In recent years EY has increased its profile as an inclusive employer. Sally explains how EY achieved this. ‘Like a lot of organisations, we went on a journey with this aspect of building the brand. To do this, you have to be prepared to run with some tension between how you would promote a brand to sell and how to convey the brand as who you are.’
External recognition can be secured by gaining awards. However, Sally sounds a cautionary note on focusing on awards in isolation. ‘It is a potentially dangerous game to play because it creates a perception which may or may not be matched by the reality. I call it the rhetoric reality gap. You have to be very careful and be robust as the diversity and inclusion leader when working out how beneficial these awards are.
The EY approach now is to be a strong disruptive voice in the market. We have chosen to steer clear of nearly all awards. We still choose to do some benchmarks if we genuinely believe they will give us some insights we wouldn’t already have.’
As EY does not rely on awards to build their profile as an inclusive employer, they have developed a two-strand approach that equips EY’s people to tell their stories better.
One strand is using social media. EY asks people about their experience at the firm through networks or internal campaigns. EY asks questions like:
EY creates short social media posts and stories from the answers. The firm also encourages people to tell their own stories and tag EY in. This type of
social media activity creates an authentic voice.
The second approach is to equip client-facing employees to engage clients around diversity and inclusion from the outset. ‘This supports our project team to add value to the solutions we create. We expect clients to welcome and embrace diversity and inclusion and that helps us create a sense of belonging across the project team. This leads to different conversations with clients.
These conversations might be with global organisations that already have diversity and inclusion strategies in place, but the impact hasn’t always reached the factory floor. EY coming in connects the work to the ground level and clients know we mean business.’
The evidence is that focusing on diversity and inclusion builds relationships and drives collaboration. ‘Whilst it might seem like a soft subject for a client conversation it is one that creates trust. We are honest with clients; we work hard on this journey, but we are nowhere near there yet. Better relationships with clients mean that they buy more work from us.
Another tangible benefit is that an inclusive culture brings more talent to the firm. Diversity and inclusion is genuinely important to EY. Clients listen for this too. If they don’t hear it, we won’t win the business.’
Sally is clear about the importance of ‘not telling tall stories or inconsistent stories around the business. Not everyone has the right experience all of the time. You can’t always manage that, but you should have a mature response. We’ve steered away from a look how good we are message. You can create trouble for yourself if you hold yourself up as being universally good. The pain is doubly felt by people if the reality doesn’t match up.’
The different internal networks have a valuable role to play. They mitigate against the rhetoric reality gap. They sense check what EY are saying about the culture and calibrate individual experiences.
This allows the organisation to identify if an experience is an unfortunate event or if it is part of a deep cultural issue that the firm needs to address.
Sally offers the following advice to businesses who want to make an impact on diversity and inclusion and are tempted to submit for awards or benchmarks, but might not have the capacity of a large organisation.
‘Do not take a scattergun approach. Ask what you want to make progress on most and map that territory. Be clear about that focus first. Then map where the influencers are. Identify which are the bodies effectively driving change and get involved with them.’
Sally concludes, ‘Focus on what you are trying to achieve. Work with the people and organisations who are change-making around your focus and your brand will benefit.’