13 Sep 2018

Developing purpose-driven leaders

13 Sep 2018
Related topics Global review

Recruiting, managing and retaining top talent, and developing high-performing teams and outstanding leaders are some of the top concerns of all types of organizations around the world.

Certainly for us, our main assets are the combined skills and knowledge of our people. So everything we do for our 260,000 people across 150 countries is a vital part of building a better working world. We aim to give all of our people interesting, challenging work that allows them continuously to develop their skills and knowledge. And to do so in an ethical environment that strongly supports their personal integrity.

We do this by:

  1. Fostering the right culture
  2. Engaging our people
  3. Creating the workforce of the future
  4. Attracting the best talent
  5. Ensuring a diverse and inclusive environment
  6. Building lifelong relationships

Our promise to each of our people is this: whenever you join, however long you stay, the exceptional EY experience lasts a lifetime.

(Chapter breaker)

Global review

Fostering the right culture

The culture at EY is unique. It starts with our values, our commitment to quality, our global mindset and our commitment to diversity and inclusiveness. And it is expressed most fully in our purpose of building a better working world.

To ensure that our culture remains healthy, promotes the right behavior and helps to build trust in our organization, our profession and businesses broadly, we track our people’s perceptions and experiences through the EY Global People Survey. In addition, over the next year we plan to conduct a full culture assessment of our entire global organization.

Our purpose – building a better working world

Our purpose is building a better working world. The insights and quality services we deliver help build trust and confidence in the capital markets and in economies the world over. We develop outstanding leaders who team to deliver on our promises to all of our stakeholders. In so doing, we play a critical role in building a better working world for our people, for our clients and for our communities.  

Our purpose defines why we exist as an organization and helps our people understand the significance of their work. We believe that every audit, every tax return, every advisory opportunity, every interaction with a client or colleague should make the working world better than it was before.

In this transformative age, when the world is becoming more complex and harder to navigate all the time, our purpose acts as our North Star – a fixed point to get our bearings from.

Purpose is important because when you provide people with context you empower them and engage them, leading to greater commitment, greater motivation and better results for clients.

Each year we celebrate our purpose through a global recognition program called Better Begins With You. We award US$1m across four categories to further develop programs of teams and individuals who have found inspiring and impactful ways to bring our purpose to life.

It lets us recognize the most spectacular things our people are doing every day to create a better working world for clients and communities. Recipients of the award have included those who have built leading-edge software tools for clients, developed refugee-assistance programs in Germany, and created educational support programs for disadvantaged South African girls.

Our values

Our values define who we are, guiding our actions and behavior. They influence the way we work with each other, the way we serve our clients and how we engage with our communities. We are:

  • People who demonstrate integrity, respect and teaming
  • People with energy, enthusiasm and the courage to lead
  • People who build relationships based on doing the right thing

Developing a global mindset 

Our clients need integrated, cross-border service and the same high quality wherever they do business around the world. Our people want to build careers in an organization that’s global in its outlook and inclusive in its approach.

(Chapter breaker)

Global review

Engaging our people

Our people are a strategic asset.

At EY, we think of “engagement” as a combination of factors – pride, advocacy, commitment and satisfaction. We combine these into an “engagement index” that is central to our biennial Global People Survey (GPS) – one of our most important management measurement tools, which we use across all levels of our organization. We have been conducting these surveys of all of our people globally since 2005, and each year we use sophisticated data analysis to understand the link between our people’s answers and how our business performs.

Data analysis on the results of EY’s GPS demonstrates that higher engagement leads to better business results. Our most engaged teams significantly outperform less engaged ones. They have 8 percentage points higher retention of people, 4 percentage points higher revenue growth per person and 8 percentage points higher gross margin – they retain people longer and their top- and bottom-line performance is better.

For the past several years, our engagement index has been at 73%, which is good – and at historical highs – but every year we aim to improve. We prioritize action items to drive positive change, such as motivating and inspiring our people through better conversations, career progression and enabling everyone to be part of a counselling family to increase satisfaction and belonging.

Global People Survey results

  FY16 FY17 FY18
Total survey participants 178,000 193,000 203,000
Participants as % of headcount 81% 82% 82%
Engagement index score 73% 73% 73%
Pride in EY score* 84% 84%
* “I am proud to work for EY” has remained constant at 84% over the past three years. This is a key driver of engagement, recruitment referrals and retention.
(Chapter breaker)

Global review

Creating the workforce of the future

Organizations today – EY clients as well as us – are seeing some of the biggest changes the workplace has ever seen, brought about by advances in machine intelligence and evolving attitudes to work.

To succeed today, organizations need to adapt to these changes; we have a responsibility to equip our people with the right tools and skills, and anticipate the skills they will need in the future.

It’s an issue at the top of the agenda for CEOs and board members everywhere, and an important area of focus for us, too – as our continued success depends not only on having people with the right mix of skills today, but also in the future.

Silvia Hernandez on the workforce of the future

Our strategic talent-planning program proactively considers the impacts of disruption on EY and ensures that we continue to attract, develop and retain the talent we need. We have a deep commitment to enhancing the growth and development of current EY people, as well as hiring new people with right skills for the future.

