Building an inclusive, safe culture

Jenelle McMaster, EY Deputy CEO and Managing Partner, Oceania; CEW member

March 2022

Good intention is not enough. Be prepared to listen in – no matter how uncomfortable the message, and then be prepared to hold yourself to account in taking action.

EY purpose is to build a better working world. It is quite literally the reason I get out of bed and go to work every day, and I know it’s the same for most others across our 365,000 strong workforces globally.  But if there’s one thing I have learned, it’s that good intention is not enough. As well-intentioned as we are as an organisation, we certainly do not always get it right. But good intention does mean being prepared to take a good hard look at yourself when things are not working and figuring out what you can do to make it right.

In part, that was the driver behind our Bystander Intervention workshops. We wanted to enhance people’s confidence in navigating interpersonal situations and incidents at work, and we wanted to strengthen the supporting systems and processes for managing that systemically.

The training is designed to be part information-sharing, covering EY values, processes and support available, and part social exercise. We co-designed hypothetical scenarios with people at different ranks of the organisation covering challenging day-to-day interactions as well as more complex incidents like sexual harassment. The aim was to keep it real for our people on the ground. During the sessions, conversations were facilitated but were largely peer-led with a number of break-out groups and role play exercises.

Those discussions were highly instructive – and at times eye-opening.  We learnt a lot about why some people speak up and why others don’t. As a result, we’ve shifted the responsibility of speaking up from the impacted individual to an expectation that we all share that responsibility. It has given us specific actions to take away and work on and has been a critical step in furthering conversations on safety at work.

The level of engagement has been incredible. Over 3,600 people in EY Oceania teams have attended the sessions over the past nine months. We have a waitlist for the next release. It confirms that the need is there, and those needs have been revealed to be very different. Some people don’t know what to do, some need the shared experience of exploring what is and what isn’t acceptable behaviour, and others need courage or permission. At the start and conclusion of the workshop, employees are asked to rate how confident they are in raising a complaint. It’s been extremely satisfying seeing the response increase from a 5.4 (mid-confidence) to an 8.2 (very confident) and we know there’s still more work to be done.

For me, it was clear that good intention was not enough. We needed to be prepared to listen in – no matter how uncomfortable the message, and then be prepared to hold ourselves to account in taking action.

Holding ourselves to account

In 2021, we released our first public transparency report, EY Value Realised. Transparency is a crucial component in building and maintaining trust. It is especially true as our business makes long-term commitments – to achieve net-zero carbon emissions, increase diversity, equity, and inclusiveness in our workforce, and contribute to the prosperity of the communities in which we operate. 

We reported 12 workplace incidents in the Value Realised report, including 4 of sexual harassment. As the [email protected] report would attest, this figure is statistically too low to be representative of the incidents that may be affecting people at work. A low number of reported incidents doesn’t mean every-day sexism and harassment aren’t happening. 

Incidents are just one measure that we have in understanding the climate of harassment and safety in our workplace. In recent years, we have run specific surveys and focus groups on gender equality at EY. EY Regional Managing Partner and CEO, David Larocca, Oceania held listen and learn sessions with gender diverse groups. We also conduct a People Pulse survey three times a year to gauge our people’s experience.

CEW has developed a range of resources to help leaders bring about real change in their organisations, and to track and eliminate sexual harassment.