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For Accenture, a Perfect Score on LGBTQ Equality Is Not Enough

Tina Casey headshotWords by Tina Casey
100 Best Corporate Citizens 2019
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Editor's Note: This story is part of an editorial series featuring companies on CR Magazine's 20th annual 100 Best Corporate Citizens ranking, which recognizes outstanding environmental, social, and governance (ESG) disclosure and performance among the Russell 1,000 Index. You can follow the series here

The global consulting firm Accenture is well known for its leadership on LGBTQ equality, having earned a perfect score of 100 from the Human Rights Campaign for each of the past 10 years. The importance of staking out a strong corporate profile on equality is more important now than ever as progress in some areas is threatened by a new wave of anti-LGBTQ activism both here in the U.S. and globally.

Thanks for the award, now let’s do better

Accenture is not simply a passive recipient of praise from nonprofits like the Human Rights Campaign. Accenture actively encourages its employees to engage with and join LGBTQ rights organizations across the globe as a key part of its inclusion strategy.

Accenture received a Global Community Engagement Award from the organization Stonewall last summer, for example. Sander van 't Noordende, the company’s group chief executive for products and global executive Pride sponsor, remarked that the company is “honored to be recognized for building meaningful partnerships with local communities and nonprofits to contribute to wider social change.”

Employees of the company have participated in high-profile events for the Human Rights Campaign in the U.S. and many other events globally, including Canada’s ProPRIDE, the Global LGBTQ Workplace Summit in London, L-Women at Work and Workplace Pride in the Netherlands, and the Pinnacle Foundation and Pride in Diversity conference in Australia.

Taking the global conversation to the next level

Accenture’s strong relationships with LGBTQ organizations provides it with a direct stake in consequential events taking place on the global stage, even in cases where the company does not make a public statement of its own.

The sentiment expressed by van 't Noordende continued to resonate last month, for example, when the Southeast Asian kingdom of Brunei announced a new penalty of death by stoning for same-sex relationships. It was the latest stage in a broader penal code overhaul based on conservative religious principles.

The international backlash was loud, long and sustained, involving hundreds of activist organizations, businesses and governments. The reaction may have had an impact. Last month, Brunei appeared to walk back the worst consequences of the new law.

Planning on LGBTQ inclusion

Stating intention on diversity is a good beginning, and creating an inclusive environment internally is a solid next step. However, for global companies like Accenture, following through on diversity goals is the real challenge. That means developing a strategic plan that can be tailored to local laws impacting identity and sexuality, for the protection of local employees as well as the company.

For Accenture, part of that plan involves internal mentoring and leadership training. The company also encourages employees to join LGBTQ business networks that foster leadership and career development. In addition, it recruits through events and organizations like the Reaching Out MBA recruiting conferences in the U.S. and the LGBT Student Society in Australia.

Another key part of the strategy involves the creation of alliances within the company’s global workforce, through the Accenture LGBT Ally program. The program enlists employees to make a personal commitment to stand up for equal rights, support those who are coming out, and educate others about equal dignity and respect. Accenture first piloted the program in the United Kingdom, and it now numbers almost 13,000 members globally.

In addition, Accenture’s Global LGBTQ Network has local affiliates in 39 countries. These affiliates support relationships with the local LGBTQ community, and they are an important factor in ensuring that Accenture’s LGBTQ activities are informed by the unique legal and social structures of each location.

The challenges ahead

Janice Gassman, a diversity consultant and Forbes contributor, recently observed that transgender issues have raised the bar on inclusion. Recent expressions of backlash include hostility toward persons using a bathroom consistent with their identity, as well as President Donald Trump’s decision to exclude transgender persons from military service. The president also recently expanded the “conscience rule” for healthcare workers, which could put transgender persons at risk.

Nevertheless, full inclusion is a bottom-line consideration as much as an ethical one. Glassman explains: “Organizations that are able to foster an environment where the LGBTQ community feels supported and safe will be more competitive, will have more customer loyalty, and will be better able to attract and retain the best talent, compared to companies that are not inclusive to the LGBTQ community.”

As for how to accomplish that, Glassman cites a 2018 Accenture study of more than 22,000 men and women in 34 countries, which points to a common denominator: create an environment that fosters a sense of belonging, while enabling each employee to maintain and express their unique identity. 

That is especially challenging for companies operating in countries where discrimination is a matter of law, habit, neglect, or all three. Even in the U.S., where individual liberty is taken for granted, inclusive companies can take nothing for granted.

One key element is to formalize inclusion policies in writing, instead of leaning on local conditions for support (or discouragement, as the case may be). Those policies must include penalties for discriminatory behavior as well as ongoing training and education on LGBTQ issues, Glassman said. 

She also advises that companies make their support for the LGBTQ community clear, by creating an employee resource group for LGBTQ employees, by donating to LGBTQ organizations, and by participating in local Pride celebrations and other LGBTQ events.

However, those public displays are only meaningful if they represent the depth of a company’s support for its employees and their communities. After all, practically any company can lend its name to a Pride celebration. To make a real difference, companies must back up public displays of support up by creating and supporting meaningful relationships within the workforce and the community at large. And it is on this front where Accenture leads.

Image credit: William Murphy/Flickr

Tina Casey headshotTina Casey

Tina writes frequently for TriplePundit and other websites, with a focus on military, government and corporate sustainability, clean tech research and emerging energy technologies. She is a former Deputy Director of Public Affairs of the New York City Department of Environmental Protection, and author of books and articles on recycling and other conservation themes. She is currently Deputy Director of Public Information for the County of Union, New Jersey. Views expressed here are her own and do not necessarily reflect agency policy.

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