The Project

Inclusive Leadership at EY


As a high-performing, competitive business, EY identified that developing ‘inclusive leadership’ offered a potential for increasing their competitive advantage. EY describe inclusive leadership as a way of working effectively with a diverse range of people and using their differences to offer a variety of perspectives. Based on academic research, EY recognised that diversity in the workforce can provide a rich source of experience within the workforce which includes (but not limited to) differences in background, education, technical skills, nationality, race, gender, generation, and ability. And in order to achieve the best results for their clients, EY wanted to create an environment where individuals felt able to contribute their personal best, drawing from this wide range of backgrounds.

Issue to be resolved

EY recognised that there were areas which could be improved relating to diversity and inclusion. For example, they were aware that gender and ethnicity fell from approximately 50% and 25% respectively among the junior workforce to 19% and 8% at partner level. Moreover, they saw that there was a disproportionate rate of attrition amongst ethnic minority employees, and a disproportionate hiring at experienced levels of white men. This was coupled with ratings and promotions which were not always proportionate in relation to gender and ethnicity and differing levels of satisfaction among these employees.

What they did

In order to change these patterns and achieve their vision, EY first set targets. These were to increase the percentage of female and Black and Minority Ethnic (BME) partners and directors by more than 1% each year, and to admit at least 30% female new partners and 10% ethnic minority new partners measured on a three year rolling basis. These aims were devised from the standpoint that diverse teams perform with better results than homogenous teams when inclusively led. 

The strategy that EY employed to develop their leaders in this way was threefold. First, they wanted to build the skills of people throughout their organisation, across all levels, to lead inclusively. This was operationalised in a number of ways. For example, by running an Inclusive Leadership (IL) culture change programme, highlighting unconscious bias through web-based learning, and ‘summer of inclusion’ campaigns designed to highlight the principles of inclusion, leadership commitment and providing role model stories. 

Secondly, they aimed to embed core principles of inclusiveness throughout the organisation, punctuating all their processes to incorporate diversity and inclusion in the heart of their business operations. This was done with a variety of methods encompassing recruitment, development and retention. Starting with recruitment EY replaced academic screening with a strengths based recruitment strategy. Development involved initiatives such as working to ensure that client and project opportunities were distributed to all people, and providing targeted development with a BME leadership programme and women’s leadership programme. Finally, retention was addressed with initiatives such as a policy of proportional promotions and performance ratings, and educating teams responsible for inclusive leadership.

The third strand of their strategy was to build their brand as a market leader in diversity and inclusiveness, for example with targeted recruitment campaigns around gender and flexible careers, by gaining external recognition from organisations such as Stonewall, and by developing an externally recognised equality standard.

What was the outcome?

Overall, the work that EY did has been hugely successful. In 2015 – 2016 they were given many awards related to diversity in the workplace including being rated among the top 50 employers for women, and star performer for LGBT equality. They have improved the balance of ethnic diversity in their workforce, and improved the proportion of ratings and promotions in relation to gender and ethnic minority employees at higher levels. They have also recognised that to continue being a leader in diversity and inclusion they have to manage ‘soft’ change as well, for example by understanding that the language used can have an impact on the culture of diversity and have worked to raise awareness of this.

Further Reading

Slides from seminar where this case study was presented

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