A workplace culture of equality is a powerful multiplier of innovation and growth, according to new research from Accenture (NYSE: ACN).
South Africa, employees innovation mindset—their willingness and ability to innovate—is nearly six times higher in companies with a robust culture of equality, where everyone can advance and thrive, than in least-equal companies.
“In South Africa, we have a competitive environment. The corporate race is on to innovate and find skilled specialist workers. Recruiting more women for a balanced workforce makes sense,” says Ntombi Mhangwani, Accenture Africa Head of Women’s Forum and Director for Integrated Marketing and Communications.
“The survey’s findings have particular relevance in our country, where the debate about the role of women, their place in business, politics and other spheres is ongoing.”
“High profile women – including those outside business – like sportswoman Caster Semenya who is fighting for her fundamental rights, have become role models for a new generation of women wanting to use their talents fully. Being given the opportunity to contribute skills and participate in driving innovative practices within companies should be seen as part of women’s broader objectives,” says Mhangwani.
According to the research, the vast majority of executives agree that continuous innovation is essential: 95 percent see innovation as vital to competitiveness and business viability. A culture of equality is a powerful driver of an innovation mindset—more than other factors that differentiate organisations, such as industry, country or workforce demographics. Among those surveyed, people across all genders, sexual identities, ages and ethnicities show a stronger innovation mindset in more equal workplace cultures.
Accenture’s new research is based on a survey of more than 18,000 professionals in 27 countries, including 700 in South Africa, a survey of more than 150 C-suite executives in eight countries and a model that combines employee survey results with published labor force data. It builds on Accenture’s 2018 research, which identified 40 workplace factors that contribute to a culture of equality, and grouped them into three actionable categories: Bold Leadership, Comprehensive Action and Empowering Environment.
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. The more empowering the workplace environment, the higher the innovation mindset score. For instance, South Africa employees in robust cultures of equality are five times more likely to say that nothing holds them back from innovating, 50 percent in most equal cultures vs. 10 percent in least equal cultures.
However, organisations must close the important gap the research revealed between C-suite executives and employees. While 76 percent of executives globally said they empower employees to innovate, only 44 percent of employees agree. For example, executives appear to overestimate financial rewards, and underestimate purpose, as motivations for employees to innovate. In a more equal culture, the strongest factors underpinning an innovation mindset include providing relevant skills training, flexible working arrangements and respect for work life balance.
Diversity is a critical building block
While diversity factors alone, for example a diverse leadership team and a gender-balanced workforce significantly impact innovation mindset, a culture of equality is the essential multiplier to help companies maximize innovation. The research found that innovation mindset of South African employees is nearly 11 times greater when diversity is combined with a culture of equality, compared to companies where these are least common.
High economic stakes
The new research found that an innovation mindset is stronger in fast-growing economies and in countries with high labor-productivity growth. The opportunity is enormous: Accenture calculates that global gross domestic product would increase by up to US$8 trillion over 10 years if the innovation mindset in all countries were raised by 10 percent.
Download Getting to Equal 2019 report here.