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Case study: EY's commitment to diversity and inclusion

Ernst & Young Global, commonly known as EY, was first formed in 1989 through a merger between accounting firms Ernst & Whinney and Arthur Young & Co.

Expanding its services over the years the company works in a multitude of different markets including financial consultancy, technology and HR. It is headquartered in London and operates out of over 700 offices in 150 countries around the globe, 20 of which are in the UK.

In 2019, it posted an annual revenue of $36.4 billion. As one of the Big Four accounting firms, EY consistently competes to be the most favoured employer. In 2019, it ranked at #2 globally in Universum’s Top 50 Most Attractive Employers for Business.

In its statement on diversity and inclusiveness, the company rhetoric is that these values ‘are not ‘nice to haves’’ but in fact, ‘business imperatives.’


The problem

EY’s self-professed purpose is ‘Building a better working world.’ For D&I over the years, this has translated into a variety of accolades relating to the company’s support of employees with disabilities, those in the LGBT community and a commitment to gender and racial diversification.

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“When I think about when we first started out our efforts in D&I many years ago, we did win a lot of awards, and we did very well,” says Justine Campbell, EY UK&I’s managing partner for talent. In particular, she adds, “my predecessor was very strong in the market around the LGBT+ community.”

However, Campbell conceded, to stay at the forefront of D&I challenges, the company couldn’t just continue forward on the same track, “We certainly didn’t rest on our laurels. But over time, other organisations kept on a pace and came up behind us, and that’s when we felt we weren’t leading the charge anymore.”

Changes affecting company D&I drives in recent years have included the introduction of compulsory gender pay gap reporting and, increasingly, the call to do the same for ethnicity. Since 2017, EY has been publishing pay gap reporting for both gender and ethnicity.

In the company’s most recent reporting for 2019, EY’s gender pay gap across the whole firm had a mean of 36.3%, down 1.4% on 2018. For ethnicity, the mean was reported at 37.0%, down 0.5% compared to 2018.

Working with businessman John Parker, the firm also helps in the production of Parker Review which holds FTSE 350 companies accountable for the ethnic diversity of their boards.

In its most recent Transparency Report, the BAME representation on EY’s board of directors was at 10%, with female representation at 50% - equating to one male director of colour, and five women.

Attentive to the necessity for improvements to gender and racial diversification throughout the company as a whole, Campbell shares the company’s frustration: “We felt we weren’t getting there fast enough.”


The method

To “accelerate the pace of change” in gender and racial diversity at EY, in 2019 the company launched a new D&I strategy.

One of the pillars of this strategy was the ambitious target of doubling the proportion of BAME and female talent. By July 2025, Campbell says, the hope is to have 20% BAME and 40% female employees within the EY UK&I partnership.

To kickstart this goal for BAME talent, the company implemented the Future Leader programme. First launched with a cohort of 40 participants for 2018-2019 the programme was specifically created to support high potential BAME talent work up through the organisation.

“Equally importantly,” Campbell adds, it also equips supervisors and line-managers “with the tools and the confidence to talk about race and ethnicity in the workplace in a much more open way.”

The Future Leader programme works much the same as any leadership program, structured around career coaching, a leadership course, and workshops and discussion topics throughout the year. Some of the topics covered by the course include building trust and using social networks, driving change, and the concept of privilege.

“What I think is so great about it is, obviously it is there to help our best BAME talent and their journey through leadership, but it’s also actually about changing the workforce to better understand what it’s like, and how to talk about race and ethnicity, rather than sweep it under the carpet.,” Campbell says.

Candidates for the first cohort where nominated by the business to take part, and each one is assigned a career counsellor. Candidates also nominate allies from within the department to join them in discussions.

“I think, for so many people, if you’re not from an ethnic background or in a minority, you might find it hard to talk about it because you don’t want to unwittingly offend somebody,” adds Campbell, “You don’t know what to say, so you tend to say nothing. And what we’re trying to do is to help people understand that saying nothing isn’t the best way to help move our culture forward, and to help them to build their confidence to talk about it.”


The result

Validating the programme’s success EY’s second cohort for 2019-2020 is larger than the first and has enrolled 25 more candidates (A total of 65) than in 2018. To facilitate the participation of its untapped BAME talent, the company also introduced an open application system for candidates this term, allowing employees to self-nominate for the course.

“It’s really highlighted the importance of implementing a programme which will help set the long-term rather than just providing a temporary solution,” Campbell adds, “Which is really what we’re aiming for.”

From the 2018-2019 cohort, Campbell shares that six Future Leader participants have already been promoted. Between 2016 and 2019 in the company as whole, BAME partners have also increased from 8% to 11%.

“Not all have necessarily come from that program,” Campbell admits, “but it shows a direction of travel.” In addition, she says, “We’ve had really positive feedback with regards to helping build confidence when talking about race and ethnicity.”

Results of the programme, and other initiatives focusing on ethnicity and gender at EY, are influencing where the company directs its efforts in the future.

“We are looking to double our investment in the targeted programs because we believe that they give good rewards and they work,” says Campbell, noting that the company also has a targeted leadership program for senior females, and Career Watch, which feeds into Future Leaders by assigning managers to partner in their business that acts as a sponsor.

In addition, Campbell says, “We’re continuing to focus on the talent pipeline, as I think it’s really important that it does come down to recruitment too.”

For other companies looking to do the same with their workforce, Campbell’s key takeaway is “focus, focus focus.” She says, “I hope, and I like to think a lot of organisations are doing their level best on this.

“But I don’t think D&I is something that is ever ‘done.’ There’s always more work we can do to create an environment where all our people feel that they belong.”

This piece appears in the April 2020 print issue. Subscribe today to have all our latest articles delivered right to your desk