EY: Culture of belonging helping to accelerate D&I

EY is embedding a culture of ‘belonging’ to radically accelerate its progress on diversity and inclusion by 2025.

Culture of belonging is helping EY accelerate diversity and inclusion progress

Professional services firm EY understands the importance of diversity and inclusiveness (D&I) and how it contributes to the growth of the organisation. That is why the firm set itself the ambitious target to radically accelerate its progress on D&I by 2025.

While EY has made good progress and at times led the way for the sector, the firm felt that its pace of change and impact did not meet its ambition to be the most diverse and inclusive professional services firm. The company wanted to make its diversity and inclusion work more impactful by embedding a culture of ‘belonging’ throughout the organisation.

“We have found the conversation around belonging impactful; it engages all of our people, enabling us to recognise the multiple layers of our identities and experiences that make us who we are. As leaders we are committed to creating a culture of belonging by demonstrating actively inclusive behaviour in what we say and in what we do.”

Steve Ivermee, Managing Partner UK&I Strategy and Transactions and UK&I D&I Partner Sponsor

Why belonging?

The power of belonging is backed by a significant amount of research, and its impact is beginning to be more widely noticed and measured. One of the most compelling research pieces shows that we are genetically motivated towards connection and belonging – it’s how we survive and thrive.

According to Greg Walton, a psychologist at Stanford University, actions taken to mitigate threats to a sense of belonging help minorities significantly reduce stress levels, consequently improving physical health, emotional wellbeing and performance.

He also found that the sense of not belonging is widespread, yet few people openly express that feeling. People can often think they are the only ones who feel that they don’t fit in but, in reality, it’s a very common feeling. Therefore creating a wide sense of belonging can become a competitive advantage for any company, fostering an inclusive environment and enabling diverse talent to succeed.
Companies can create a sense of belonging in different ways. Language is an important tool; belonging can be fostered by using the word ‘our’ – our team or our work. Asking for people’s opinions and contributions in meetings and everyday work is another important way. And storytelling is key – when employees share their stories, it can increase trust in colleagues and the values of the company. Ultimately, fostering inclusion and a sense of belonging goes to the heart of a company’s culture.

Creating a culture of belonging at EY

For EY, ‘belonging’ is about their people being engaged and understanding that D&I is not only about minority groups, but that everyone has a part to play in the culture created. As a firm, EY has committed to fostering an environment where all differences are valued, practices are equitable, and everyone feels a sense of belonging.
In 2018, EY launched an internal ‘belonging’ campaign included in internal communications, posters and interactive digital experiences, which explained the impact and responsibility that everyone has to create a culture of belonging for themselves and their teams. At the start of 2019, the firm started a “strong when you belong” newsletter which has enabled EY to engage with majority as well as minority groups and has elevated the voices of people in an authentic and meaningful way. This has included a fantastic range of topics such as sexual orientation, quiet leadership, looking beyond labels, and standing together in solidarity against racism. The campaign has received strong feedback from all levels across the business with 30,000 views, helping EY stay connected with its people and teams through times of uncertainty.

The power of networks

In a short space of time life has changed for us all. We may technically all be going through these uncertain times together, but the reality is that people’s experiences will vary greatly. In conjunction with its six employee Networks, the Gender Working Group at EY ran a series of ‘Let’s chat’ sessions to create forums for people to connect, learn, listen and share experiences to support and grow together. The engagement and feedback from this series demonstrated the power of bringing people together, particularly during what has been a difficult time.
Some of the earliest research around the concept of psychological safety stems from Maslow’s (1943) hierarchy of needs . He argued that the environment had a significant influence in reaching self-actualisation with humans having a desire to move forward to needs like safety and belonging.

EY has taken steps to help equip employees with practical ways that they can put inclusive leadership behaviours into action and help build a culture of belonging.

Creating sustainable culture change

The company also created an external recruitment campaign around belonging in which employees share their stories of what it means to them and how EY has helped them to belong. The campaign has received over 87,000 video views and nearly 3,000 click throughs to a hub page, and over 113,000 social engagements (likes, shares etc.)

The roll out of the belonging campaign has been a firm-wide priority in the UK, not just within HR, enabling the campaign to reach a broader population internally and externally in a meaningful and impactful way.
The campaign has raised awareness of the concept of belonging, and increased understanding of what inclusion means and how every employee shares responsibility for contributing to a positive culture. D&I metrics are used as a filter on all aspects of talent at EY, from recruitment and retention to utilisation on work projects.

Data is key in understanding the power and impact of creating a strong sense of belonging. Feeling like you belong, or that you will belong, also means that you are more likely to apply to an organisation, progress within it, and stay there longer. It is therefore crucial to put metrics in place to help understand whether inclusion is felt equally by all parts of the organisation, regardless of gender, race, ability, etc. EY has developed a sophisticated set of metrics and reporting tools to do this, as well as measure progress and hold the business to account.

Personal and business benefits of belonging

Research demonstrates that a strong sense of belonging can lead to better collaboration, retention and business performance. When we feel we belong, we are often more motivated and engaged. It can help reduce stress levels and improve physical health, emotional wellbeing and performance. EY’s own research, The Belonging Barometer, shows that when people feel like they belong they are generally more productive, motivated and engaged.

Inspired to take action?

If you have been inspired by EY’s journey to greater workplace respect and inclusion, find out how BITC can support you to take action.