Inspiring Diversity & Innovation with Kelly Grier, EY

Kristen Bellstrom, Deputy Digital Director, Fortune and Kelly Grier, US Chairman and Managing Partner and Americas Managing Partner, EY

When you couple a high-performance culture with diversity and innovation, the results are truly powerful. Learn how EY helps its global clients to shape their vision and business strategy while also focusing on emerging technologies and hear about the challenges and opportunities that EY is experiencing to further the message around the importance of focusing on workplace culture. “To grow your business, you must continually develop and engage your people. Talent and market strategies are inextricably linked,” Grier says.

Named the U.S. Chairman and Managing Partner in July 2018, Kelly Grier has worked at EY for 28 years, and now leads more than 72,000 people, represents the firm in regulatory matters, and oversees the company’s $15.6 billion in revenue generated by the Americas business, EY’s largest segment. Grier previously led the central U.S. region, serving many of the firm’s biggest audit and advisory clients.

Key takeaways from this video:

  • Learn how EY has achieved an inclusive culture of innovation across the entire firm.
  • Advice to leaders who are struggling to convince their executives about the importance of culture and diversity in business strategy.
  • How to infuse your culture with the “goodness” and innovation that derives from people with different perspectives.
Show Transcript

Kelly Grier:                       Alright, good morning. Good morning everyone.

Kristin:                               Hi Kelly, it's great to see you. So, as we heard, you have a new job, newish, you're about six months in, and what's been the biggest surprise for you, so far?

Kelly Grier:                       That's an interesting question, and there have been a lot of surprises, a lot of things unexpected, a lot that was actually relatively well-expected, just given the roles that I had, prior to being asked to step in, and serve as the US and the Americas Chairman.

                                           I think probably the thing that has surprised me the most is, just the pace of change, both that we're driving within EY, but also, the pace of change through which our clients are navigating their business landscapes, transformation around business models, as well as a regulatory and policy landscape, which is not only volatile, but really very dynamic as well.

                                           I'd say, if I had to summarize it in a single thing, it's just the extraordinary pace of change.

Kristin:                               And although you are relatively new in this current role, you've been with EY for about 30 years?

Kelly Grier:                       Indeed.

Kristin:                               During your career, what do you think are the biggest changes you've seen, as far as company culture, how workplace is run ...? What jumps out at you?

Kelly Grier:                       Yeah, it's also a great question. I think that frankly, the conversation we're having here, at the Great Place To Work Summit, really around inclusion, diversity, and belonging, really for all. I think that, that had been ... In the early days, when I was first really starting my career, that was not something that was really being talked about at all.

                                           The conversation eventually evolved to a recognition that, we have to really leverage all of the talent in the marketplace, to really drive business and communities forward. The conversation became about diversity, and really pulling in people with diverse backgrounds, and experiences.

                                           That was fairly revolutionary for its time. That has now become almost table stakes. I think in most corporate settings, both boardrooms, as well as in executive leadership teams, the notion of diversity, and really unlocking the power of that diversity through inclusion, I think has become a fundamental element of how companies certainly endeavor to operate. How you activate that, and the efficacy of that, is obviously very greatly company by company, culture by culture.

                                           But, I think that is probably one of the most profound changes, from the moment that I started. Yet technology in its various forms, has always been disruptive, right? It's always been a disruptive force. It's always been both an enabler of change, and also a threat to those who aren't able to keep pace of it. I think we're still talking about the industrial revolution 4.0, versus 3.0, versus 2.0.

                                           While I'd say there is a pretty significant element of technology-driven transformation and disruption, I think it's the next version of what has been a constant over really, the last century, plus.

Kristin:                               Okay, one thing you mentioned there was, belonging.

Kelly Grier:                       Yes.

Kristin:                               I know that, that is really a core of the culture at EY.

Kelly Grier:                       Yes.

Kristin:                               Can you talk about how you define that, within the company?

Kelly Grier:                       Yeah, absolutely. It really, I do think it's different from inclusion. We're very intentional in talking about belonging. We talk about diversity, inclusion, and belonging, all three of those different dimensions. You can't have one without all three.

                                           I guess the way that we think about it is, the focus had initially really been on diversity, and really creating a very diverse workforce, diverse in terms of backgrounds, experience, ethnicity, all elements of diversity. It became very clear that diversity without inclusion was actually counter-productive. It wasn't only not accretive, but it was actually counter-productive.

                                           If you had diverse workforces, diverse individuals forming your teams, but they didn't feel included, they didn't feel that their contributions mattered, it actually was more of a detriment than it was an advantage. So, the focus really did shift much more towards creating a sense of that inclusion, particularly for the diverse workforces that were taking shape.

