STRATEGY DIRECTOR AT EY-PARTHENON AND CO-CHAIR OF LGBT+ NETWORK UNITY
JOEL FISHER IS A TURNAROUND AND RESTRUCTURING STRATEGY EXECUTIVE AT EY-PARTHENON AND THE CO-CHAIR OF UNITY, THE LGBT+ NETWORK OF SERVICES COMPANY EY
EY states that “Diversity and inclusiveness are not ‘nice to haves’. They are business imperatives.” Why?
At EY we believe that the best workforce is a diverse workforce. The more diverse you are, the more opinions and perspectives you can offer within teams and to clients. We believe that the highest performing teams are those that have that diverse mix of opinions and, therefore, diversity is a core pillar to business success.
Inclusion, likewise, is vital to the wellbeing and performance of a diverse workforce. People need to feel like they belong in order to be able to bring their authentic self to work and deliver highest level work in their respective fields. It is our firm belief at EY that we must always continue to push to have a workforce reflective of the diversity in society, and a sense of belonging for all staff that work for us.
You’ve written that you belong to two “minorities” – being Jewish and being gay. How has that affected your life – both on a personal and a professional level?
My two minorities have had a huge part in shaping who I am. My Jewish upbringing brought me ideals that are still strong in my day-to-day life: culture, community, family, hard work. My “gay family” has taught me to be authentic, accepting, open-minded and forgiving. These values from my gay and Jewish communities have shaped who I am personally and afforded me a very sustainable and healthy approach to my personal and professional life.
It has sometimes felt appropriate to hide one identity from the other – when I go to synagogue I often hide the “gay side of me”, and when I’m within the gay community it does not always feel appropriate to let people know I am Jewish. I don’t think this conflict of identity will ever go away, but I do feel that managing it and being able to be authentic and flex my authenticity where necessary is becoming a lot easier.
You’re the Co-Chair of Unity which is EY’s LGBT+ Network. What does your role involve and how does Unite help and interact with EY’s LGBT+ employees?
EY’s Unity network is there to fulfill four key functions:
1.We aim to make the LGBT+ community more visible and vocal, both within EY and externally. We do this by connecting the community, having visible role models and holding regular social events
2.We build our allyship base within EY, delivering education programmes within the firm about all areas of the LGBT+ community, our history and what allies can do to support the community
3.We develop future leaders of the firm and in business, by engaging present leaders and developing pathways for LGBT+ employees to progress into leadership roles
4.We engage with external partners, both corporate and charitable. This allows our LGBT+ and allied colleagues to take their experience and expertise to help other firms and charities in their goals of progressing LGBT+ inclusion
I see my role as Co-Chair as being the enabler and the connector. It is my job, alongside my Co-Chair Hayley Vaughan, to harness the incredible amount of energy and passion that emanates from our LGBT+ community and our network’s steering committee, and to maintain it and direct it to the spine of the strategy that the network has. It’s a network structure that is there to empower every member of the community to make a difference.
How important do you think it is for an LGBT+ person to be out at work?
Every LGBT+ person should have a choice whether to be out at work, though I wouldn’t say if you are LGBT+ it is important you are out. Everyone is on their own personal journey understanding their sexual and gender identities and has a right to choose if/ when they want to be out.
However, whenever I feel that any part of my core identity, what makes me authentic, is being questioned, the way that I deal with it is that I ask myself “Is this worth losing who I am?” The answer to that question is almost always no, and so I move away from whatever is not allowing me to be authentic. I made that very difficult decision with my career in the theatre industry (albeit the lack of authenticity was not around my being gay) and was lucky to find EY, a culture where you are not only encouraged to be yourself, but you are given space to discover yourself.
What steps can an employer take to create a genuinely inclusive and diverse workplace?
I believe that diversity and inclusion are two very different things – and that the first mistake we make is thinking that creating diversity is creating inclusion. I believe the opposite: the more diverse we become, the harder it is to be truly inclusive as the more complex a tapestry of people you are trying to create an inclusive environment for. So therefore let me split my answer in two:
1.Genuinely Diverse: I am no expert in diversity recruitment, but an employer can achieve genuine diversity when their workforce and leadership are reflective of the society they operate in (by way of numbers). I cannot advise how to achieve that but believe it is wholly achievable and measurable.
2.Genuinely Inclusive: I do not believe we can ever be genuinely inclusive. As mentioned before, I believe that the more diverse we become the harder we have to work to be inclusive. Therefore, I would recommend employers see inclusion not as a goal but as a continuous exercise, requiring constant attention to maintain and progress. The analogy I like to give is running on a treadmill. If you’re on a treadmill at a walking pace you can maintain that for quite a while, but if you ever stop, you move backwards (you don’t stand still). And there is no goal on the treadmill, no red tape you can run through and say, “Woo-hoo I’ve finished” – no! You have to continue to run for all time, or just choose to step off and stop running. Inclusion is the same: we as employers and individuals have to work on being more inclusive every day, running against our own unconscious biases and institutionalised biases and the more we work, the faster we can run and the longer we can run for. I believe that inclusion is a never-ending development of our stamina to be accepting and open-minded. So my ultimate personal advice: understand this, and set up a function and a process for inclusion whereby it is a constant, never-ending journey towards betterment within your firm. Accept you will make mistakes and be prepared to learn from them. And if you do fall off that treadmill, which you inevitably will, always get back on.
Over the past few years we have seen great advances in lgbt+ rights both in the workplace and the wider community. what else remains to be done?
I think I’d slightly disagree with your question. I think we have seen fantastic advances in the UK for gay and lesbian rights, however, our bi+, trans and non-binary colleagues and friends are still very much left behind. I had my eyes opened extremely wide when taking over as Co-Chair of Unity by my bi+, trans and non-binary colleagues. I remember sitting down with one colleague in particular and, hearing their passion for change, and anger at lack of societal movement to create inclusion for the bi+ community. It shook me to think that I, as a member of the LGBT+ community that felt pretty accepted, could have overlooked such an important and large part of our community and, since this conversation, I have made sure I do not repeat that mistake.
We as an LGBT+ community need to understand that we have a responsibility to look behind us and see who we are leaving behind when we individually feel more included. I was at fault in the past of not doing that and thinking that if I as a gay man was comfortable then all my LGBT+ friends and colleagues were too. This is not the case, and we all need to work tirelessly against the stigma, biases, erasure and, in the case of our trans colleagues, legal erosion of rights, that we are seeing.
There is so much still to do and it is one of my main goals to address these imbalances and educate everyone on the urgency of some of the issues facing our LGBT+ community.