Why Inclusiveness Matters
Douglas G. Scrivner
This is the last of six articles that is written as a continuation of this valuable column. This year, several leading white male lawyers expressed their views on diversity and why they have chosen to work to advance it. They shared their thoughts, mistakes, and experiences with us so that we all grow and learn together. It is our hope that this series of articles helped spark a meaningful dialogue and assisted our readers with their diversity efforts in order to fully tap the talents and contributions of all employees.
The views expressed are of the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect the views of MCCA®.
As Accenture's general counsel, I am personally and passionately committed to creating a diverse workforce at Accenture for two simple reasons: It's the right thing to do, and it's good business. Moreover, we in the Accenture Legal group consider the commitment to increased diversity part of our responsibility as professionals. Further, the company expects the Legal group to be leaders in this area. We are succeeding, but frankly it's a work in progress, and sometimes it's admittedly harder and slower than I wish were the case.
That said, we're not going to quit because our core values of "best people" and "respect for the individual" compel us to continue to improve. And we believe that, almost by definition, the way to do this is to recruit the best people from all available talent pools, including minorities, women, openly gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgender attorneys and the physically or mentally disabled—and then retain them.
I'll admit—as I suspect many in Corporate America will—that it has been a long and challenging journey so far. But we have learned important lessons along the way, some of which I would like to share with you.
Twenty-six years ago, when I joined the legal group of the company that ultimately became Accenture, the company was an overwhelmingly white male institution, mainly because of our recruitment approach. In fact, it had just made its first woman partner six months earlier. Specifically, we sought out the top 10 percent of the finance/accounting and engineering graduates from the top educational institutions around the country, and the reality of those times was that the talent pool in those schools and areas of specialization largely consisted of young, white males.
Back then Accenture had a single career path and a single workforce…there was a fairly straightforward, standard profile and required skill set for a successful Accenture person. Today, we are a very different company…both in how we look and in what we do. In terms of our recruitment strategy, we do quite a bit of lateral hiring now, and in terms of campus recruiting, we have expanded the kinds of schools from which we seek qualified candidates and the types of majors we will consider. For example, we now recruit at technical schools as well as our traditional institutions.
In terms of career path, Accenture today has four separate workforces which do very different things and require special skills sets. This diversity in work and skill sets enables us to bring different perspectives and experiences to the table in solving the business problems of our clients. And, while we still select the top, most qualified individual for each position, the required skill sets, approaches and positions have expanded widely.
Today, as a result of hard, focused work, Accenture has a good representation of minorities and women in the upper echelons of our organization, although we are still not fully satisfied and will continue our efforts. As a global company, conducting business in more than 50 countries, we are also particularly focused and pleased with our continued efforts in bringing non-Americans into leadership positions and capitalizing on diversity on this dimension as well.
Diversity in the Legal Group
Accenture's Legal group currently consists of more than 270 professionals worldwide, drawn from a variety of geographies, cultures, languages, and backgrounds. We are seriously committed, as is our entire company, to continuing the effort to become more diverse. We intend to hold ourselves accountable, and to hold others accountable as well.
In terms of holding others accountable, Accenture has become one of approximately 100 corporate signatories to a "Call to Action" issued in 2004 by Roderick Palmore, the general counsel of Sara Lee, who called for corporate law departments to make decisions regarding working with outside law firms based significantly on their commitment to diversity.
To that end, I requested a survey of the 40 to 50 top firms in the U.S., which provide Accenture's outside legal work, in order to create a baseline of data regarding the diversity of their workforces and their efforts and initiatives in this area. I also saw the survey as an important demonstration to our law firms of the significance we attach to diversity. Afterward, we shared with those firms the results of that study.
A second, follow-up survey will be conducted next year. Based on the results of that second survey, Accenture will seriously consider discontinuing our relationship with firms that have not shown acceptable progress in creating and retaining a more inclusive workforce. As evidence of how serious we are in our commitment to encourage greater diversity, we have already stopped working with a major law firm that refused even to participate in the original survey. I also intend to work with other Call to Action signatories to come up with a standard survey that can be used by many law departments to reduce the burden for law firms in responding to myriad different survey instruments from their corporate clients.
However, we would obviously much rather work with the firms, share thinking and best practices, and help each other improve. And while the survey was intended to provide a benchmark, it has overwhelmingly been the post-survey dialogue-the subsequent discussions and face-to-face meetings with firm executives-that are proving to be the best and most useful part of the process, both for us and for them, according to the feedback we've received. There is no doubt that these frank follow-up discussions-during which we're able to tackle head-on, in "full daylight," the task of moving the needle on diversity-have been considerably more productive and have helped us all operationalize good intentions into identifiable actions. We have each learned from the other and many firms have told us they are enhancing their focus on diversity and making specific changes in their programs based on our dialogue.
In addition, prior to joining the "Call to Action," Accenture had begun working with The National Association of Minority & Women Owned Law Firms (NAMWOLF). We have committed to a goal of spending five percent of our U.S. budget for outside counsel with minority-owned and women-owned law firms, while holding them to the same high standards and quality commitments of any of our other outside law firms.
