In our new episode, our guests are René Mat, Managing Director of Accenture Technology, and Inclusion & Diversity Sponsor (Lead) for Accenture Belgium & Luxembourg, and Sven Vandyck, Proposal Development Manager, LGBT Accenture Lead in Belgium. Passionate about making their workplace truly inclusive René and Sven have been engaged for many years now in championing Accenture’s Inclusion & Diversity programmes both in Belgium and beyond. To know more about Accenture’s global Inclusion & Diversity approach please visit their official website here. If you wish to directly get in touch with either René or Sven please don’t hesitate to reach out to their diversity team (firstname.lastname@example.org) or visit the Open@Work network website.
You can listen to the conversation on iTunes, Acast and other podcasting apps. What follows here are excerpts from our conversation with René and Sven, edited for length and clarity.
Agnes Uhereczky: Let’s just start with you, René. Would you mind telling listeners about your passion and what is it that gets you up in the morning?
René Mat: Thank you, Agnes. In fact, I got my first job at Accenture exactly 25 years ago. I work in technology delivery and carry out projects for various clients all over Europe. Besides my delivery role, I have been engaged with the Inclusion and Diversity network of Accenture, in both Belgium and Luxembourg, for many years now and took the Lead role last year. I do this from the heart. This is something through which I can share my passion and work with people from different backgrounds. Inclusion and diversity covers many flavours. It can go from gender to cultural differences, from generations to disability or sexual orientation. I think this is a key thing. I don't like the idea of defining all kinds of “pigeon holes” in terms of specific groups, because this can lead to a never-ending categorization. In the end, we are all unique in who we are, and we are all diverse. This is a given fact. What is important, and this is what we strive for at Accenture, is that we want to be an inclusive company that really leverages all these differences. This leads us to a cocktail where we can really make sure that different orientations, mindsets and opinions add to each other, and that one plus one is not two but a bigger number.
Why do we do that? At first, we do that because it is the right thing to do, so to take care and include everyone whatever background one individual has. Secondly, there is an economic reason to do it. As many of us know, there are various studies that highlight and came to the conclusions that if you have a diverse team you can come up with more creative ideas. There are many important points here to discover. In sum, what really drives me is to be inclusive towards myself, our employees and clients at Accenture, and the society in a whole. I think this is an obligation we all have.
Agnes Uhereczky: Sven, would you mind telling listeners about yourself and career? How and why did you decide to take on the role of Inclusion and LGBT Leader?
Sven Vandyck: Thank you and welcome to Accenture. I have been working for Accenture for four years now as a Proposal Development Manager and I am mostly involved with government related works mainly in Belgium and the EU. Three years ago I became the LGBT Lead of Accenture Belgium which is really a great privilege and pleasure. The reason why I am telling this is one of my earlier experiences with an employer. What happened is that I announced my intention to leave the company after which the HR department told me that they would then need to erase my name from the “numbers”. This put them in the position where they could not prove that one openly gay person was working at the company. I have never ever encountered similar behaviour or “box ticking” at Accenture.
This is really what I like and appreciate at this company. You can be yourself. You can be gay, lesbian, women or men, black or white, Catholic or Muslim etc. You can be yourself! Being part of and leading the LGBT stream, at a company that openly promotes diversity, is a great honour for me. Through this work, I can help other people come to the office and be themselves. For example, we often work with young generations who tend to be open in terms of their personal lives during their studies, but many of them close up once they join huge companies like Accenture, because of the enormous pressure they encounter. By having this internal LGBT network within the company we can help people just be themselves, be more creative, ultimately be better employees.
Agnes Uhereczky: We often touch upon similar questions and topics, such as the ideal worker type, on the podcast. Why should diversity and inclusion be a business imperative and get the necessary support from top-level managers?
