Driving inclusion in Ireland

Stephen Harford, Ireland

Senior Consultant, Assurance, EY EMEIA Financial Services

At EY Financial Services, our focus on diversity and inclusion is integral to how we serve our clients, develop our people and play a leadership role in our communities. We sat down with Senior Consultant Stephen Harford to learn more about the Financial Services Inclusion Network (FuSIoN) and the work he is leading in this space.

Tell us more about yourself and your journey to EY.

I started in EY as an intern in the Dublin office in 2014 just before my final year in college in which I studied Business. I re-joined EY straight after my studies and I went to work in America for the summer, which was very enjoyable. During my internship, I worked in Financial Services team and was a part of the Insurance department. I really enjoyed the challenging work and liked the people that I worked with.

Tell us about the diversity and inclusion network you've started in Ireland. 

When I was a summer intern, I worked on a business challenge based on diversity and inclusiveness. In 2014, all of this was quite new for a business to be looking at and it was a topic I was interested in. I learnt a lot in a really short period of time during the 12 week internship program. It was really interesting to see what EY was doing regarding Diversity and Inclusiveness (D&I) and how, in that time, EY was really leading the way in Ireland.

So when I re-joined, I became a member of the Unity network in Ireland. After supporting the network through a number of activities and events I was asked to join the steering committee. When I joined there was an under representation from Financial Services (FS) professionals in Unity. I guess one of the key things I was looking at was how can we make a difference in FS in Ireland. Trying to work out how we can use the recognition and number of awards that EY has won to build a network to learn best practices for professionals, and to network with each other. I attended a number of external events during my time as a member of the Unity network and I built up my network with people from some of the largest banks based in Dublin. It wasn’t really a challenge to get firms to come together and have those objectives of sharing best practices. In our network, we're looking into how we can develop as an industry and sharing those opportunities for Lesbian Gay Bisexual and Transgender (LGBT) professionals.

I guess the perception of FS is typically of a less progressive industry than others. So we are looking at that and seeing what challenges LGBT people have in FS industry. We're trying to understand how we can work together to either better equip our people or how our business can be structured in a way where maybe we can break down those barriers and make it easier for the LGBT community to actually succeed in their careers. When we all came together, we had a number of meetings to finalise our objectives and outline what we wanted to achieve. It has been a phenomenal experience so far. We had our launch event earlier in October which was an incredible event. We had over 130 members join us at Bank of Ireland’s Head Office. Initially when we started talking about this launch event, we based it on prior experience from our network events in the past and we were expecting about 80 people to turn up from all the firms in total. To be able to exceed that was a great achievement. We had nearly 50 people who were either senior executives or board members from different firms. Having that real support showed us that it is something that is really important, it means something to each of the businesses involved, that it was a genuine effort and we were able to achieve something. Employees of all firms involved clearly believe in the network which is a good thing and we received great feedback.

We set up the network in a way that would allow people to understand what FuSIoN is and what we are trying to achieve. FuSIoN is spelt like this because it is the Financial Services Inclusion Network. This network is primarily about LGBT employees. 

I guess the positive aspect to all of this though is that the senior leadership at EY, everyone who attended our events, and the Unity network, are really engaged with what we are trying to achieve and everyone really wants to be a part of it.

What makes you so passionate about this topic?

It is a great way to build your network internally at EY and externally. I remember when I started as an intern, one piece of advice I was given was to build those networks and do things you wouldn’t normally do to push yourself to learn new things, new skills, and new ways of thinking. When you learn these new skills, you are able to go and accelerate on a new platform to develop yourself and you get recognised for the things that you do. 

FuSIoN is trying to achieve something that can actually make an impact to not only individual people in each of the firms involved but also to your employer and also to the wider Financial Services industry. FuSIoN is about a journey. Allowing people to be exactly who they are and not having to go back into the closet when they start work. That is why I am so passionate about this network and why it is important to me to keep it going and for it to succeed.

What is planned for the network over the next few months?

We’re going to have a number of event aimed at each of our five pillars which are:

  1. Share Network Best Practices, insight & initiatives specific to Financial Services
  2. Enable LGBT colleagues to build their professional network
  3. Provide career & leadership development opportunities
  4. Promote Ireland’s Financial Services industry as a destination of choice for LGBT Professionals
  5. Harness the impact and influence of our collective institutions to better understand Ireland’s LGBT communities where we live and work

Each event is going to be associated with a particular pillar. Our next one is our winter event in December!

What do you hope the network will achieve over the next two years?

Since our launch a few weeks ago, we have all put it on our LinkedIn accounts and shared information about our network on social media to push externally. We now have seven founding firms and I sit as the co-chair along with a representative form one of our partner banks. We all have our own individual committee member roles; however, we are looking to expand the committee to other Financial Services firms. We already have a number of large organisations who are looking to join FuSIoN as members. It is now a matter of understanding what role these members will play and how are we going to encourage other companies to join. We haven’t had a challenge of approaching people yet as it has been a case of other firms realizing what we’re doing and they’re really interested to find out more and to get involved.

Where do I see us in about two years’ time? I see us as a really organised and recognised network in the Financial Services (FS) industry. I hope that we are able to produce tangible benefits for all employees within FS. We also hope that we are recognized in the industry for being progressive and inclusive in this space.