By Shane Nelson
On Friday, June 9, EY hosted an Employee/Business Resource Group Leaders’ Summit at the National Association for Black Accountants (NABA) annual conference in New Orleans. The forum was led by the firm’s Black Professional Network. The firm’s vision for this forum was to support and enhance the dialogue around the value of resource groups to a business, its members and building a better working world.
Chris Crespo, EY Director, Diversity and Inclusiveness, kicked off the interactive session and gave background on the forum. The firm started the forum two years ago and included a few of its clients. A discussion ensued on how the companies could work with each other and learn from each other. The session went well and everyone walked away wanting more, suggesting that EY should do it again.
Crespo gave a brief background on the firm’s professional networks (PNs) and how they started out as affinity groups years ago, progressing to resource groups and ultimately evolving to professional networks. The groups are aligned with business strategy and with business purposes to help members grow and succeed.
Bridgette Long, Senior Manager for EY’s Indirect Tax practice in Indianapolis, IN, moderated a panel featuring EY Partner and co-chair of the Black Professional Network, Angela Spencer-James and two other companies, including Hilton, Inc. The panel addressed topics such as aligning resource groups with the company’s business strategy and effectiveness of the alignment and how those groups keep members engaged.
Following the panel discussion were five breakout sessions focused on:
• Establishing and advancing resource groups to align with the company’s business strategy and values
• Understanding what resource groups own vs. what resource groups can influence
• Engaging executive sponsors for resource groups to strengthen inclusive leadership
• Developing members of resource groups to promote leadership and advancement
• Measuring the effectiveness of resource groups
Among the valuable insights attendees walked away with was the critical role resource groups could play in their organizations. In particular, many attendees reported that they had limited resources but were inspired that they could do more and be successful.
I was able to catch up with Crespo after for an interview about the firm’s professional networks.
Shane Nelson: Your Professional Networks (PN hereafter) have three objectives: culture, community and client. Can you elaborate on the three and give an example for each?
Chris Crespo: Our strategic drivers of culture, community and client align with our EY Vision 2020 goals.
Culture has to do with the environment we create at EY to support attracting, retaining, developing and advancing great talent at EY. One of the best successes we’ve seen this year by PNs includes promoting access between PN members and firm leaders — it’s taken different forms via local activities, breakfasts and virtual calls. However, the main element is always a leader talking authentically (unplugged) with a small group of PN members about his or her career and advice for others. Meanwhile, it gives our leaders the opportunity to hear about challenges, questions and successes from PN members and provides visibility to the great talent in our PNs.
Community strategies focus on building a sense of community in our workplace, but also in connecting externally with community-based organizations. An example of this is how BPN (EY’s Black Professional Network) led EY teams in volunteering for CyberChase in several communities this year. Connecting with EY Corporate Responsibility, the BPN leveraged resources for a sponsored project, solicited volunteers from EY and then worked with elementary-aged children in disadvantaged neighborhoods to encourage a love and understanding of the importance of math and the many ways we use it every day.
Our client initiatives take many forms, providing opportunities for EY PN members to build their brands and connect with the marketplace in various ways. Hosting executive roundtables and leading practice sessions have been key ways for many of our PNs to connect with others in the marketplace. These often have an element of development (culture) baked in, as PN members gain experience organizing, leading and often presenting materials. They can also connect with community strategies as we host events in conjunction with specific communities. For example, Unity (LGBT+ network) has led several workshops each year at the Out & Equal Workplace Summit, while the Pan Asian Professional Network hosted a leading practice forum at the Ascend convention.
All three strategic drivers are about connecting — connecting our people, connecting communities and connecting with clients. Our initiatives are about connecting us as individuals and teams to build successful relationships and careers.
Shane Nelson: What kind of programs does EY have in place to train PN leaders and members on achieving the three objectives?
