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How EY’s Kelly Grier Rallies Her Team to Fight COVID-19 and RACISM-20

How EY’s Kelly Grier Rallies Her Team to Fight COVID-19 and RACISM-20

When EY executive Kelly Grier saw the video of George Floyd being murdered, her heart sank. And she acted from that raw place to rally her company.

Kelly, U.S. Chair and Managing Partner and Americas Managing Partner for EY, didn’t wait to write a speech or test her messaging.

She simply recorded a video message to the 80,000 or so employees she leads at the professional services firm, letting them know how much Floyd’s brutal death had shaken her, and that EY was committed to fighting racism and taking meaningful action.

“It was jarring to my soul,” she recalls. “I flipped my camera on and I just started speaking.”

Kelly’s willingness to speak from the heart, and the wider way she and EY’s leadership have supported employees amid the twin pandemics of COVID-19 and RACISM-20, were featured in the July 10th edition of the Great Place to Work® Better Together webinar series.

Great Place to Work CEO Michael C. Bush interviewed Kelly and shared two key strategies for companies to turn this time of crisis into an opportunity to build a high-trust, fully inclusive and high-performing culture.

  1. Constant listening
    “Make sure that we listen to each other, and we respect each other,” Michael said.
  1. Constant learning
    “We have to learn. We have a lot to learn. We’re learning a lot about COVID-19 every day. And we need to be learning a lot about racism,” Michael said. 
    To that end, Michael recommended reading White Fragility.

Michael and Kelly also discussed Great Place to Work research on how organizations can thrive across the current recession. Michael noted that data from the Great Recession of 2007-2009 shows that companies with consistently inclusive, high-trust cultures outperformed peers.

In particular, organizations in which historically marginalized groups such as women, people of color and hourly male workers had a positive experience demonstrated roughly four times the performance of the stock market overall before, during and after the Great Recession.

Michael highlighted two critical employee experiences for succeeding in difficult times:

  • People feeling cared for as a person
  • Management delivering on its promises.

In both these areas, Michael noted, EY has earned exceptional marks from its employees on Great Place to Work’s Trust Index survey:

  • 83% of EY employees say the company’s leaders deliver on promises
  • 81% percent of employees overall feel cared for as a person—a number that rises to 83% for Black employees.

That sense of care has been critical amid COVID-19, Michael said. The pandemic has threatened not only people’s physical health, but their emotional well-being as well. As a result, mental health support has become a vital business imperative.

“Good companies have found a way to adjust and realize that to take care of their people is the best way to take care of their customers and get on the other side of the experience,” Michael said. “The companies that didn’t do it are struggling.”

EY’s care for employees amid COVID-19 has included:

  • A rapid shift to remote work to prioritize their people and their families’ physical health, along with the support needed to transition to this new paradigm of virtual operations.
  • Emotional, financial and mental health assistance, including support for employees to meditate, manage stress and improve sleep.
  • Tools and resources for employees suddenly faced with caregiving needs, including the need to care for school-age children.

Kelly and her team also provided a significant measure of job security to ease financial worries in an uncertain environment.

"One of the things that we felt was really important to take that anxiety off the table was to commit that we were going to take absolutely no actions whatsoever with regard to separating people, even performance-based," said Kelly. “We committed that to the end of our fiscal year, which ended June 30th.”

Thousands of emails expressing appreciation poured in from EY employees.The job-security announcement “was a big relief,” Kelly recalls. “It was palpable.”

EY’s response to the racial justice uprising has been no less bold. It began with Kelly’s video message, and it has expanded to include a variety of actions and commitments:

  • Internally, EY has renewed its commitment to close gaps in the employee experience by race.

  • Using its platform as a prominent, successful business, EY is working to combat racism. This includes contributing a total of $4 million to four Historically Black Colleges and Universities to help increase the number of Black and African Americans in professional services and investing $3 million in organizations committed to fighting social injustices.

  • Tapping its people resources and building coalitions of public and private organizations to bridge the Digital Divide distance-learning gap for underserved students.

  • Expanding the launch of EY Entrepreneurs Access Network, EY’s newly launched program to support Black and Latinx entrepreneurs.

  • Using EY’s influential platform to drive policy change and investing in its communities through employee volunteer programs.

    Additionally, EY is declaring August 28, 2020, a Day of Service for any U.S. professionals to participate in the March on Washington, in addition to observing Martin Luther King, Jr. Day on January 18, 2021, as a Day of Service for its US professionals to participate in EY sponsored activities.

  • EY is stepping up its efforts to influence the “company we keep,” Kelly said. That is, it is asking clients and other people EY does business with about their anti-racism policies, and inviting conversations on EY’s D&I policies too.

Kelly said employees have overwhelmingly supported this multi-pronged response to racial inequality.

“Our people want to get involved,” Kelly said. They are saying to leaders: “Help me understand how I can contribute, both at EY and outside of EY, using our platform.”

One way Kelly herself feels called to contribute in this challenging moment is as a source of hope.

Just as she expressed her heartbreak at George Floyd’s death, she has worked to provide a heartening message that EY and humanity overall will get to the other side of today’s crises.

She noted that many EY employees haven’t had the experience of weathering a recession as a working adult before. And in her view, the societal reckoning on race these past several weeks has been more promising than earlier conversations about equality.

“I think it’s different,” Kelly said. “Being able to convey some optimism, some hope, in a very dark world is important.”

Watch past discussions with other CEOs at our popular Better Together webinar series. Save your seat for the next live session now.


Ed Frauenheim