I'm also both pleased and proud to report that in recognition of our commitment to the "Call to Action" and other initiatives, Accenture's Legal group has received the Minority Corporate Counsel Association's 2006 Employer of Choice Award. This award is a public recognition of the fact that we are making real progress toward our goal of providing our clients with legal representation that reflects the diversity of our employees and of the communities in which Accenture does business. I am personally humbled by this recognition, and well aware of the responsibility that comes with it.
In terms of holding ourselves accountable, Accenture has made formal business goals and strategies for hiring and retaining minorities and women a part of each leader's personal annual objectives, starting with our CEO and cascading throughout the organization, including the Legal group as well. Specifically, within Legal, we have established mentoring and sponsorship programs to ensure that people receive the appropriate kinds of assignments and work with a cross section of leaders to develop their skills and gain visibility within the organization to facilitate their career progression. To not do so, and thus, risk losing the investments we make in training and developing our strong performers through inattention is simply foolish.
We have also made significant progress in retaining women, in large part by embracing flexible work styles to a far greater degree than was thought possible even 10 years ago, including working part-time or working from home or working compressed work weeks. As a testament, this year for the fourth year in a row, Working Mother magazine included Accenture on its annual list of the "100 Best Companies for Working Mothers." I would note, however, that flexible work arrangements are valued by most of our people, not just women.
What Accenture has Learned about Increasing Diversity
What we've learned and now intuitively understand about diversity is that it's not about hiring quotas, although there can be no dispute that having a significant number of women and minorities is an important element in creating an environment that helps women and minorities see that "people like them" are valued and are succeeding in the organization. It's also important for younger people to see older minorities and women in positions of authority; for example, tangible examples of people who have already blazed the trail for them and that it "can be done." That makes diversity not a numbers game but part of the fabric of the organization.
I personally have seen how providing successful role models made a significant difference in attracting and retaining African-American students at the Sturm College of Law at the University of Denver, where I chair the Visiting Committee, a high level group that advises the dean on issues important to him. Denver had done a good job of recruiting many minority students but had struggled to attract and retain African Americans, in part because Denver and the law school simply weren't seen as welcoming to them. In the course of a few short years, this was turned around. Through persistence and commitment from the dean and the courage and leadership of a particular young, African American student, the school has demonstrated that it has become a place where minority students can be comfortable and successful.
We have also learned that responsibility for diversity cannot be delegated. Senior leaders, especially white males, need to be challenged to mentor and sponsor people for whom they may not have a natural affinity…people who do not come from, for example, the same racial, gender, or economic background that they do. It is the job of upper management to make sure that senior leaders are rousted out of their "comfort zone" in terms of who they sponsor or mentor, and to make these commitments visible and real. It is also critically important that senior leaders continue to talk about the importance of diversity to driving a successful business, and make inclusiveness part of the operating strategy of their organization.
And, especially when it comes to women, it is a critical mistake to make assumptions about what they can and cannot, or will or will not, be willing to do in their careers. It's important to make opportunities available to women and minorities regardless of perceptions and stereotypes of family commitments, gender roles and the like.
Let me give you a specific example. There was a lawyer who worked for me back in 1994. Because she had a two-and-a-half-year-old child and a six-month-old baby, I was reluctant to ask her if she would be interested in going to Hong Kong for a multi-year assignment. However, eventually I put aside my assumptions and offered her the opportunity, which she and her family took. They spent five years in Hong Kong and three years in London. Now they're back in Chicago where she is Accenture's deputy general counsel, and has had a breadth of experience that positions her uniquely for future development, growth, and responsibility. But back in 1994, it would have been very easy for me to assume that because she had two little kids, she would not be willing or able to consider that opportunity and not even ask her if she was interested.
What I learned from this is the importance of being open, talking to people and giving them opportunities. Allow yourself to be surprised, and then adjust the lens through which you view the world.
Why Accenture is Committed to Diversity
There are three things that we at Accenture believe about diversity. First, part of Accenture's promise is to attract and develop "best people" so that the company can deliver value to its clients. We believe recruiting from talent pools that include minorities, females and the disabled, among others, maximizes our opportunities to hire and retain the best people. And our clients increasingly reflect this same kind of diversity in their boardrooms and workplaces. Second, Accenture's challenge is to help clients become "high-performance businesses." In order to be credible and a leader in the marketplace, Accenture itself needs to be a high-performance business, and that requires having a diverse workforce with the breadth of experiences, different perspectives and skills to best serve our clients. And last, but not any less important, is that diversity simply is good business. Studies have demonstrated that companies which have more inclusive workforces have a higher economic return. For example, the National Urban League conducted a four-year study of companies with effective diversity programs. Those companies collectively generated 18 percent greater productivity than the American economy overall.
This suggests, at a minimum, that diversity progress has no cost in productivity, but instead may enhance it, as effective inclusiveness practices are simply good leadership and management practices.
At Accenture, we believe that a focus on diversity is simply both the right thing to do and something that can create a major business advantage. Workforce diversity can be a bridge between the workplace and the marketplace because greater diversity in the workplace helps attract a more diverse customer set. And, as lawyers, we have an obligation to enhance the diversity of our profession, for its own sake and for that of our clients and the society in which we live.
So here I am 26 years later, and business and the legal profession look a lot different than it did in 1980, and we have made progress on our diversity imperative. This gives me hope that, while we still face a long journey, we're ultimately on the right path.
From the November/December 2006 issue of Diversity & The Bar®