Listening, Learning, Leading

8th April 2015

Posted In: Women Mean Business

Every year, Accenture launches global research as part of our International Women’s Day celebration. This year, we looked at the opportunities and challenges of a workplace that is entirely shaped and changed by digital, while also investigating attitudes towards elevating women into senior positions.

We focused on three key areas: understanding the importance of digital and its impact on business professionals, examining the difficulty of listening in today’s digital workplace and exploring leading and learning in a connected world.

Words: Paula Neary, Client Director and Accent on Women Lead, Accenture Ireland

The research shows that nearly all respondents (96%) think they are good listeners, yet the vast majority (98%) admit to multitasking during the workday.

So what is the significance around the findings on multitasking and how is the ability to listen affected in the digital workplace? While most believe multitasking helps them accomplish more at work, the truth is more than a third (36%) say the constant distractions diminish their ability to do their best, which results in a loss of focus, lower-quality work and even diminished team relationships. In fact, 80% of respondents say they multitask on conference calls by checking work and personal emails, using social media and reading news. As a result, people miss important information as evidenced by the nearly two-thirds (64%) of respondents who report that listening has become significantly more difficult in this digital environment.

Leaders are role models that employees emulate, so it’s important for them to set a good example. In our increasingly hyper-connected digital workplace, we all need to practice “active listening”. Interestingly, our survey found that technology both helps and hinders effective leadership. While many respondents see technology as a benefit for leaders, enabling them to communicate with their teams quickly and easily, 62% of women and 54% of men view technology as “overextending” leaders by making them too accessible. Information overload and keeping up with rapidly evolving technology were also viewed among the top challenges facing leaders today.

When it comes to women advancing in the workplace, the research is encouraging:

– More than 7 in 10 respondents (71%) believe the number of women chief technology officers will grow by 2030;

– Further, more than half of respondents (52%) say that their companies are preparing more women for senior management this year than they did last year.

The good news is women are speaking up and advancing their careers.  An equal number of women and men (54%) asked for a promotion, versus last year, when men made this request much more often.  Additionally, more than half of all respondents (52%) said that, compared to last year, their companies are preparing more women for senior management this year. These companies understand that having women in senior management helps make their companies stronger, smarter, more innovative and better-performing across all dimensions. In fact, 71% of our respondents said they believe the number of women chief technology officers will grow by 2030 -– an excellent sign that people value the contribution of women in STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) careers.

But we need to encourage more women to consider careers in these critical fields and encouragement needs to start at a young age. In research Accenture undertook last year on encouraging girls to study STEM, we found that 44% of students think that STEM subjects and careers are more suited to males than females. And Higher Education Authority figures released recently showed 10 years ago 47% of entrants into STEM courses at university level were female -– in 2013 it was 40%. In the same year only 16% of entrants into Computer Science were women.

This topic needs to be close to all of our hearts to ensure we are prepared for the demands of tomorrow’s economy and we are leveraging the talents and diverse skills needed to shape our society.

Furthermore, attracting, advancing and retaining women rests on providing an environment and culture that develops leaders, empowers women and enables them to thrive. Employers need to appreciate that what motivates women can sometimes differ to what motivates men – being responsive to these differences is an important way to improve job satisfaction and retain talented individuals.

In Accenture, we are striving to achieve this through our Accent on Women Programme – which supports women from recruitment, through development, progression, promotion, training and maternity.  The statistics speak for themselves: half of our Irish workforce of 1,600 people is female, and there’s an average of 40% women across all levels of management. This gives us a balanced workforce enabling us to perform better for our clients and give more back to our communities.