How to Create a Culture of Equality

Cathinka Wahlström—Accenture’s Senior Managing Director of Financial Services for North America—dishes on how a culture of equality can do more than empowering women. It drives commercial success.

If there is anybody who fully understands the bottom line, it would be Cathinka Wahlström—Accenture’s Senior Managing Director of Financial Services for North America—who has more than 25 years’ global financial experience under her belt. One of her greatest passions is the promotion of gender diversity, since an equal culture for women is evidently linked to more innovation and success.

“At Accenture, our goal is to become the world’s most inclusive and diverse company,” said Wahlström. “Believing that our diversity can only make us stronger, we embrace it as a source of innovation and competitive advantage.” The company’s goal is for women to account for at least 40 percent of its U.S. workforce by 2020 and 50 percent of its global workforce by 2025. To that end, Accenture has been conducting annual research on female empowerment since 2007. In 2018, after surveying more than 22,000 working women and men in 34 countries, the management consulting firm discovers that a culture of equality can both make women thrive and help all employees realize their potential.

“As a matter of fact, companies that value women’s advancement often see male employees performing well too. In effect, we rise together,” said Wahlström. Report indicates that in such companies, women are 42 percent more likely to advance to managerial level or above, while men are 20 percent more likely to achieve the same feat. On a larger scale, should companies from around the world follow suit, each woman’s pay could increase by more than 50 percent (or up to $30K) per year. Wahlström has research-backed advice for changing your company’s culture to make it more equitable—and more successful.

An Insider’s Guide
“Creating a culture of equality is no easy feat. But if company leaders can achieve these three tasks, the reward will surely exeed the sum of its parts.”

Be A Bold Leader
“Culture is set from the top, so if women were to advance, gender equality must be a strategic priority for the C-suite,” said Wahlström. If employers only casually mention the subject like it is low in priority, others would naturally follow suit and treat it as such. Therefore, it is key to become bold leaders and make it known that gender diversity is extremely important. Collect data, set diversity targets and goals, plus encourage employees to strive toward these goals. Embody the change and set an example by aligning words with action.

Take Comprehensive Action
“There is no silver bullet, and one-off initiatives do not work,” noted the financial consulting expert. Instead, there must be strategies in place across the entire organization to support women. Companies must quickly change tactics if they are not getting results. “If there is a problem, we fix it. And we continue to pursue relentlessly to achieve our goals,” she added. Comprehensive action includes making policies to attract, retain and move women up the ladder; building women’s networks; and encouraging men to take parental leave—which evens the playing field.

Build an Empowering Culture
“It is critical that companies create an environment where people can be successful both professionally and personally—where they can be who they are and feel they belong, every day,” said Wahlström. These are environments where employees are not asked to change their appearance, have the freedom to be creative, and can work flexibly by taking advantage of technology. “Both men and women want flexibility. And it is not just the ability to go to a parent-teacher meeting; it could be to train for a bike race in the morning and pick up work later.”




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