Ep. 8: The Power of Belonging


6 min read

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Speaker 1: Welcome to The Inclusive Growth Show with Toby Mildon future proofing your business by creating a diverse workplace.


Speaker 2: Hello. And thank you ever so much for tuning in to this episode of The Inclusive Growth Show. I'm Toby Mildon and I'm joined by a fabulous guest today Sally Bucknell, who is the director of diversity and inclusiveness for EY in the UK. Hi Sally, welcome to the show.


S3: Hello Toby. Thank you for having me.


Speaker 2: You're very welcome. So, Sally, how did you get into your current role? And what do you do around D&I for EY? 


S3: Okay. So I've been leading on our D&I agenda for EY in the UK for about seven years now, I've been at EY for nearly 20 years in various HR director roles and most recently specializing in organizational development and change. And that's how I got into D&I. Of course, I do have a passion for equality and making sure that the firm represents all the talent. But I was asked to do the role because I know how the work, firm works and what levers to pull to make change happen. And really, we see diversity and inclusiveness is about culture and change and that's how I got into the role.


Speaker 2: Excellent. We're gonna talk on this episode about employer branding, or inclusive employer branding. What do you see other organizations doing when it comes to promoting their brand as an inclusive employer? 


S3: Okay. Well, I think and probably like us, many organizations go on a journey with this. I think most commonly, they start by acquiring external recognition and badges to build their brand. These things reflect their efforts and showcase credentials in whatever area of D&I they're particularly keen to build a brand around. So perhaps around their work with gender or race or disability, whatever. I think these badges do provide a good starting point particularly if they're earned through completing a benchmark, which gives you some insight into the work you're doing. And some of them are very good. The Stonewall Workplace Equality Index, I'd call out particularly. But I'm not sure that's the best place to build a brand. I think it presents a particular view of the organization, but it might not be necessarily the best view.


Speaker 2: So why does EY invest in its inclusive employer branding? 


S3: We think it's important to build an inclusive employer brand. We are quite out there that D&I is the heart of our organizational purpose. We talk about our purpose being to build a better working world and we do work hard to live up to that. If we have a brand as being a diverse and inclusive firm, then it helps us attracts and retain the best talent. And we know from our own work and research that diverse talent gives better service to our clients and helps us to innovate and bring different perspectives to the problems that we have. We need that diverse workforce to experience an inclusive culture, and we need to tell them that they can expect that when they come to us. So it's important that we build that brand, that we value diversity and we create inclusivity.


Speaker 2: Excellent. Where do you think organizations should really aspire to get to if they want to create an inclusive employer brand? 


S3: Yes, an interesting one. That's the holy grail. Toby, I think I started saying that early on, organizations, including us, look, pursue awards and build our brand on the reputation of badges and accolades that we acquire. I think there's a danger to that, though, which is that chasing those awards can lead you to having lots of, as I said, "Shiny medals and badges", but it can lead to a gap between the rhetoric that those awards present and the reality that your employees experience. So I think where organizations should aspire to get to is a more genuine brand that closes the gap between the rhetoric that people see externally in the branding, and the reality that they hear from people working within the organization.


S3: There're sites like Glassdoor around now isn't there, where people can tell their stories outside of the organization. So we think organizations, and this is where we are, should aspire to focus in on really taking the action to genuinely create the brand to live the brand internally and then start talking about it. Talk about it with our people and gather their stories. And the true aspiration is using story-telling as a powerful way to build a genuine employer brand. You start by sharing the stories within the firm and then perhaps as appropriate, and most stories are, they could be shared publicly. And either way that brand develops and the, your people help you bring your brand to life and your external positioning of stories brings the brand to life.


Speaker 2: Brilliant. Do you have any examples of good practice at EY that you are particularly proud of? 


Speaker 2: Yes. It's a fairly recent shift for us. It's quite hard to move away from building your brand through... In diversity and inclusiveness particularly in building your brand from awards and chasing these sort of the trappings of badges. But instead, we decided to be a bit more selective. We're very careful about what we pursue and I'm quite proud of our new approach and new commitment to a really structured campaign of story-telling as I talked about a minute ago. We have teamed with our colleagues in both internal and external communications, and we gather stories of how different employees navigate their careers and progress at EY. And when we talk about anything to do with D&I either our targets or our commitments or any of our programs, then we talk about them through stories. We try to bring them a life, to life through the way people experience them, and they're not always glossy stories either. We do encourage our people to be as honest and authentic as possible although we sit behind the scenes with our fingers crossed as we collect the story hoping it's gonna be more positive than not.


