Innovators are shaping the world of tomorrow. It’s a job that bears a lot of responsibility. Not only are they looking for a product or service to be pixel-perfect, but it is also essential to contribute to a better world. That’s why Blue Tulip Awards requires innovators to make sustainability and security fundamental to their solution. To advance, they also need to create organisations and build products with a culture of equality in mind.
Ebere Akadiri: ‘Equality is good for business’
Using innovation to bring on a better world is a global issue. That is why the United Nations have developed its sustainable development goals. One of those goals is to address inequality in all walks of life. The Blue Tulip Awards took these goals to heart and is driven by purpose. The year-round program is a unique chance for innovators to accelerate business, along with the most promising startups, innovations and important corporates.
This year the innovation awards added three imperatives as central elements of the judging process. To advance in the competition, participating innovations need to build a resilient future for people and the planet and ensure physical and digital security. Last but not least, they need to foster a culture of equality.
“Equality is not only good for business, it is also good for humanity. Equality unlocks innovation” On the phone is Ebere Akadiri. The restaurant she started in her homeland Nigeria was a success and led her to found a West African food company in Europe after moving to The Netherlands.
’99 years to close the gender gap’
Once there she also started networking with female entrepreneurs and noticed a lack of networking opportunities and role models. Akadiri: “The World Economic Forum predicts it will take 99 years to close the gender gap if we do nothing.” So she founded Rise and Lead Women to change that. With a summit featuring influential speakers, a podcast and networking events to help women forward in leadership roles.
Akadiri notices women in the business world have too few visible role models to look up to. “So Rise and Lead went from a women empowerment group to advocating for equality in workplaces and the marketplace”, she says. “We started a community called Inclusive Leaders network, where we bring SMBs and big enterprises together to reflect on their current practices and learn from shared experiences. We create an opportunity for exchanging ideas, helping less equal companies to learn and be motivated by companies like Accenture who are already working successfully towards equality.
Inge Lekkerkerker: shaping leadership for equality
Accenture already made equality to one of its core principles. “The way I see it, talent is equally divided”, says Inge Lekkerkerker. “So if we want to get the most out of the way we use talent, the workforce should be equally divided.” Lekkerkerker is Managing Director communications, media & technology at Accenture. She is responsible for the client portfolio in telecom, high tech, media and software platforms. Among those are familiar names like KPN, ASML and Booking.
In this role, Lekkerkerker is in a position to shape the leadership of Accenture and create a culture of equality. “Leadership needs to become aware of its unconscious bias. At Accenture, we have a hard target of hiring 50/50 when it comes to employing men and women.”
‘Not surrounding myself with other Inges”
“This requires an open conversation, about how we promote people based on talent and qualifications. As a consultant, I want to be challenged every day. That won’t happen if I surround myself with other Inges.”
During the COVID-crisis, Lekkerkerker also had the opportunity to lead a crisis task force called Act Together. The goal was to have teams within Accenture take a crack at some innovation issues that arose in times of COVID. This way of working underlined the importance of having a diverse working environment for her. “We saw that if you bring different parts of the organisation together, you end up with higher quality.”
Bey Cil: corporate activist for LGBTQI+ rights
Working on equality in a large organisation like Accenture doesn’t end with a quotum on hiring women. Bey Cil is senior manager financial services. He is also the lead of Pride at Accenture, striving for another form of equality: based on sexual orientation and gender identity.. “I call myself a corporate activist. Equality is the foundation for a more honest and better world. It’s about income, age, gender, religion; you name it. It’s about the chances you’re offered.”
As a homosexual son of a Turkish single migrant mother, growing up in the ’90s in The Netherlands, Cil knows what it is like to be excluded for who you are. He recalls instances where he was held back in his studies ‘because people like him would likely not pass anyway’.
‘Make everyone feel at home’
Cil worked hard to get where he is now, without forgetting where he came from: “With Pride at Accenture, we make sure that people with all different sexual orientations and gender identities feel at home. Activities range from drinks to roundtables or knowledge sessions to asking our colleagues to become an ally.”
