21st Sept 2020
3 Min Read

Transforming D&I at EY. An interview with Sally Bucknell

Elle Bradley-Cox
Elle Bradley-Cox
People & Change

The EY UK&I Director of diversity and inclusiveness (D&I) talks to Elle Bradley-Cox about how the conversation on D&I has evolved – and where businesses still need to go.

Hello there Sally, lovely to speak to you about a topic I know you’re so passionate about. Our World Changers report talks about the inclusivity lag – the observation that businesses have come so far in speaking about D&I – but that the ‘do’ is still missing. What’s your take?

D&I used to be seen by many companies as more of a compliance responsibility for legal teams to fulfil, and it evolved as a priority for HR teams. Now it’s become a business imperative and is core to many corporate recruitment and talent strategies. At EY, we’re firmly focused on the spirit and culture of equality and we commit significant resource to creating a culture where everyone belongs.

So what changes have your team made along that journey?

When I joined, the D&I team created products, courses or programmes that fell much more into advising teams what to do, rather than actively having the power to make change happen. And that’s what our team specialises in now – we’re not an advisory function, we’re a change function.

How does that work in a huge firm like EY? Are the wheels slow to turn?

Data and metrics can be incredibly powerful when it comes to making the case for change and informing the actions we need to make as a business. We’ve also used storytelling by making the space for our people to share their lived experiences, which has been a real turning point. It’s hit hearts rather than just heads and our culture is shifting because of it.

It’s interesting that you led with data. When newsreels are teeming with numbers, how memorable are they really?

You’re right, numbers can become forgettable. If we’re not careful, it can sometimes be easy to stop reading the data and see even insignificant progress as progress. But painfully slow progress isn’t driving discernible change – we must accelerate and the stories we’re hearing are telling us why. That’s why we revisited our D&I strategy last year and included a focus on inclusion and developing a culture of belonging, rather than focusing on data alone which wasn’t driving the change we needed.

So what’s making the difference for EY?

We’re thinking about what’s non-negotiable. Just like safety on an oil rig, a non-negotiable for us is our audit quality. Just like we live and breathe our audits, we need to do the same with inclusion. We looked at the leaders who naturally imbue quality into everything they do: how they overcome barriers, institutional systems and procedures.

Is acting inclusively risky?

It shouldn’t be, but we have to recognise it depends on the culture you’re working in and how ready the business is to talk about these topics: how deep they want to go and how willing your organisation is to be truly inclusive, warts and all. Changing the psychology and culture of any organisation is always going to be a challenge and take time.

Where does real change come from?

Being inclusive is a choice, not a programme or a target. Being bold enough to push back on the systems and processes that are ingrained in your place of work and say, ‘that’s not right’. And do something about it.

I have personally coached around 30 women returning to work after having families who want to find the confidence to find their place again. We have a number of people who came out at university and then felt that, until they came to EY, they had to hide that part of their identity in the corporate world. Someone has recently joined our firm and sought me out. When she read some of the stories we’ve shared this year in our communications about inclusion, she came to me and said she felt she’d come to the right place – and asked how she could get involved.

Everyone has the right to belong where they work. We believe this – and we’re constantly working to make it an enduring truth.

Our thanks to Sally Bucknell for sharing her insights. ‘The Inclusivity Lag’, and nine other key workplace topics for leaders and employers, can be found in our 2020 World Changers report.

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