Both leaders and employees value workplace culture, yet there is a disconnect when it comes to the perception of culture — and only a small percentage of "culture makers" are the leaders who actually get it, according to new research.
Accenture's report "Getting to Equal 2020: The Hidden Value of Culture Makers," a global survey of more than 30,000 professionals in 28 countries released March 4, found that diversity and inclusion is not a top strategic priority for the majority leaders due to a misconception of a favorable company culture. The majority of leaders (68%) said they felt they create empowering environments where people feel a sense of belonging; however, just one third (36%) of employees agreed.
While financial performance and brand recognition (76% and 72%, respectively) were named top priorities by the majority of leaders, 34% of leaders ranked diversity as a top priority, despite research that has shown diversity and inclusion enhance financial performance.
“Creating a culture of equality must be at the top of the business agenda," Julie Sweet, CEO of Accenture said in a statement. "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.”
The culture makers
According to the report, leaders are fueling a perception gap; the proportion of employees who do not feel included in their organizations is 10 times higher than leaders believe. This gap was also analyzed through a generational lens, since a larger percentage of those in younger generations (75% of Gen Z) are more concerned with workplace culture than their older counterparts (64% of baby boomers), according to the study.
"The majority of leaders surveyed are not Boomers, but the data does suggest a generational aspect to the disconnect between leaders and employees," an Accenture spokesperson told HR Dive via email.
In the report, only 6% of the leaders surveyed met the standard of culture maker. "Those that are 'culture makers' do tend to be slightly younger, and more gender-balanced, than the full sample of leaders" the spokesperson said.
The report found that 68% of culture makers are millennials, compared to 59% of all leaders. They are more likely to lead companies where people advance, remain engaged and focus on innovation; "and their organizations' profits are nearly three times higher than those of their peers," according to the report. Culture makers, who skew female and younger, are much more likely to have spoken out on a range of workplace issues, including gender equality (52% vs. 35% of all leaders) and sexual harassment/discrimination (51% vs. 30%).
According to Accenture, the majority of leaders are not taking all the necessary actions to drive cultural change in their organization. The research found that leaders either do not see culture as important to the success of their organization; say it's important but do nothing about it; or make it a priority but don't reward their employees to drive change.
"Many leaders want to prioritize culture within their organization, but often find it hard to link it to business performance," Accenture's New York Metro Office Managing Director Lynn McMahon told HR Dive in an email.
"Culture starts at the top, leaders must set a standard and communicate that down throughout all levels of leadership – sharing and measuring cultural targets sends a message that culture is a top business priority." These efforts begin with leaders establishing an inclusion and diversity strategy for all workers, according to past research by Accenture, McMahon said.
As Gen Z enters the workplace, more employers may focus on a diverse and inclusive workplace culture as it's particularly important to that generation. A Feb. 18, 2020 report from Alexander Mann found that Gen Z employees think diversity should not only include age, ethnicity, disability, gender, religion and sexual orientation, but also cognitive diversity — the inclusion of people who have different ways of thinking.
Bold leadership, comprehensive action and an empowering environment are proven anchors for creating a culture of equality, the Accenture report stated.