                                           The way I would characterize belonging is, how does that really translate into the experiences that individuals feel, and have within their organizations? Inclusiveness really promotes the processes, and the culture that you seek to cultivate around that sense of belonging, but the actual translation of it on a very personal level is, where that sense of belonging actually exists, or doesn't exist.

                                           Belonging really is intended to encompass everyone, right? It is the for all concept, and it is very personal. I think you can have diversity, and inclusion, and be very, very successful, but the real magic happens, when everybody feels a sense of belonging, that I belong here, that my values align with this organization's values, that my perspectives are valued, and are sought after, that I'm encouraged to contribute, I'm encouraged to take risks. I'm even encouraged to fail, but to fail with the right support network around me. That culture of belonging is, I think, the secret sauce of really driving an innovative culture.

Kristin:                               Can you give a specific example of something that you've done at EY, that fosters that?

Kelly Grier:                       Yeah, I'd like to say it's almost everything that we do. We are a talent organization. Our product is our people, and so, we look for every opportunity for processes to really enable, and drive that sense of belonging.

                                           I'd love to point to the story of Hasan Rafiq, who was one of the 10 finalists yesterday, who was one of our diversity and inclusion leaders, here in the west region, who actually started his career 12 years ago, as a very young staff in Pakistan, and became very committed to, and actually got involved with driving our DNI agenda in Pakistan.

                                           From Pakistan, he was transferred to Afghanistan, to drive a DNI agenda in Afghanistan, so you can imagine how very capable he was, to have been given both that opportunity, but also the challenge.

                                           From there, with sponsorship of our Europe, Middle East, and Africa talent leader, became one of our leaders across the MEA region, also serving from a DNI perspective. He brought that experience to the west region, to the US, and was given an opportunity really, with the right support and sponsorship, to take all of those learnings, that cultural acumen, and to drive programs that frankly, just didn't exist within EY, around cultural agility, the belonging hackings that are described in his background.

                                           He's an example, a brilliant example of where you're given an enormous amount of latitude, and sponsorship, and support, to try to do different things, to really achieve your full potential, and to contribute in a very meaningful way.

                                           It culminated in him having won one of our ... what's called a Better Begins with You Award. It's a global program. We have four global winners, and he's one of our winners, which really celebrates innovation. It celebrates our culture of belonging. It celebrates certainly the exceptional client service work that we do with our clients as well.

                                           It's the program itself, but his journey, and ultimately his impact, as recognized by the program, I think is a great example of belonging.

Kristin:                               Okay, and as the leader of the Americas region, how do you see your responsibility for creating the culture? What are things that you specifically try to do?

Kelly Grier:                       Yeah, I don't think there's anything more important in my role, than creating the right culture, and that culture of belonging. I would say, it has to start at the top. What I mean by that is, not just the tone from the leader, but really, the actions from the leader, and how the leadership team really promotes, and celebrates, and ultimately cultivates, and propagates that culture of belonging.

                                           My executive leadership team is equally devoted to this sense of belonging, and really, the notion that everybody counts. Everybody's opinion matters, everybody's perspective, and contribution, and their competencies is essential to the ecosystem that is EY. Having that be an ethos at the executive level, that is then brought to the next levels, and ultimate permeating the organization, I think is really how we activate it.

                                           You cannot dictate from the top, belonging, or inclusion. You can dictate diversity, but you cannot dictate from the top, inclusion, or a culture of belonging. You really have to model it. You need muscle memory around it. You need accountability associated with it, and I think that it truly is my most important responsibility.

Kristin:                               Yeah. Now, last year, there were two complaints filed by female partners, against EY, alleging sexual harassment. Obviously, that must be a difficult thing to face as a company, and particularly as a new leader.

Kelly Grier:                       Right.

Kristin:                               So, talk to us about how you handled that, and specifically, how you talked to EY employees about it.

Kelly Grier:                       Yeah, absolutely. Well, first and foremost, I really believe in the, Me Too movement. I believe in what it is intended to achieve. I believe in the principles of true equality, and respect, and safety. I absolutely believe that while it's a critical inflection point for the world, for society, for business, for the world, it's the right way forward.

                                           I believe that, the culture that EY is renowned for, and we really cherish, and hold sacred, is one that shares those same values, so you can imagine, it was very ... It was very, very challenging to have encountered a situation where the conduct associated with an individual did not comport with our values, did not comport with our culture.