Chris Crespo: Two key tools are the PN Americas Steering Committees and our PN guide, Together we make things happen. When PNs began at EY, they were formed locally with different names and little consistency. That created a lot of duplication of effort and an inability to talk about them collectively. Today our PN guide sets out a road map for PNs, including guidance on how to start and run a successful PN at EY. The guide has tools, tips and roles outlined that can then be applied in each market as needed. As our offices vary in the number and diversity of people, industries served, and market initiatives already in place, our PNs have the framework of shared guidance with the flexibility to develop programming as best suits their needs.
The Americas steering committees then bring that road map to life with interaction across our geographies on goals, problem-solving and knowledge sharing for each PN. These steering committees provide succession planning for those who were local and regional leaders to expand their sphere of influence, while helping to support local chapters and collectively address challenges. Those in Americas and regional PN roles (along with Talent team support) provide insights and tools to transition new leaders and connect regional leaders for sharing challenges, questions and successes. While it encourages sharing of institutional knowledge, it also encourages opening positions for new leadership to bring fresh ideas to the PN and benefits individual with development opportunities.
Each year, our PN steering committee members present to the leadership teams that attend the related conferences. Each year I see not just individual improvement, but also overall steering committee improvement.
Shane Nelson: What is EY’s objective for hosting an ERG/BRG Summit at NABA?
Chris Crespo: Originally, the objective was really around the PN steering committee executing on our culture, community and client strategies. The session hosts multiple organizations discussing a few key questions on strategy, measures, membership development and executive sponsors — we hoped to learn from this knowledge sharing while also sharing what has worked for us.
Inevitably, it helps our EY team to reinforce their understanding of our PN leading practices and processes as they prepare to present and facilitate. With so much happening across our almost 300 chapters, it gives everyone the chance to get exposed to more of what is happening in other offices and organizations.
An unintended benefit this year was that many walked away with a better understanding of why we rank well on the DiversityInc ERG specialty list. I think we sometimes are our own worst critics, as we always have ideas on how to make things better or get frustrated by all that seems to not work as well as we’d like. Hearing the challenges and questions from others also reinforced for EY team members that we are doing many things well.
And, of course, we are in the business of helping others strengthen and grow their businesses, so we also walked away with new friends and colleagues and a better understanding of challenges others are having.
Shane Nelson: Has EY found that its PN members are more engaged than associates not in networks? If so, how does the firm promote that internally?
Chris Crespo: The most noticeable benefit we’ve found is that our PN members have larger networks to engage with. Those network span across natural work groups to allow greater integration of work. A staff once told me how his manager had come to him to identify people who could help them with a question outside their specialty because he knew someone everywhere. The staff was excited that there was a recognition of the strength of his network to help the team. Unity (the LGBT+ network) has joked about their strength in getting things done because of their LGBT+ connections, which extend into most business units as well as outside the firm. This is incredibly powerful in a business like ours when one’s external network is somewhat equated to their future book of business.
Additionally, PN members have been highly engaged in providing insights and suggestions for improvements at EY. A more recent example of this was when the firm expanded benefits to support infertility coverage. Both the Today’s Families Network and Unity Network identified shortcomings to their members that were shared and led to expanded benefits for those needing Assisted Reproductive Technologies when starting families.
Shane Nelson: What career advice would you give to people unsure about joining a PN?
Chris Crespo: Everyone should join a PN — if not one that you identify with, then one that you would like to learn more about. Members often have varying reasons for joining that span across developing leadership skills, expanding networks, supporting others, wanting to connect with “others like me,” or simply learning about something different.
It is important to keep it in perspective as well — leverage it to help supplement your career, but ensure you are still doing well in your day job. As with most things, PN members often get more out of PNs the more they are involved, but not if it impedes your “day job.” While they can be a lot of fun as well, that fun should be used to help you build your network of people that will help you develop in your career.
PNs are often more organic and innovative in solving those challenges that often impact PN members the most — allowing each of us to use our uniqueness to improve things overall. We each bring unique perspectives, backgrounds and experiences that collectively can bring stronger solutions to complex problems, which makes PNs a safe way to be disruptive and innovative.