S3: We've got some a whole range of areas where some of our women talk about their journey to partnership and the barriers, both visible and invisible, they encountered and what they've done to navigate those and what the pieces were in place to support them and what wasn't. We've talked to mental health first aiders about what's brought them to become a first aider. Most people have a really personal story to tell around that and what they do to help colleagues who might be struggling. We talk to people who experience a workplace with different disabilities. So we have people with a hearing loss, we have people with cerebral palsy and other mobility challenges, we have people with long-term illnesses. And the way they tell a story and talk about how they experience the firm and what's in place for them. Then it gives others who may be in the same place, who perhaps haven't accessed all of that support, or don't know what EY's attitude to these things is, a bit more confidence to come out and talk to us and to believe that they can stay with EY and develop their careers here. I'm proud of that. I'm proud of that campaign. Yeah.


Speaker 2: That's really cool. That's really cool. And I agree, it's... 'Cause I interviewed you for my book Inclusive Growth, in the Celebration chapter, where we talked about how employers can promote themselves as an employer of choice, and how they can create that employer branding and the employee value proposition. I made the remark in the book that I've worked with lots of organizations that submit for lots of awards and they win the awards. But then the following morning, there are employees in the organizations that still don't feel like they particularly fit in or that they belong.


S3: Yeah.


Speaker 2: And that there has to be a much more sustainable approach to really communicating diversity and inclusion out into the wider world.


S3: Yeah. I agree with you, Toby. I think also the way that the world... The borders between the internal and external parts of the organization are so porous these days that stories do get out, that people are on social media all the time. Our net, we have a... We have six employee networks that support 29 different communities, within them over 10,000 of our employees are part of those networks and communities. And they tell the stories, they connect with people externally, they explain what it's really like at EY. So we want our brand to be authentic and consistent with whatever it is they say.


Speaker 2: And like you say there are those platforms like Glassdoor, Indeed, and LinkedIn, where people can talk quite openly about their experiences of working for an employer? 


S3: Yeah.


Speaker 2: So one of the other things that you've been focusing most recently on is around belonging. So what has EY been doing around belonging, and why is belonging such a focus for you now? 


S3: Yeah. That's an interesting one. We had a good look at our D&I strategy about a year ago, and in common with lots of good employers in the UK, we're making progress certainly in terms of our representation in diversity and who we were attracting into the organization, and certainly also in terms of who progresses in the organization. So who is it? What... Do we really value difference, and do our partners, for example, which is the most senior rank in our organization, that they reflect the diversity of the talent coming in. Things are changing. But it was a slow journey. And we can recruit as much diversity as we want, but the... Really, it's who stays with us, who chooses to stay with us and develop their career with us. And that's down to people who feel they belong at the firm. So we focus a lot of effort on building a culture where of... That we call a culture of belonging. So where people feel welcome, they feel they can show up and be their true selves, they feel that they... That, as I keep saying, their difference is valued. They can be who they genuinely are, rather than having to conform to a particular mold. And we also...


Speaker 2: That sense of belonging, the power of it is that it doesn't actually only apply to under-represented groups. Diversity and inclusiveness, we found, when we talk about it in the business, there are some groups, the majority groups, who think, "Well, they're not talking about me. They're talking about the people who are... The women, perhaps, not so much a minority, but they're talking about the ethnic minorities or people with disabilities or LGBT+ people. They're not talking about me." When you talk about belonging, you're including everyone in the conversation, because everybody likes to feel that they belong. So for a first time it helps all of our people understand what the difference is between feeling like you can succeed in an organization and feeling like you can't, and the kind of cultural barriers that get in the way. It moves the conversation away from numbers and representation, like the number of women in a partnership, to a culture of inclusion. And so we are talking about belonging, and it's landing really well. It's also not such a jargon-istic term.


S3: It's easy to conceptualize around belonging, but we have brought it to life, again, through a campaign of story-telling from our most senior leaders to our new apprentices talking about what it means to them and how they've experienced it or not. And those stories have enabled us to build a belonging toolkit, which supports the business to build this inclusive environment and this culture of belonging that we're talking about. And the talk, it's got things like self-awareness material to look at yourself and what you do, and who, and what you do every day, what actions you take, who you choose to work with and not to work with, often unwittingly, and often with the best of intentions. But it has a... May have a disadvantageous impact on some groups. We have team meeting and conversation starters in that toolkit, we have links to all of our external stories and internal stories, and to podcasts like yours, Toby, to get people to really think about what belonging means for themselves and for others in the business.


