EY Leader Takes Lead on Healing Workforce

July 13, 2016 1:26 pm

After Dallas sniper murders of five police officers and the deaths of Alton Sterling and Philando Castile, EY’s U.S. chairman sends moving internal email about intolerance to employees.


By Eve Tahmincioglu

Steve-Howe-EY-350What happens when you’re the boss of nearly 60,000 people in the United States and the country goes through a national tragedy? And then you start receiving messages of concerns from employees, and you want to do something?

The day after five Dallas police officers were shot in the aftermath of two videotaped killings of Black men by cops in Minnesota and Louisiana, Steve Howe, U.S. chairman and managing partner for EY Americas, took to Twitter. (EY is No. 3 on the 2016 DiversityInc Top 50 Companies for Diversity List.)

My thoughts are w/ all touched by the tragedies this week. This is a moment to stand together in unity and against intolerance.

He also went directly to his organization, sending an internal EY email to “All U.S. colleagues” with the subject line, “Message from Steve Howe: Personal thoughts on recent tragedies.”

When events in the nation and the world have a far-reaching impact on society, it’s never an easy task to address fears and concerns from employees. But facing issues head-on can go a long way for restoring confidence and encouraging understanding.

Here’s an excerpt from Howe’s email:

I have received messages from many of you and feel compelled to share some personal observations even as we go into the weekend.

 We are living through an incredibly challenging time because of the prevalence of intolerance. Looking across the news of just the past two months — terrorism, social conflict, racial issues, shootings, religious persecution, and the tone of the public discourse — we see deep divisions.

And, he added,

Understanding, when matched with compassion, empathy and support is the most potent response to intolerance.

The email was shared with DiversityInc by an executive at EY, saying it engendered a sense of safety and pride among the employees. (The entire email is below.)

Indeed, many people have reached out to DiversityInc to ask how an organization goes about addressing sensitive topics like these. One reader on DiversityInc’s Linkedin page wrote, “How are companies addressing the feelings of their employees in the wake of these incidents? Shootings, peaceful protests turned violent, marches in NYC, LA, Baton Rouge.”

Companies should look to employee resource groups to address such contentious issues, while others benefit by making public corporate statements in support of causes.

But sometimes, a message from the top can be invaluable.

“I don’t think enough CEOs understand the importance of communication at times like this,” said Luke Visconti, CEO of DiversityInc. “It’s too easy to think it isn’t necessary if your life isn’t directly affected.”

The email, he continued, “is a very good message because it takes the side of morality, values and ethics without being accusatory or sharp. It’s empathetic, but not pandering or unctuous.”

Clearly, Howe believed addressing the tragedies directly with genuine emotion was the right approach, and employees seemed to appreciate that, even though it won’t fix our country’s problems overnight.

Here is Howe’s email in its entirety:

 Howe email