Diversity and Inclusion Are the Keys to a Thriving Workforce

Accenture CEO Jimmy Etheredge explains how companies can create a more diverse and inclusive workforce and how partnerships with HBCUs contribute to this goal.


Air Date: November 9, 2021

Moderator: Rick Wade, Senior Vice President of Strategic Alliances and Outreach

Featured Guests: Jimmy Etheredge, Chief Executive Officer, Accenture North America

Between the pandemic and sweeping policy changes brought on by the racial unrest of last summer, the future of business and education has changed rapidly, especially in regards to business’s focus on diversity and inclusion.

During a U.S. Chamber of Commerce panel on the Future of Business and Higher Education, Jimmy Etheredge, CEO of Accenture North America, explained what these changes look like for his company and across the business landscape. He discussed the importance of mentorship, the role Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCUs) play, the skills gap that must be addressed so businesses can truly commit to diversity and inclusion in their workforce.

It Isn’t Enough to Be Diverse. Businesses Have to Be Inclusive, Too

For Accenture, by 2025 their goal is to get their African American and black representation from 9% to 12% and their Hispanic American and Latinx representation from 9.5% to 13%. To highlight the difference between a company being diverse and being inclusive, Etheredge used a commonly-discussed metaphor about the distinction between diversity and inclusion.

“One of the things that [Cynt Marshall] said that stuck with me is that ‘diversity is about inviting people to the dance, but inclusion is about asking them to dance,’” said Etheredge.

Companies Need to Think Outside the Box to Address the Skills Gap

When discussing Accenture’s efforts for a more diverse talent pool in their staff, Etheredge touched on the challenges corporations have in finding that talent. While qualified candidates are out there, Etheredge said businesses need to look beyond skills to find them.

“We know that we've got talent that's hidden out there — corporations are just not finding what they need to,” Etheredge said. “At Accenture, we have tried to shift to a focus on skills, rather than looking at degrees. We went and looked at our jobs and each one of them, we asked, ‘What skills do you really need to be successful in that role? What kind of trainings would we need to provide for someone?’ What we saw is that almost half of our jobs in fact, would not require a four-year degree.”

Accenture Is Working with HBCUs to Meet Their Goals

To help Accenture meet their diversity goals and find that outside talent, they're looking towards the next generation of leaders by partnering with HBCUs. The company works with a number of HBCUs in the Atlanta area to help students network and expose them to what consulting and technology careers look like.

“[Accenture] connects with the HBCUs and then it's through internships, what we call ‘student empowerment programs’ and student leadership programs, where we give students a chance to really see what it's like to work at Accenture,” said Etheredge.

Technology Can Democratize Business

When asked what advice he would give CEOs to help them bridge the diversity gap, Etheredge talked about how using technology can be a great equalizer, so long as it’s being used correctly. If it's not, it can be a divider for businesses. However, as new technologies have become an accelerator, businesses can use them to connect with HBCUs and find more diverse talent.

“As people get comfortable with technology, it has the power to really open up some solutions that we've not seen before,” said Etheredge. “At the same time, I've also seen where technology can be a divider. And it's something that you see in today's social media where a lot of times people are really in a kind of an echo chamber where they're not getting diverse points of view. They're not hearing and meeting with enough people that don't look like them, that don't always think like them.”

“Technology has a chance to be a unifier and it also has the potential to divide,” Etheredge added. “For our higher education leaders, without a doubt, you've got to embrace these key technology trends.”