S3: And it also has material which helps our people to talk to our clients and other stakeholders about belonging. And the more collateral, the more narrative, the more times we do talk about the value and importance of that culture, the stronger the emphasis on it is and the stronger our success is. And we do measure it. We measure it through our annual engagement surveys, and through on-going listening tools. And we've got proxy measures of belonging in our business processes, and we hold the business to account on those 'cause one thing we never fail to love in EY is a good metric. So it's become... Belonging has moved from something conceptual to something that we live and talk about every day, and something that can be concretely evaluated in the business, which is quite good progress in a year, I believe.


Speaker 2: That sounds great progress. And where would you like to see the culture of belonging evolving over the next, say, three years? 


S3: That's a good question, Toby. We're moving more to talking about a word that's gone out of favor a bit in the D&I world, which is a more about a culture of equality. We think that as we talk about belonging, as we uncover these small every day discrepancies... That means some people... I keep talking about the word, but I describe it as navigating the organization. Some people arrive every day with a knapsack privilege, and some people arrive every day with a burden of obligations and they... Everyone experiences EY differently as they come through the door. And we're trying to make that more visible. And so we're trying to shift our belonging to really equalizing as best as possible the experience that our people get and the way they navigate EY, and to shift away from, I wouldn't want to say, shifting away from, is this archetype of what good looks like in white Western organizations, the male-led organizations, to a much more broad valuing of a much more broad type of individual at the business, in the business and really equalizing of difference and how we value difference.


Speaker 2: Of course. If we were to circle back to the beginning of this interview, where we were talking about inclusive employer branding, how do you see this culture of belonging reflected in the branding of your employee that you put out there? 


S3: I think the, the way... It does loop back to the conversation about shifting away from just winning badges for activity, and to build our brand on stories. So I think belonging comes through, through stories, how different people all navigate and experience EY differently. Or have different careers at EY, but get the same fulfillment and success out of it. That's how I'd like us to bring belonging to life, by just demonstrating that there isn't one way of fixing the problem of diversity and inclusiveness. And that's what we're trying to do. We're trying to broaden the inclusiveness of the organization. The focus really is on fixing the organization, not on fixing the individual. And that's what we're trying to emphasize in our branding.


Speaker 2: So this is of course the Inclusive Growth Show. How do you think that diversity and inclusion enables EY to grow? 


S3: Good... That's a good question. Almost tempted to turn it round and ask how it helps us not to fail, really. I mentioned before that we do a lot of our own research, and it shows us that there is a direct link between the diversity of our teams. So teams with diverse leadership are more profitable, retain more of their team members, and deliver better client service. And our own global research tells us that. We know that our clients expect us to bring diverse teams to the table, and they equate that with diverse thinking and broader intelligence. And if we show up without that diverse team and without everybody in that team having a voice, then they soon choose not to work with us. We know that our people stay with us longer, they deliver more discretionary effort, and they are definitely more engaged when they feel they belong. Our research and internal benchmarks tell us that. And EY globally has a business model that brings talent together from all over the world both in our centers of excellence and our shared services teams as well as in our local client teams, and which is diversity in action, and inclusion is the oil that makes those, that global network run smoothly.


S3: So we would fail if we didn't truly focus on inclusion and belonging. So all of that diversity doesn't work together and succeed with us. So we think it helps us accelerate our growth and to be much more agile in this very fast changing world. It's interesting too, we've not taken our foot off the pedal during the current COVID crisis. We turned up the dial, it's, it's... We've talked before, Toby, about people experiencing lock-down very differently, and it's easy to say, "We're all in this together." But we do know that we're not all experiencing lock-down. We've all got different home set-ups, different worries and fears and different health conditions, and different responsibilities and roles. And so we've had to really tailor the support and the communication that we give to our people at this time.


S3: And I've been really proud of our leaders who got that from the start, and have said, "Right. No, there isn't gonna be a one-size-fits-all solution to hear what do our people need? What's their diverse needs? How do we make everyone feel they belong? And continue to do so even in this crisis." And our belonging story-telling campaign has continued. I've never been... Once been asked to let the business leaders off the hook for delivering on their D&I year-end scorecard commitments. It feels to me that our culture has really shifted so that working to ensure fair and equitable outcomes from things like work allocation, performance outcomes, promotion and recruitment is just the way things get done around at EY. And it feels to me like we're really making some great progress on that journey.


Speaker 2: That's really great. And it's so encouraging to hear that the organization isn't taking its foot off the accelerator despite the COVID-19 crisis that we're facing. Sally thank you, ever so much, for joining me on this episode of The Inclusive Growth Show. And thank you as well for listening to this episode and I hope to see you on the next episode. Until then, thank you very much and good bye.


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Speaker 1: Thank you for listening to The Inclusive Growth Show. For further information and resources from Toby and his team, head on over to our website @mildon.co.uk.