DiversityInc goes behind the scenes at EY Unplugged, the firm’s program aimed at the on boarding of ethnically diverse new hires.
By Shane Nelson
When Ken Bouyer and Diana Solash started at EY in 1990 and 1994, respectively, there were no programs focused solely on diversity and inclusion. In particular, there were no initiatives to support the onboarding process of ethnically diverse groups. Fast-forward to December 2016 and Bouyer (Americas Director of Inclusiveness Recruiting) and Solash (Director, Global and Americas Diversity & Inclusiveness) are on stage kicking off EY Unplugged, a program designed to help ethnically diverse associates connect with peers and senior leader role models, mentors and potential sponsors in the first year with the organization.
So, how did EY get here?
Piloted in 2011, EY Unplugged was created to strengthen the onboarding experience of ethnic minority new hires and to give them a view into how to build a career at EY, something that many indicated they were missing. The program helps ethnic minority new hires understand the unwritten rules of career building and specifically what it takes to be successful at EY. It also brought together the organization’s ethnically diverse staff and executives with the goal of initiating mentoring relationships and providing real-time advice. EY received so much positive feedback about the pilot that it made it an annually recurring program. The program has essentially become an integral part of the onboarding experience for the Black and Latino new hires.
“When you think about recruiting talent, especially Black and Latino professionals, and then having them start in various offices around the country, one of the biggest opportunities I think we have is to ensure we have on-boarded all of our people properly,” said Leslie Patterson, southeast talent leader and growth markets leader for Georgia, Alabama and Tennessee.
Patterson continued, “When you look at being a diverse professional in an office where there are not a lot of other people who look like you, who have had similar experiences, you try to fill in some of those gaps virtually. But being able to bring everyone together and have that ready network for you within the first few months of starting a new job really sets you up for success. Everyone is hearing a consistent message.”
A critical component of EY Unplugged is surrounding the young professionals with role models of all races/ethnicities, backgrounds and experiences. Solash flashed back to when she started at the firm. “Back then, I struggled with how to go about building meaningful relationships with my internal clients, most of whom were older white men. I come from an Asian background, where there’s tremendous respect for authority and hierarchy. I wondered how to get my voice heard without offending those who were more senior than me. That was not an easy conversation as there were few role models.”
EY Unplugged ensures that current and future young professionals won’t have to go through what Solash went through. The program covers all bases of personal and career development, and Luke Visconti, CEO of DiversityInc, and I saw this firsthand when we attended EY Unplugged in December. There were over 500 young Black and Latino professionals at the two-day event, more than six times the number at the program’s inception. The event gave the attendees an opportunity to network with each other and hear from senior leaders and partners about the importance of mentorship and sponsorship. Senior leaders and partners from all service lines and regions also addressed understanding the unwritten rules and navigating a career at EY.
Bouyer told the young professionals that this was their “chance to build community and connect with each other.” In fact, that was the resounding theme coming from the speakers and panelists throughout the evening.
Ariel Johnson-Peredo, a senior in Advisory services and an EY Unplugged alumni, addressed attendees on the importance of mentorship and earning sponsorship. She coached them on how to earn sponsorship through trust, accountability and their actions. At the center of Johnson-Peredo’s message was the importance of building lasting relationships. She urged the young professionals to “be comfortable with being uncomfortable.”
Karyn Twaronite, partner, EY Global and Americas Diversity & Inclusiveness Officer, introduced and moderated a panel of partners, including some who returned to the firm some years after leaving for other opportunities. The one common thread for each of the panelists was the network and lasting relationships they had built inside of the firm. Those links enabled most of the partners to return to EY when the right opportunity presented itself at the right time.
“This event was unique in having a panel of very successful EY partners and partner-track people, most of whom had left the organization and returned at least once in their career. EY was sending its precious new hires the message that they knew it was realistic to expect many of them to change jobs, or temporarily leave the workforce, in their career…and it was okay!” said Visconti. “I’ve never seen such forthright messaging at a corporate event. It truly is an “unplugged” experience for all who attend.”
Sponsorship is also central to the program. The organization sustains the strong momentum built during the program by ensuring that attendees are mentored and sponsored afterwards. In the Southeast region, for example, Patterson and other leaders set up networking circles. The professionals are divided into small groups with a partner or senior leader as the sponsor. Patterson, who is the talent leader in the Southeast, explains, “We meet quarterly here in Atlanta for lunch and we continue the conversation. It is a formal opportunity for all of us to get together as a group, reinforce messages that they heard at EY Unplugged and ask questions. They may have questions about what to do in particular situations at client engagements. That’s an opportunity to have at least three formal touch points with me in a year. They can have as many informal touch points with me as they would like to, to hopefully help reinforce the messages and make sure they are comfortable.”
Johnson-Peredo identifies the sponsorship opportunities as one of her key takeaways from the program. She elaborates, “The importance of sponsorship resonated with me the most. Mentors are important in that they provide advice throughout your career. But sponsorship is critical. You’ve got to have people behind the scenes that are helping you pull strings and achieve things. That’s sponsorship and it’s something you earn. You can only do that by being a great worker and having great work ethic.”
Johnson-Peredo continued, “After I addressed the first-years, a number of them asked me, ‘So how do I get a seat like that one at the table?’ I told them they had to prove themselves. I sat in their seat three years ago and said, ‘I’m going to take the necessary steps to have a seat at the table. This is something I want to be a part of and I want to make that impact.’”
Follow-Up and Successes
Given the huge participation increase over the past five years at EY Unplugged, there is no doubt the program has been very successful. Patterson notes, “Having been at the first EY Unplugged and now seeing that group who are managers now, it has been amazing to see how their careers have propelled because of the foundation being laid here.” The firm is incredibly diligent in making sure it tracks the young professionals’ careers.
In each of its business units, there is an Inclusiveness & Flexibility Leader who helps set the D&I strategy for each of the business units. The leaders utilize resource groups and the talent teams to ensure they track the progress of the group that comes through EY Unplugged each year.
Solash concludes, “Once this [diverse] talent is here at EY, how do we make sure we’re developing our people equitably? EY Unplugged is one of the ways we’re doing this — and the good news is, we’ve seen results through increased retention and attainment of licensure.”
Bouyer attests, “I have participated in EY Unplugged since its inception and have personally watched it grow from 75 participants to nearly 500 in just five short years. It has played an integral role in increasing the level of engagement among our ethnically diverse junior professionals and is a clear testament to the commitment to and investment in diversity and inclusiveness by EY leaders across our organization.”