Leading the Way: EY Leverages Affinity Groups to Promote an Inclusive Business Culture
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, our very successful Network for Parents of Children with Special Healthcare Needs and our Caregivers Circle facilitate sharing and support around specific disability-related family and life concerns. Our 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 our 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 our 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 our organization can be successful at supporting all of our people.
Our abilities-focused groups are specialized; each has a different purpose and constituency. Our 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. They often draw upon the resources of our employee assistance programs for professional expertise, but 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 our 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 our 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 US 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 our service lines, supported by consultants from our 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 differing abilities. Its Steering Committee and field leadership structure provide many opportunities for our people to build skills and relationships while helping to drive change.
EY’s abilities-focused groups are highlighted in our orientation for new hires, at affinity group fairs, on our intranet, and in our online newsletters and leader messaging. We also highlight these groups regionally through awareness events and the communications we use to promote our groups.
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 our 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 our 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:
- Structure your 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
EY Uses Collaborative Approach to Accommodate Interns with Disabilities
This case study describes strategies that EY utilizes to make its student internship opportunities inclusive from start to finish. The company uses a consultative approach to respond to accommodation requests from interns and employees. This approach involves fully exploring accommodation options through conversations and collaboration with the goal of increasing overall work performance. While it takes steps to identify and plan for accommodations for interns before they start, the company uses creative problem solving to address unanticipated accommodation needs if and when they arise. Key lessons from the company’s experience include: 1) having an extensive conversation about any tasks or office structures that will require an accommodation; 2) acknowledge them and work to address the challenges early on in the internship; and 3) collaborate to find the right solution that improves work performance. The company also recognizes the importance of helping interns learn to communicate with supervisors and co-workers about their disability.
Student internships are a key recruitment strategy for EY which are designed for undergraduate students majoring in accounting and business. The internships are highly competitive opportunities to work alongside current employees delivering services to clients. Depending on the assigned area of work, interns may assist with internal control reviews on an audit, tax planning, or on various advisory assignments. Students receive a thorough orientation to the company’s business and culture, formal and informal learning, and on-the-job coaching. EY’s goal is to prepare all interns to become future employees at the company following their college graduation.
EY offers “an inclusive and supportive environment that respects the individual and what he or she brings to the table.” This is illustrated by its readiness to provide individualized accommodations and support to student interns who have disabilities. Students applying for internships may receive accommodations for the interviewing process and in the workplace. Hiring managers work with interns prior to their start date to identify and plan for any accommodation needs. All accommodations are ordered and set up before the intern starts and re-evaluated once the intern arrives in the office and as needed throughout the internship.
While the company takes steps to identify and plan for accommodations in advance, EY recognizes that some accommodation needs may be unanticipated. One such case occurred in Summer 2012 with an intern working in tax services. Prior to his arrival, the intern’s supervisor requested an accessibility assessment of the building and office environment to ensure that it would be fully accessible for the intern who uses a wheelchair. A few weeks into the internship, the supervisor noticed that the intern’s productivity was negatively affected by challenges with manual dexterity due to his disability. The intern’s work involved manipulating spreadsheets which typically requires agility with a computer mouse and keyboard.
The intern, the supervisor, and other colleagues discussed possible assistive technology options to remove the barrier to productivity. The team consulted with EY’s Abilities Strategy Leader, Lori Golden, for assistance identifying the right accommodation. With Ms. Golden’s input, the team determined that Dragon speech recognition software would allow the intern to work more quickly on the computer; however Ms. Golden recognized that the intern would benefit from some additional guidance from the software company on short cuts and work-arounds for completing certain tasks.
Ms. Golden worked with the team to expedite the intern’s accommodation request and provide additional guidance on how to effectively use it for his work tasks. With the appropriate assistive technology and the team’s creative problem solving, the intern’s productivity increased to be on par with his fellow interns. The company was so pleased with the intern’s work performance that it has already offered to hire him when he graduates next Spring. Ms. Golden describes EY’s approach to accommodating interns and employees with disabilities as consultative rather than transactional. While companies often view providing accommodations as a simple transaction (a request is made, the disability is documented, and the request is approved or denied), Ms. Golden stresses the importance of having conversations with the employee. By talking with the person who is requesting the accommodation, Ms. Golden learns more about their work situation and needs. As a result, the company is able to fully explore accommodation options in partnership with the employee with the goal of increasing overall work performance and comfort on the job.
Another way that Ms. Golden supports interns with disabilities is by talking with them about how to communicate with co-workers about their disability, if needed. Ms. Golden finds that interns with disabilities are not always prepared for discussing their disability and any support or accommodation needs. Learning how to effectively communicate about disability issues is an important part of the internship experience for some interns. Often, interns and co-workers get frozen – they feel embarrassed or scared to talk to one another – when a disability-related issue arises. When communication does not occur, co-workers may make faulty assumptions that could lead to more embarrassment or unintentional exclusion.
Some interns with disabilities may benefit from a supportive conversation at the start of the internship about whether, what, and how they want to communicate about their disability at work. Ms. Golden views this as equipping and empowering the intern by providing permission and protocols, when possible, for starting a conversation. EY has created several tools for employees with disabilities on communicating with co-workers including a discussion protocol for employees who are deaf or hard of hearing and a handbook for working with non-visible disabilities, Getting Support, Supporting Others (online at https://assets.ey.com/content/dam/ey-sites/ey-com/en_us/topics/diversity/ey-getting-support-supporting-others.pdf).