Cil is happy that Accenture has embraced ‘let there be change’ as a motto. “It is positive to embrace change. Everything is changing, not just in the market or in technology, but also the world around us. At Accenture, we see equality as an important humanity factor. But it also holds as a business case. To innovate, you need different views and perspectives. Research shows that diverse teams are 20 per cent more productive.”
How to: equality in your organisation
For organisations struggling with the matter of equality, Cil has some clear tips. It all starts, he says, by acknowledging that inequality exists and that it is an issue. “It ranges from looking at the bonus structure in your organisation to the words in a job posting. Also, if there is no hard push from management, the change will not happen.”
This includes making equality an explicit part of the strategy, says Cil. “Try to translate the ambitions into KPIs if possible. And create safe spaces in your organisation, where people feel at home.” He also urges to take a close look at the way employees are evaluated, as Cil says: “evaluations are usually riddled with assumptions and presuppositions. It also requires a lot of training on unconscious bias of people.”
Start at the top
Lekkerkerker concurs that striving for equality requires some effort. “If you had only ten per cent women in your workforce for years, you’re not going to magically change that overnight. It starts with management. If leadership is not communicating they want to go 50/50, then it simply won’t work. It’s also a good idea to have an agreement with the recruitment agency you’re using. Challenge them, tell them you’re not willing to work with them if they don’t supply a diverse team.”
After acknowledging the need for diversity, Akadiri says it is then time to fully commit to equality. “If you commit to something, you’re halfway there. Leadership needs to share their metrics to the entire workforce. They need to show where they stand on equality. Then it is time to take action. Measurable actions, to improve policies. Use blind resumes. Make sure the teams that are hiring are diverse and make sure the process is transparent and that there’s accountability.”
One practical tip for companies to improve equality that all three are sharing is to take a long hard look at job postings. Akadiri: “Sometimes the way you position your job is making it impossible for women to apply. Language is powerful. If women are not sure they possess what you are asking for, they will not apply. If your writing is too technical, most women will think they don’t have what it takes. It’s about motivation.”
Cil agrees it all starts at striking the right tone in a job posting: “When you use a lot of words that appeal to cis heterosexual men, you exclude many people.” According to him, it starts even with something simple like the title of the job you’re looking to fill. “Try to make it as neutral as possible. And also keep in mind that women tend to be more drawn to other benefits than men.”
Striving for equality will require some research, and might cause some friction, says Cil. “Every change in an organisation will see some resistance. That’s also part of human nature. I’m all for a chance. But the minute Facebook changes its app slightly, I’m also thinking: ‘did they have to do that?’. It is important to recognise this resistance and to acknowledge that it is part of change.”
Equality and innovation in Blue Tulip Awards
Lekkerkerker wishes to enact change by creating a level playing field for anyone participating. Which is why she’s happy that this years’ Blue Tulip Awards have equality as one of their core principles. Lekkerkerker: “Equality pushes innovation and sustainability. We see it as a multiplier. We want people to have that innovation mindset. But it needs to be nurtured, or no good ideas will come off it.”
Lekkerkerker witnessed this process up close as a lead of her COVID-task force. Several good ideas only got better because different people put their minds to it. “A technician offered a solution for crowd management, to find a solution for rush hour in stores, supermarkets or in the office during COVID. The idea got better by adding a behavioural specialist to the team. Adding another engineer won’t lead to new insights.”
No innovation without equality
Akadiri is excited that the Blue Tulip Awards embrace equality as one of the main drivers for innovation: “We can’t be talking about an innovation award without equality and diversity”, she says. “Equality is not only good for business, it is also good for humanity.”
Akadiri: “The Blue Tulip Awards want to make our lives better and easier. so they need to recognise companies who are making the world better. It is a human rights issue. If there is no equality, people do not bring their best self to work. And then innovation is lost.”