Sven Vandyck: There are two things. One of them is the social aspect of D&I. When a company invests resources in this topic it will find that people become happier. For instance, a colleague who is secretly gay might invest a lot of energy on a Monday morning to not to explain what he/she was really doing on his/her weekend, should he/she be asked by another employee about his/her weekend. In an open, supportive and inclusive environment people would use this energy to focus on their work, deliver high quality services and be happy in their positions. This is the social aspect of promoting Inclusion & Diversity.
The second aspect of Inclusion & Diversity is its economic angle. When people are more happy in a job they will ultimately stay longer at a company. Here companies should really think about their recruitment costs or available HR policies. Even a small investment in the area, coupled with Inclusion & Diversity actions, can make a huge impact and difference.
So, these are the two, social and economic, aspects of diversity and inclusion.
René Mat: When you look at what we do within Accenture you find that we deliver services to our clients in different industries. So, we don’t produce physical goods. The real and only asset that we have is our people and talent. Talent is equally spread over the whole population in all its diversity. So our pool for talent is diverse and we, at Accenture, are open for this full spectrum. We need to get the best talent onboard and the best talent is sitting everywhere. Thus, we need to be as inclusive as possible to all these different groups. This is the famous war for talent discourse that you meet everywhere nowadays.
Also, I think at the end it all comes down to engagement. It is about making sure that once people joined your organisation they stay happy, be at their full potential without any limitations, so to bring the best value. Studies also highlight that if you build a team that is diverse you get better results and more creative ideas that ultimately lead to better business results.
Agnes Uhereczky: The Inclusion & Diversity programme has been recently rebranded to Pride At Accenture. What are the different projects or activities of the new programme from which both candidates and employees can benefit?
Sven Vandyck: Indeed, our global programme is called Pride At Accenture. It is coupled with, for example, local initiatives, which is one the pillars of the Accenture inclusion and diversity stream. Obviously, this also includes parenthood, women, people with disabilities, flexibility and LGBT etc. This is highlighted and explained whenever a new employee joins Accenture. We also advocate this approach when we go to universities. The effect we see is that people who join us often know about these policies, or see it as a benefit and an asset.
At the local level programmes, we offer various activities such as pieces of pieces of training or information sessions. The main focus is on awareness building. We also have activities in which, for example, we try to bring together LGBT people and straight Allies to share and exchange information and experiences. This way we try to make the programme broader.
Agnes Uhereczky: How does the LGBT Ally Program work?
René Mat: This is a global initiative that probably started 10 years ago. Through the LGBT Ally Program, our employees act as catalysts for inclusion and raise awareness for LGBT equality. They also demonstrate that Accenture is a company that is open and inclusive to the LGBT community.
In Accenture we work in project teams for clients, often at their locations. Our goal is to have all our colleagues fully dedicated, motivated and engaged in every project and client engagements, therefore we can not afford people losing energy and motivation just because they need to be worried about their background, or them being gay. Creating a company culture that embraces diversity and inclusion, having dedicated programmes and the Ally network can help address such situations, create conversations and more inclusive environments. Allies can also address certain situations or stop unacceptable behaviour, comments or jokes at an early stage.
In Belgium, currently, there are 200 people signed up as LGBT Ally. Globally, this number is 34.000. So, as you can see this is a big force. I wear my lanyard at client sites, which often creates and starts discussions. I also strongly believe that as LGBT Ally you express that you are inclusive to all diversity. So, being an LGBT Ally one can also reinforce the message that we are an inclusive company which refers to cultural backgrounds, religions, abilities etc.
Agnes Uhereczky: If I would ask you to give one advice to a CEO or senior executive for another company, based on your experience, and for them to move forward in this area what would be your one key advice?
Sven Vandyck: My key advice would be to open up your eyes. Why?
Companies that do not have LGBT Inclusion & Diversity programmes often claim not having any issue with it. But, many times if you would talk to the real employees of these companies they would express a totally different opinion to you.
To be successful in this area you would need two things. One; you would need a small group of volunteers, people with good ideas and energy to kick off initiatives. Two; you need high-level sponsorship, someone, who not just provides it with a budget, but clearly expresses the importance of the issue.