Why a culture of equality will boost workplace innovation

A workplace culture of equality is a powerful multiplier of innovation and growth, according to our latest research, conducted to celebrate International Women’s Day 2019. Culture is more effective than just diversity, though there’s a serious disconnect between leadership and employees.

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Our Getting to Equal 2019 report has been conducted among 18,000 professionals in 27 countries, including a model that combines employee survey results with published labor force data. It builds on our 2018 research, which identified 40 workplace factors that contribute to a culture of equality.

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This year, we’ve surveyed how workplace equality relates to innovation. Does a culture of equality help employees to be more innovative? Why is a culture of equality more effective than simply being diverse? How does culture drive innovation? Which factors matter most and how can companies create the most innovative environment? And which factors do business leaders identify as key to their innovation success?

Against every factor we tested, culture wins

This year’s research determined that an empowering environment is by far the most important of the three culture-of-equality categories in increasing an innovation mindset, which consists of six elements: purpose, autonomy, resources, inspiration, collaboration, and experimentation.

Why a culture of equality will boost workplace innovation - Getting to Equal: Six elements of innovation - by Accenture

Figure 1. The six factors of an innovation mindset. (Source: Accenture, Getting to equal, 2019)

Culture’s power to boost innovation is blind to industry, country and various workforce demographics. Among those surveyed, people across all genders, sexual identities, ages and ethnicities show a stronger innovation mindset in more-equal workplace cultures. 

In companies where the factors that drive a culture of equality are most common, an individual’s willingness and ability to innovate is nearly five times higher than in companies where the factors are least common.

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Figure 2. Innovation mindset among companies with a most equal, typical or least equal culture. (Source: Accenture, Getting to equal, 2019)

So, what is a culture of equality? Which factors are driving such a culture? According to our research,

As culture improves, the innovation mindset improves. For every ten percent that the cultural factors improve by, innovation mindset increases by 10.7 percent. So, when looking at a 100 percent improvement in culture, you’ll get a 107 percent increase in innovation mindset in return.  

This change is underpinned by all three pillars of our workplace culture-of-equality factors, which are:

  • Empowering environment (71 percent): one that trusts employees, respects individuals and offers freedom to be creative and to train and work flexibly;
  • Comprehensive action (26 percent): policies and practices that are family-friendly, support both genders and are bias-free in attracting and retaining people; and
  • Bold leadership (11 percent): a diverse leadership team that sets, shares and measures equality targets openly.

Clearly, it’s the empowerment factors that have the strongest impact. But it doesn’t stop there. Employees in most-equal cultures also see fewer barriers to innovating at work, and they’re less afraid to fail.

A disconnect between executives and employees

According to our research, the vast majority of executives around the world agree that continuous innovation is essential: 95 percent see innovation as vital to competitiveness and business viability. Likewise, 91 percent of the employees of ‘average’ Dutch companies, and 95 percent of Dutch companies with a culture of equality, are interested in innovation.

The more empowering the workplace environment, the higher the innovation mindset score. For instance, Dutch employees in powerful cultures of equality are four times more likely to say that nothing holds them back from innovating (39 percent in most equal cultures versus 9 percent in least equal cultures).

Why a culture of equality will boost workplace innovation - Barriers to innovation - by AccentureFigure 3. Percent of respondents who, when asked what prevents them from innovating in their organization, selected “Nothing stops me from innovating.”  (Source: Accenture, Getting to equal, 2019)

However, organizations must close the important gap the research revealed between C-suite executives and employees. While 76 percent of executives said they empower employees to innovate, only 37 percent of employees in typical Dutch companies feel empowered to. For example, executives appear to overestimate financial rewards, and underestimate purpose, as motivations for employees to innovate.

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Figure 4. Proportion of employees who feel empowered to innovate. (Source: Accenture, Getting to equal, 2019)

Executives appear to overestimate financial rewards, and underestimate purpose.

What are then the equality factors that strongest underpin an innovation mindset? These factors include:

  • Providing relevant skills training;  
  • Offering the freedom to be creative;
  • Promoting flexible working arrangements;
  • Building an inclusive workplace; and
  • Respecting the work-life balance.

Diversity is a critical building block

While diversity factors alone, like having a diverse leadership team and a gender-balanced workforce, significantly impact the innovation mindset, a culture of equality is the essential multiplier to help your company maximize innovation.

Exemplifying the importance of diversity, we found that the innovation mindset of Dutch employees is over six times greater when diversity is combined with a culture of equality, compared to companies where these are least common.

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Figure 5. Diversity factors combined with a culture of equality in companies with a most equal, typical or least equal culture . (Source: Accenture, Getting to equal, 2019)

For the purposes of this research, we defined diversity factors as follows: a diverse leadership team as well as teams throughout the organization that are diverse across gender, age, industry/organizational/cultural backgrounds.

High economic stakes

Fast-growing economies and countries with high labor-productivity growth show a stronger innovation mindset. The opportunity is enormous: we calculate that global gross domestic product would increase by up to €7.1 trillion ($8 trillion) over 10 years if the innovation mindset in all countries were raised by 10 percent.

GDP would increase by up to €7.1 trillion over 10 years if the innovation mindset in all countries were raised by 10 percent.

Now, it’s your turn to drive a culture of equality

At Accenture, we are committed to accelerating equality for all and to creating a work environment where every one of us feel like they belong. Our research shows that a culture of equality drives innovation - and that an empowering environment is an essential ingredient.

What’s more, the stakes are enormous: an innovation mindset raises global GDP and stimulates your workforce.

We’ve learned about the essential elements that drive innovation, resulting in an innovation roadmap. Make sure to set up the Three Pillars of a Culture of Equality in your organization, while using the Six Elements of an Innovation Mindset to boost innovation in your organization. If you need help, we bring unique perspectives and skills to the table. Let’s take that path together.

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Author: Accenture the Netherlands