A significant gap has opened up between how leaders and employees view progress towards equality within their organisations, according to a recent report from Accenture.
Published earlier this month, Getting to Equal 2020: The Hidden Value of Culture Makers  states that workplaces are at an inflection point: on one hand, today’s workforce cares increasingly about culture and believes that it is crucial for helping them to thrive at work (reported by 77% of women and 67% of men), with a majority of leaders (68%) believing that an inclusive workplace culture is vital to their firms’ success.
But on the other, there is a perception gap – two-thirds of leaders (68%) are confident that they create empowering environments in which their staff have a sense of belonging – yet only one third (36%) of employees agree.
Further to that, the proportion of workers who do not feel included in their organisations (20%) is ten times higher than leaders believe it to be.
Covering 28 countries, the study also showed that the majority of leaders rank diversity and workplace culture low on their list of organisational priorities. Around three-quarters of leaders ranked financial performance (76%) and brand recognition and quality (72%) at the top of their priority charts, with muted showings for diversity (34%) and culture (21%).
Accenture notes that if the perception gap were halved:
- the proportion of women who feel like a key member of their team with real influence over decisions would rise from one in four to more than one in three;
- the annual retention rate would increase by 5% for women and 1% for men, and
- the proportion of women who aim to reach leadership positions in their organisations would climb by 21%.
In a statement,  Accenture chief leadership and HR officer Ellyn Shook said: “Closing the perception gap starts with leaders understanding there is a gap. It is an opportunity for leaders to connect with and involve their people – to truly understand how they feel at work. Based on what matters most to their people, leaders can prioritise and take action to close the gap, accelerating true equality for all in their organisation.”
What should leaders be aware of to help them acknowledge the gap?
The Institute of Leadership & Management’s head of research, policy and standards Kate Cooper says: “How interesting that this research is calling the difference between people’s lived experiences in organisations a ‘perception gap’. As our Don’t Tell; Coach! report and the authenticity research we published over the past three years showed, there is invariably a gap between what leaders and managers think is happening on their watch and what their workforces experience. And that has little to do with perception.”
She explains: “If organisational culture as a whole were truly inclusive, we wouldn’t be talking about it anymore. And that’s what campaigners have been pushing for all these years: the day when diversity ceases to be a big deal, because our management teams properly represent customer bases, people from all sorts of backgrounds advance within their organisations and we no longer have to report in a rather sheepish, apologetic fashion on gender, ethnicity and disability pay gaps.”
Cooper adds: “Our forthcoming research on neurodiversity really highlights this issue. We have found that, while people in organisations think they are open and welcoming towards their neurodiverse colleagues, the experience of the relevant individuals – particularly those on the autistic spectrum – is quite different. So in my view, discussing these problems under the umbrella heading of a ‘perception gap’ is almost sanitising it – and in fact, that’s not what we’re dealing with, here. It’s about leaders recognising that there are substantial differences between their lived experiences of work and those of their employees.”
For further insights on the themes raised in this blog, check out the Institute’s resources on empowering