Why confidence and conduct come first for Bill Morris

Thirteen years ago, Bill Morris received some of the best advice of his life.

He was chatting with Accenture’s head of leadership development about parenting his then 14-year-old daughter. “She said to me, ‘Bill, you’ve got one job with your daughter: to give her confidence,” he remembers. “Do that and everything else will work out,” she assured him. Then, she added, “That applies to everybody you lead. And by the way, in particular, to women.”

Morris, who started with Accenture in Canada and recently retired after completing his second term, saw the organization grow from just 50 people to a workforce of 5,000 people across the country today.

“It was the most memorable piece of leadership advice I ever received,” Morris said.

Today, not only is he proud of his daughter, who is now a lawyer, but he’s seen his company make incredible strides toward some lofty goals, including a 40 per cent target for women in leadership positions and gender parity across its Canadian business by 2025.

Confidence comes first

While mentoring is well-established at professional service firms, Accenture’s research found that only one-third of women have a mentor compared with two-thirds of men.

“Helping your people be confident in themselves is a key aspect of mentoring,” Morris said. “It is now broadly understood that under-represented groups are under-mentored. We started tackling that issue years ago and I would now call it table stakes.”

But you can’t be confident if you’re not comfortable in the workplace, he adds. Through Accenture in Canada’s Conduct Counts program, the company measures workplace conduct in every business unit within every country. It helps leaders identify where improvements are needed.

“While most companies have ways to deal with misconduct when it happens, few have such a comprehensive system for driving improvement,” said Morris. “It creates the kind of environment where under-represented identities feel that, ‘I can thrive here because there are the standards of conduct that will make me feel like I can be myself,’” he said.

“Confidence and conduct come first. They are foundations upon which we were able to transform Accenture’s business in Canada.”

Five years ago, when Morris returned to start his second term leading Accenture in Canada, he took his investment plan forward for global approval. “Part of it was an extensive hiring plan at senior levels. I got what I asked for with one condition – that half the new hires would be women.  While that was music to my ears, I wasn’t sure we could pull it off.”

Over the next six months, his team consulted with recognized Canadian leaders in diversity and inclusion. They surveyed their clients, employees and alumni. “Our clients told us that they expected us to service them with gender parity teams. This finding was pivotal for us because it meant that we’d have a competitive advantage if we could be the first to do that.”

However, they also learned that, as a place where women can build their careers, Accenture was seen as being “in the middle of the pack.”

“These surveys gave us the business rationale to set our gender parity goal – which we did almost a year before we set the same goal globally.”

They then built an Excel model that modeled alternate pathways to the gender parity goals. It would predict what would happen if they adjusted variables like the gender mix of applicants and hires, along with the gap in retention and promotion between men and women.

Then the debates started. “It initially looked impossible, because we refused to compromise on meritocracy,” he remembers. But perseverance paid off. “Finally, we got to something that everybody on the team said, ‘We’re all in.’ And that was powerful because we invented it together.”

From that, Morris and his Canada Diversity Council – made up of his line of business and Employee Resource Group leads – leapt into action with initiatives like diversity moments, which became a staple in every meeting. “That’s where we discuss and debate topics like policy issues and unconscious bias at the start of each meeting,” he explained.

They also put the spotlight on sponsorship. Sponsors use their personal capital to advocate and intervene on an individual’s behalf. “Good mentors might not be the best sponsors. We especially wanted our women and diverse up-and-comers to have strong sponsors.”

Today, Morris is proud of the results. Of 1,100 employees hired last year, 50 per cent were women, and they’re on track to hit their company-wide 50-50 goal in 2025.

And when it comes to leadership opportunities for women, they’re now leading the pack. “When we started to hear from senior-level recruits in the Canadian marketplace that we had become the go-to place where they wanted to work for inclusion and diversity reasons – because we were not there five years ago – that was tremendously satisfying,” he said.

Morris has written a series of blogs about what worked for him and his team.

We are proud to partner with Accenture in Canada for the Inclusion Vanguard Award, a prestigious part of our annual Top 100 Awards! In 2017, we honoured Bill Morris for his outstanding contribution towards diversity and inclusion at Accenture and Canada-wide. At our 2019 Top 100 Awards on November 21, we will celebrate a new winner of the Inclusion Vanguard Award, recognizing a leader who has made a remarkable impact in driving real, lasting change. The Inclusion Vanguard Award symbolizes what we all strive to achieve: a stronger, more inclusive Canada!

The good work continues

The Inclusion Vanguard Award was a defining moment of that success for Morris and his team.

“It was market recognition that we had succeeded in becoming the best place for women to build a leadership career,” he said.

“Receiving this award, which came out of the blue, helped position us further and reinforced that feedback that we were getting from our recruits.”

And even though Morris has retired from Accenture, he says his experience is so deeply ingrained it’s a part of him now. “I was recently approached to give to a university. I told them I’d give if they set and met a gender mix target for their computer science faculty and student base. The targets would be their choice, not mine.”

 

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