the firm fired her in 2019. While her managers noted she was not meeting expectations, Pal claims she was laid off because of a recently diagnosed disability reducing the amount of work she was able to carry out; she also ensures white employees who worked as much as her remain in the office. This case is an example of conflicts of interest that can arise from trying to be inclusive while still thinking about the bottom line. The theory of maximising profit would involve a firm laying off workers who do not provide enough value towards the company’s goals; however, striving for diversity would call for supporting disadvantaged employees even when their challenges entail financial or operational costs.
GAP Inc. is an American company, and owner of clothing brands including Gap, Old Navy and Banana Republic.
GAP’s efforts on diversity go way back. Founders Don and Doris Fisher both held the same equity when they started the company; a woman holding the same stakes as her male counterpart in their business was uncommon back in 1969. Decades later, the firm continues to be a leader in diversity, holding 1st place in Refinitiv’s 2021 Diversity and Inclusion Index, as well as ranking 4th in the Fortune 500 Measure Up ranking.
What they’re doing and its benefits
GAP Inc. currently holds initiatives regarding gender balance, race equality and inclusive hiring practices.
An example is Closing the Gap, an awards program in collaboration with Harlem’s Fashion Show and its non-profit subsidiary ICON360. The scheme provided scholarships to young Black fashion students across Historically Black Colleges and Universities, as well as offering mentorship and internship opportunities at GAP Inc. On the theme of race, GAP invited inclusion strategist Amber Cabral to organise and host almost 40 internal sessions and workshops on racial equity and conversations around ethnicity in the workplace.
In addition, the Director of Global Merchandising for Banana Republic, Bahja Johnson, founded the product inclusion initiative Colour Proud Council in 2018. The council is made up of 45 members who come up with ways to implement diversity and inclusion on all levels of the business, from product to marketing and recruiting. The group’s first project was the True Hues collection with Banana Republic. True Hues: Inclusive Essentials is a line of basics such as bodysuits, underwear and shoes in eight nude shades, from pale to dark brown. Apart from being a win for diversity, the collection exceeded all financial expectations and was a success for the firm.
GAP Inc. has also made progress towards women empowerment, becoming in 2014 the first Fortune 500 company to achieve equal pay between genders.
Despite the many initiatives and good progress, employee demographics are still due to catch up to GAP’s image of true diversity. For example, women make up 24% of the technology team, which is a low figure considering that females represent 76% of the firm’s workforce worldwide. GAP Inc. could therefore increase its efforts towards women in tech roles. Moreover, there is also a disparity between the number of people of colour working at an executive level compared to at the store level, the former including much fewer Black and Latino workers. The good news is that GAP aims to double the representation of the Black and Latin communities in US HQ offices by 2025. But will they achieve this? Only time will tell.
Edited and Reviewed by Tanish Bagga.
References/ Further Reading: