If there’s a way to transcend the goal of a diverse and inclusive corporate culture, EY has found it.

The company calls it “belonging.”

At EY, it means the company focuses on everything: gender, equality and cultural diversity simultaneously with the expectation that there will be trial and error. And over the years, EY Oceania, which covers Australia and New Zealand, has received high praise and awards for its diversity planning and success.

“Belonging is where we’ve gone,” says Lynn Kraus, YPO member and Strategy and Transactions Partner with EY Oceania. “It’s next level. As a company, you can achieve that sense of belonging. It has not been easy, but we have worked hard, remained consistent, and as a result, we have done well.”

Every company wants a diverse and inclusive culture; few know how to achieve it. Kraus says it needs to begin with a committed leadership team.

Diversity and inclusion are high priorities for EY locally and globally. Just a few years ago, the company was in 35th position in Australia for companies ranked in D&I. It’s come a long way since.

Ten years ago, Kraus was the first female executive on the management team, handling human resources. She says there were times when it felt like she was there as a token, and she quickly learned there would be strength in numbers. So, Kraus began to advocate and sponsor more women into leadership roles.

This was where EY began its corporate culture transformation — with gender diversity. It’s easy to spot but still can be difficult to achieve in a profession that historically has been male dominated.

Recently, in The Australian Financial Review, EY was recognized for its partner promotions. For the first time ever, more than half (55%) of the 31 promotions to partner were females.

Building your business case

It’s easy to make a business case about why your company should work toward a more diverse and inclusive environment.

McKinsey & Company has laid out some compelling research. For example, if your company achieves gender diversity, you can improve business performance by about 10%. If you achieve cultural diversity, performance can be improved 35%.

“There is an absolute business imperative about why we need to retain women in the workforce,” Kraus says. “We knew that if we got this right, it’s a real business advantage for us.”

So EY got to work. Here are some steps EY took to dial up people’s understanding and knowledge of diversity and inclusion:

  • Set policies. This is the easy part; it’s moving from paper that the real journey begins.
  • Began a reverse mentoring program, showing senior officials what it’s like to work or function in another employee’s shoes.
  • Installed a performance feedback program. This involved a touch points review program, looking at every process within the business, where a decision was made that would impact an employee, from hiring to job selection to learning and development programs. EY wanted to make sure that bias was removed at every decision point impacting an employee’s career journey.
  • Studied reviews. Roundtable reviews came into play at EY, involving an independent party coming in to listen objectively during an employee’s review process.
  • Audited the pay scale. Tied to the roundtable reviews, EY officials looked at everything, including pay and how subjectivity or bias could play into this.
  • Set targets of where the company should be and held leaders as accountable for these as any other business target.
As a company, you can achieve that sense of belonging. It has not been easy, but we have worked hard, remained consistent, and as a result, we have done well. ”
— Lynn Kraus, Strategy and Transactions Partner, EY Oceania share twitter

EY found some issues, which it has worked hard to fix. For example, while the proper policies were in place, some value and measurements were wrong. Kraus mentioned that when EY started this review, the company noted that one particular business unit had never rated its part-time female employees higher than a 3 (out of 5). So, while these employees’ performance never changed — and in fact they may have excelled — the thing that prevented them from achieving a higher rating simply was their schedule and number of working hours. EY had to step back and focus on changing how it measured success in a role, and this meant moving from inputs to focusing on outputs and outcomes.

This was an aha! moment.

“It is important for organizations to get into the detail on these matters,” she says. “Everything can look fine at 10,000 feet, but if you want to ensure you are moving the needle for your organization, it is an absolute imperative that you dive into the detail. It is there that you will find out what is really going on in the organization.”

Another aha! moment: Even though the company achieves a 50/50 recruitment balance at its graduate ranks, the company wasn’t retaining women higher up on the food chain. When senior women would exit, they would largely be replaced by senior men. At the time, women saw very few role models at the executive level.

So as employees left to start families or move elsewhere professionally, EY would miss out on the development of business knowledge and expertise that went out the door with these women.

“We needed more women to come through those senior ranks,” Kraus says. Luckily for EY Oceania, it has now achieved 50/50 gender balance on its executive team.

Where to start

Thankfully, the Australian Workplace Equality Index sets very strict criteria for the top 50 companies to be ranked with regard to inclusivity. EY wanted to work toward this recognition. EY has been an Employer of Choice for Women since the inception of the AWEI award.  When AWEI introduced a similar program for LGBTIQ inclusion, EY set its sights on it. There’s an annual awards ceremony for LGBTIQ inclusion. And even though EY Oceania knew it wasn’t on the list, it attended the ceremony every year to learn from other companies that were doing things right.

It took six years for EY Oceania to go from a standing start to be recognized as Employer of the Year for LGBTIQ inclusivity. That was in 2018, one year after Kraus was named the Executive Sponsor of the Year, which recognizes the executive in Australia who has done the most to support LGBTIQ inclusion in the workplace.

“Our people wanted this — we have a very active LGBTIQ employee network – and leadership had to catch up,” Kraus says. “We created an environment that allowed people to have open conversations, ask questions and learn and at the same time acknowledge that we may get things wrong.”

Achieving cultural diversity has been the slowest to simmer in the company’s strategy and comes with the most challenges, Kraus says. But according to research, getting it right can create even greater rewards for organizations and communities.

Left, Lynn Kraus

The fact is there’s just not much cultural diversity in leadership in Australia. A few years ago, Australia named a new Race Discrimination Commissioner, Tim Soutphommasane, who has come out in support of equalizing society and government, in terms of race and culture. Kraus credits Soutphommasane with being a big driver of change in Australia.

“Actions speak louder than words, and the reality is that we didn’t have the resources to invest in everything,” she says.

But EY has opened a new chapter of diversity and inclusion, doing cultural exchanges at every location and office, celebrating employees’ roots and where they’re from. The program is called Cultural Diversity at EY.

“[Diversity] is a constant,” Kraus says. “We are not complacent. You can’t think you’ve got it because the moment you do, you don’t have it anymore.”

 EY is YPO’s strategic learning advisor.

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