Today, learning must happen at a higher pace than change. Workplace learning is now a key differentiator between businesses that thrive and those that don’t. This year, we provided our people with 13 million hours of formal education and spent more than US$500m on training, complemented by coaching and providing our people with the right work experiences. We are increasingly investing in online learning, and this year provided more than 2,500 course across a broad range of business topics through leading online learning platform. Formal learning is the baseline complemented, and significantly enhanced by coaching, mentoring and ensuring our people get the right work experiences.

Formal learning

  FY16 FY17 FY18
Learning hours delivered (million) 12 12 13
Learning hours per person 54 51 51
Total investment in learning (million) US$500 US$500 US$500

We are always looking at innovative learning ideas, and this year, we’ve rolled out a new program – EY Badges – where our people can earn digital credentials in skills that differentiate them in the market, such as artificial intelligence, blockchain, innovation and analytics.

Badges are earned – which can be displayed internally and externally, and shared on social media profiles – by completing relevant learning from various providers, gaining experience and sharing their knowledge with others. The badges come in four categories: bronze, silver, gold and platinum – and the standards for getting them are consistent around the world.

Badges can help match our people with engagements and projects based on verified skills – which, in turn, will enable our teams to provide better results for EY clients. And by building in incentives to develop the skills of the future, we’re creating a workforce that’s ready to handle whatever may come.

Lydia Collett and Joanna Caubalejo-Tan on Badges

Career progression

We provide the support, experiences and opportunities for people to build their career at EY and beyond. In FY18, we were proud to promote 33,888 people and 747 people were promoted to partner across our member firms.


  FY16 FY17 FY18
Total promotions 32,192 31,950 33,888
Promotions to partner 714 669 747
% of women among new partners 29 30 29
% of promoted partners from emerging markets 35 36 32

To further support EY people, this year we also launched LEAD, a new global approach to career, development and performance, with future-focused career conversations, regular and useful feedback and ongoing insight into their performance.

LEAD provides greater transparency and redirects the use of time, so our people can spend more time having meaningful conversations that shape their futures. It will enable our people to gain the skills, insights and confidence they need to be agile, dynamic leaders who ask better questions, grow our businesses and our clients’ businesses, and build a better working world.

Even in its first year, LEAD is having an impact. People are getting more feedback – 1.7 million pieces across EY, which is three times the amount of feedback they had the year before. And they are getting more timely feedback. Instead of having to wait until the end of the year, feedback discussions are spread throughout the year. We intend to build off our early success, by focusing on more relevant feedback and strategic career discussions in the coming year.

Tapping into the gig economy

We continue to develop our workforce by moving toward one that provides us with the flexibility we need to meet our needs and our clients’ needs through a broader range of people. EY is tapping into the “gig” economy – where people who are seeking exciting projects and who possess specialty skills want to work with EY on a freelance basis.

GigNow is the global solution that is propelling EY forward into the future of work by building a more flexible workforce model that is able to quickly tap into the best talent around the world, when and where we need it. This agile mix of full-time employees and contractors will ensure EY remains adaptable and on the leading edge of innovation. It offers EY direct access to the world’s top contractor talent at a lower cost, faster rate and it gives us the ability to efficiently scale our talent base in response to capacity, skills and project needs.

Carl Smith on GigNow

Creating a flexible environment with EY@Work

EY@Work is the evolution of our workplace – in terms of physical space, technology and ways of working. It promotes a flexible environment that enables our people to deliver exceptional client service, individually and through high-performing teams, and helps to attract and retain the highly talented professionals. It provides energizing and efficient workspaces supported by current technology that enables our people to work easily both in and out of the office.

EY is a long-time proponent of flexible work environments that vary from working remotely or outside typical business hours to formal flexible work arrangements involving reduced or seasonal schedules. As the gig economy grows, it’s even more important to examine what flexibility means for our people and organization.

We’ve also introduced a suite of new technology tools, such as telepresence and Skype for Business, to help our people work simpler, faster and smarter. These tools help our teams collaborate globally, and they improve efficiency and productivity, giving our people more freedom to work how and when they want.

(Chapter breaker)

Global review

Attracting talent

In order to help clients, it’s vital that we attract the best talent to EY.

Last year about 2 million people applied to work at EY member firms around the world, demonstrating how attractive an employer we are on a global basis. We hired almost 65,000 people, which works out to hiring a person every eight minutes around the clock, 365 days a year.

Global recruits and applicants

  FY16 FY17 FY18
Global job applicants 1,803,544 1,695,789 1,831,174
Global permanent hires 55,023 59,040 62,405

We also monitor our “attractiveness” through a range of external benchmarks. In 2017, we were once again ranked the most attractive professional-services employer among business students globally by Universum, and came in fourth overall; behind Google, Apple and Goldman Sachs. For the first time, Universum also named us among the top 50 most attractive employers for engineering and IT students, at number 49, demonstrating the new skills that we are recruiting and the changing nature of services we offer clients.