                                           Not only was it difficult for us to come to terms with it, but it was something ... it was really an inflection point for us. It was something that we were going to address with vigor. We were going to address the issue.

                                           There are two issues, you mentioned two issues. They're two very different issues. One issue in particular, well, what you read about is not always fully fact-based, as you well know, Kristin, but what was known, and what we were able to determine, was not comporting with our values, and it was not something that was tolerable within EY.

                                           Not only did we aggressively pursue that particular matter, and hold account, those involved with it, but we rigorously examined, how could this have happened, again, in an environment where we feel that we've really got a strong sense of that belonging safety, and inclusion?

                                           We identified a number of mistakes that were made along the way, and we were very honest about those mistakes. We came forward with our people. We had an all hands webcast. I was still in transition with my successor, and the two of us looked in the eyes of our people, and we accepted the roles and responsibilities that the organization really had, and committed to taking swift action.

                                           We made a number of changes to processes, to ensure that we didn't have repeat issues. We certainly evaluated whether we had any other lingering issues, that could potentially erode our culture, and that system of values, and we took action in those regards as well.

                                           I felt that it was really important that we not only deal with this issue, or address this issue, but actually that we lead through it, that we have a responsibility. So much of what we stand for, is about our culture, it is about our values, and our people expect that, and they should expect that, but our clients do as well.

                                           They very often turn to us for help, and advice, so I didn't want to just get through this. I wanted to lead through this. We asked some outside experts to come in, and help. In fact, Tina Chen, who is one of the co-founders of the Legal Defense Fund, for sexual harassment, the times that the Legal Defense Fund actually came in, and worked with us very early on, and helped us to not only deal with the specific issues, but really find the highest bar here, really raise the bar, and find the highest standard of how you lead through this.

                                           She's been brilliant, and in fact, the two of us are actually going to be hosting an event on Friday, a live Facebook event, where we're going to talk about this.

Kristin:                               No way. I didn't know.

Kelly Grier:                       And bring this into the public discourse. Yeah, absolutely.

Kristin:                               Yeah.

Kelly Grier:                       So, it was one of those moments of truth, one of those inflection points, where you really had to call upon your values at the true essence of what they represent for you, and the organization.

                                           We chose not to sweep it under the rug. We chose not to just get through it, but in fact, to establish an objective of really leading through it, and in that respect, being not just a role model for other organizations, but even a resource for other organizations, as everybody's grappling with how to really adapt to a totally different set of expectations, which again, I think are the right expectations.

Kristin:                               Yeah, it's really fascinating to hear that. I think that there's so much to be learned from how leaders face challenges like that.

                                           So, turning to a different subject, I wanted to ask you about a quote that I saw from you recently, that really resonated for me. You were talking about digital disruption, which is, sure something that we're gonna be talking about a lot today, and how its affecting workforces. You were talking about re-training, and you called it, "a business, and moral imperative".

Kelly Grier:                       Yeah.

Kristin:                               So tell us, what did you mean by that?

Kelly Grier:                       Yeah, there's no question, it comes back to this pace of change question at the beginning of our discussion. The pace of change is absolutely unprecedented, and yet, we probably are never going to move as slowly as we are today. It's just going to hasten. The pace of change will continue to hasten, and when you think about the implications, the societal implications of that change, particularly the technology element of it, academia cannot keep pace with the learning required, to bring the skills that are necessary to address what's coming down the pike, versus how we're operating today.

                                           Organizations have to take a different level of interest, and response, and bear a different level of responsibility. Government is not going to be able to retool, and retrain people at the pace needed, to accommodate, and ensure the stability of socio, and economic dynamics that will without a doubt, be significantly impacted by change.

                                           I do believe that, while it's a business imperative, you can't continue to be successful, if you are not able to adapt your workforce at pace, with the skills that will be needed tomorrow, to solve problems that we don't even know exist yet, with technologies, and capabilities that probably don't exist yet. That will threaten the future, and the viability of your business. There's no question about that.

                                           Similarly, with the workforce skills element of this, to avoid the disruption on a human level, there is a moral responsibility to bring a totally different level of commitment to, and investment in learning and development, and the retooling, and the retraining.

                                           I do believe that, the companies that will prevail long-term, are prioritizing that. They're prioritizing the development, and the retooling, and the perpetual retooling, and retraining of their employees, not just for a business imperative, but I think, to continue to meet the responsibilities that they have to society at large.

Kristin:                               Okay, we'll have to leave it there, Kelly, but thank you so much.

Kelly Grier:                       Thank you Kristin, thank you everyone.