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EY: Leveraging Affinity Groups to Promote an Inclusive Business Culture

Employer Case Study: Learn how EY's professional groups support workplace disability inclusion. 

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Disability-related professional networks usually focus broadly, appealing to employees with disabilities, parents of children with disabilities, caregivers and allies. EY has a different model — one that addresses workplace, parenting and caregiving issues separately, in different formats, to better meet the needs of each demographic. 

For example, EY's Network for Parents of Children with Special Healthcare Needs and its Caregivers Circle facilitate sharing and support around specific disability-related family and life concerns. EY's disabilities network, AccessAbilities©, concentrates solely on workplace culture and environment. EY finds that this more targeted approach permits each group to delve deeper and produces greater value for its members and the organization.

EY’s professional networks create career value for their members by offering leadership, skill building and relationship building opportunities both in and outside of the organization. Participants engage in issues they find meaningful while connecting with colleagues, clients and their communities around those same issues. Networks are strategic, align with EY’s business and help identify gaps and opportunities so the organization can be successful at supporting all of its people.

EY's abilities-focused groups are specialized; each has a different purpose and constituency. Caregivers Circle members support one another in their roles as caregivers to adult children, parents, friends or family members with disabilities. They share knowledge, tools and very personal support in a confidential way. Although they often draw upon the resources of EY's employee assistance programs (EAPs) for professional expertise, the group is self-led, focused mainly on life outside the office and not necessarily connected with EY’s business. The Parents Network is for parents, both EY employees and partners who have school-age children with disabilities. It is facilitated by EY's employee assistance professionals and often brings in external experts to educate on topics related to particular health conditions. Members meet confidentially, in condition-specific groups, so they can hone in on the issues most relevant to each family. Like Caregivers, it is a family support group, instead of a work-focused group. Participation is for extended EY family addressing important life issues.

AccessAbilities focuses on differing abilities in the workplace. This is a core group of several hundred members from around the U.S. and Canada, a leadership team of Abilities Champions aligned by geography and function, and an overall Steering Committee that guides both groups. It is co-led by executives from EY's service lines, supported by consultants from the firm's inclusiveness team, and receives executive sponsorship from our Americas Director of Administration. This leadership structure aligns with the network’s purpose to help create a more enabling environment and inclusive culture for EY people of all abilities. AccessAbilites promotes education and awareness company-wide, process and office improvements, and hands-on work adjustments and career support for people with disabilities. Its Steering Committee and field leadership structure provide many opportunities for EY's people to build skills and relationships while helping to drive change.

EY’s abilities-focused groups are highlighted in orientation for new hires, at affinity group fairs, on the firm's intranet and in online newsletters and leader messaging. The groups are also highlighted regionally through awareness events and other communications activities.

Through specialization, each group has been able to focus tightly on meeting the needs and goals of its constituents. The Caregivers Circle has made a huge impact in members’ lives, offering information, ideas, reassurance and the understanding and support caregivers often need and too frequently go without. While improving the personal lives of participants, the Parents Network has also created strong bonds among EY's people and their families, built on common experience and support for one another. AccessAbilities has been a force for continual improvement in EY’s physical environment and culture. The network has helped create tools and processes to make its offices, events, communications and other processes more inclusive and accessible; developed a wide variety of materials to educate EY people; and organized events, trainings and communications campaigns to build awareness of abilities-related issues.

EY has learned several lessons through its affinity groups, including:

  • Structure networks around the needs and goals of your people.
  • Ensure members clearly benefit from participation to justify their time investment.
  • Engage executives to drive systemic change.

These key take aways have helped EY support and grow its affinity groups and drive workplace inclusion.