Pride Series: How EY’s Unity Network Let Me Be Me

19 Jul

Back in August 2016 I had my first interview for Ernst and Young (EY). I had spent weeks prepping; I had researched the role, read case studies and knew facts and figures inside and out. I knew that I would be fine in answering any technical or industry questions. However, one question that I had always hated answering was “do you have anything you want to ask us?” This little nugget that comes at the end of each interview filled me with dread. How do I ask something so mature and profound that the interviewer hadn’t heard a hundred times before me? The pressure! Instead of trying to be something I was not, I asked about the one area that meant a lot to me; the culture of the business. Turns out not pretending to be something I am not was a great decision at the interview (and subsequently has aided me through my time at EY to date).

The interviewers told me in detail about the Diversity and Inclusion (D&I) initiatives that the firm had in place. It energized me so much, that as soon as I got home I read up more about these and how I could get involved. Optimistic I was getting the job, eh? A number of weeks later I accepted the offer to join the firm. The environment I have surrounded myself with has always been important, ever more so in a professional setting. I knew that even if the role wasn’t perfect for me, those things could be modified. However the culture of a business is so rooted in its foundation that this isn’t as easy to change.

Since joining the firm I am delighted to say that the D&I initiatives I heard about at my interview were not a fictitious story but instead real life practices that are imbedded as the norm in day to day life. Of course my journey in the firm hasn’t always been plane sailing. I remember in my first number of months I used to weave mechanically through conversations at the coffee machine. If I was asked about what I did at the weekend, I ensured that I tip-toed around any real details. I would call my partner “a friend” and would avoid using any pronouns at all costs to ensure my undercover identity as a gay male, le gasp, remained top secret. This was no product of how the firm made me feel – quite the opposite. However it is an issue that many members of the LGBTQ+ Community go through on a daily basis.

Thanks to the importance of D&I in EY, I was able to manoeuvre through this issue. I was introduced by a colleague to EY’s Unity Network; an employee lead group of LGBTQ+ staff and their straight allies. The Network plays an actively visible role in order to ensure that the workplace is a safe and accepting space for LGBTQ+ members of staff. It does this through a number of different ways; knowledge sessions for staff on best practices, drop in sessions for those who are facing any issues, social and networking occasions and fundraising events for LGBTQ+ charities, to name a few.

Over my time at EY, I have worked with the team in Belfast to ensure that on a local level LGBTQ+ and ally staff feel supported. This is ever more important for the team here as we face a difficult political climate. The biggest accomplishment we have had to date is our inaugural appearance at Belfast Pride in 2018 (pictured). Equipped with yellow t-shirts, yellow balloons and an obscene amount of glitter, a crowd of over 50 EY employee staff, friends and family came out to show their support on the day. As I write this, we are currently in the heavy planning stages to make our mighty return to the 2019 Parade. If you are there on the day, be sure to look out for us!

Not only has the Unity Network aided me in feeling comfortable in the workplace, it has also allowed me to develop skills and experience new challenges that I would not have gotten in my day to day role. Through Unity, I have had the opportunity to present to large groups of people and to interact with senior leadership, both internally and externally. The skills I have developed through these experiences have been invaluable and something that I have to thank the Network for.

EY’s purpose is to ‘Build a Better Working World’. This is a phrase you will be met with in the firm on a daily basis; at conferences, in presentations and even on office walls. I have always liked this mantra as it is not only aspirational but also ambiguous and open to interpretation. One way that EY builds a better working world for me is by being a fully inclusive employer. The firm has worked hard in building a workplace where different personalities, perspectives and experiences are valued and rewarded. As a Professional Services firm, EY deliver innovative solutions for our clients which the firm only believe can happen with a diverse workforce. I use equations on a daily basis through my role as an Analyst at the firm. For me, having a an impactful culture can be reduced to a simple equation;

A commitment to attracting diverse talent + harnessing the things that make us different = a happy and productive workplace.

Unity is one of six EY’s UK and Ireland Employee Networks . Other Networks focus on Women, those with Mental Health issues, employees with a Disability, those that have dependents (family) and International employees. Look out for upcoming blogs from members of the other Networks at EY.

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