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Diversity and inclusion: you can't be what you can't see

11 August: Jenn Hazlehurst, EY partner and ally, and Talha Ahmad, EY senior manager and Future Leaders' Programme participant, discuss the importance of active allyship in championing diversity and breaking down workplace barriers.

As an ally herself, Jenn Hazlehurst knows how powerful it can be when individuals use their position of influence and privilege to drive the D&I agenda. "Taking the time to get to know the people you work with, to understand what drives them, what holds them back, what they find interesting and what they find challenging, is crucial to creating a work environment that is inclusive to all." 

Open and honest conversations around topics including race & ethnicity and having role models in senior positions are critical to this. Talha Ahmad, who paired with Hazlehurst on EY's Future Leaders' Programme (FLP), has helped organise working groups with colleagues across different parts of the business. These groups encourage people to talk about race actively, the issues they might be facing, their progression, and to highlight senior ethnic minority role models. Having individuals that you're able to relate to in senior or leadership positions can be essential for showing others how they too could achieve their ambitions. After all, you can't be what you can't see. 

Raising awareness

Taking this approach further, Hazlehurst and Ahmad have proactively created opportunities to have open conversations around faith in the workplace. "For example, at the start of Ramadan, the Muslim month of fasting, we send out communications to explain how it may impact the working day of colleagues, to raise awareness," says Ahmad

"This year, we also held an informal virtual social event for people to ask questions and talk about their experience of taking part in fasting for Ramadan. Jenn has been an important and vocal advocate for this, using her role as an ally to put herself in my shoes and actively encourage others to do the same." 

Breaking down barriers

Raising awareness of 'privilege' in the workplace – that some people have an unearned advantage derived due to, for example, their race, gender or socioeconomic standing – is also essential and an issue that they have sought to explore through facilitated workshops. Ahmad says: "Privilege can be a challenging topic to tackle practically, as the individuals who have it are often unaware of the advantages they sometimes carry over others."

However, by creating an environment where individuals and allies can talk openly about race, privilege, or other differences, businesses can help break down invisible barriers and remove the fear of saying the wrong thing. Hazlehurst concludes that not wanting to talk about race can have the unintended consequence of people feeling as if you aren't interested: "If you don't know what drives an individual, how can you work effectively with them?"

For information and best practice guidance on the different areas of diversity, helping you to educate, support and raise awareness, join ICAEW Diversity Community for free.

For further insights into Diversity and Inclusion at ICAEW, please check out our D&I hub.