Universum World’s Most Attractive Employer ranking – business students

  2016 2017 2018
Among Big Four* 1 1 1
Overall 3 4 3
* The Big Four professional services organizations are Deloitte, EY, KPMG and PwC.

Universum World’s Most Attractive Employer ranking – science and engineering students

  2016 2017 2018
Among Big Four* 3 2 2
Overall 52 49 37
* The Big Four professional services organizations are Deloitte, EY, KPMG and PwC.

In 2017, the Great Place To Work Institute once again named EY one of the 25 Best Multinational Workplaces for the third straight year – and the only one of the Big Four to make the list.

Great Places To Work Institute – 25 Best Multinational Workplaces ranking*

  2015 2016 2017
Overall 23 21 17
* Survey based on feedback from our own people.

Typically, about one-fifth of our people leave us each year; rates vary across services and geographies of course. While this may seem high by the standards of other sectors, in professional services, this level of turnover is normal, reflecting the high demand for our people’s skills, especially in stronger economic times. We monitor this rate to make sure that, for example, we are retaining our highest performers at a higher-than-average rate, and that we are retaining women and men equally.

Attrition rate by gender

  FY16 FY17 FY18
Women 18.7% 18.8% 21.2%
Men 19.4% 18.7% 20.9%
Overall 19.00% 20.40% 21.01%
(Chapter breaker)

Global review

Ensuring a diverse and inclusive environment

At EY, we believe that only the highest-performing teams that maximize the power of diverse opinions, perspectives and backgrounds will succeed. These teams are both diverse, and inclusive.

Our internal research bears this out – we analyzed 22,000 EY audit engagements and found that teams with a balance of gender outperformed, in both financial performance and quality, teams that were less balanced.

Diversity is about differences. Each of us is different, and at EY, we value and respect that. We think about differences broadly; they include, but aren’t limited to background, education, gender, ethnicity, nationality, age, working and thinking styles, religious background, sexual orientation, ability and technical skills. Inclusiveness is about leveraging differences to achieve better business results. It’s about creating an environment where all of our people feel, and are, valued. An environment where they are able to bring their differences to work each day, and where they contribute their personal best in every encounter.

Diversity and inclusiveness (D&I) enables us to innovate, modernize our workplaces and be most agile to stay ahead of the external forces that shape our businesses. To achieve our goal, we embed the principles of D&I in all of our business processes. For example, we are building the skills of all our people to enable them to team and lead inclusively, and in recruitment processes, we actively look for candidates with a global mindset.

After launching inclusion and nondiscrimination policies in some regions, in 2018, we launched the new EY Inclusion and nondiscrimination global policy to all of our people. The policy clarifies what is meant by discrimination, intimidation and harassment, and will help us continue to shape our inclusive culture, build highest-performing teams and enable equitable and respectful treatment of all our people.

The Global Diversity and Inclusiveness Steering Committee (GDISC) is a critical component to advancing the D&I agenda throughout EY. Comprising senior leaders from across our service lines, areas and regions, each member is committed to using their experience, knowledge of the organization and their influence to enhance EY’s inclusive culture. GDISC members are instrumental in raising awareness of important D&I topics such as the power of belonging, equitable sponsorship, insider-outsider dynamics and bias, to name a few. Their collective efforts contribute to EY being recognized as a D&I leader in many of the markets in which we operate.

At EY, we’re committed to fairness and equality and the advancement of all under-represented groups. An important part of our diversity and inclusiveness agenda is related to the advancement of women, and on a global basis gender balance is the most straightforward to measure and report. Currently, 48% of our people overall are women. But we have more work to do to improve the percentage of women in leadership positions. Currently, 20% of our member firm partners are women, and 29% of newly promoted partners this year are women. Among leadership groups, 26% of our Global Executive members; 33% of our Global Governance Council; and 22% of our Global Practice Group are women. Among the leaders of our 301 largest accounts, 12% are women.

Partners/Principals/Executive Directors/Directors by gender

  FY16 FY17 FY18
  Total Women/men% Total Women/men% Total Women/men%
Partners and principals 11,562 19.8/80.2% 11,484 19.7/80.% 11,870  20.4/79.6%
Partners, Principals, Exec. Dirs., Directors 17,558 23.4/76.6% 17,410 23.3/76.7% 18,093 24.0/76.0%
Total people 230,800 47.5/52.5% 247,570 47.5/52.5% 261,559 47.6/52.4%

Leadership groups by gender

  FY 16 FY 17 FY 18
  Total Women/men% Total Women/men% Total Women/men%
Global Executive 18 28/72% 18 22/78% 19 26/74%
Global Practice Group 115 22/78% 116 22/78% 122 22/78%
Global Governance Council 42 31/69% 39 36/64% 39 33/67%
Global Client Service Partners* 285 7/93% 287 10/90% 301 12/88%
* Lead client servers on our largest global clients.

To improve the number of women in these leadership groups, we are taking a number of important steps. First, around the world, we have numerous mentoring and sponsorship programs to support high-potential women in more junior ranks. We also rigorously review candidate pools to ensure that potential candidates for promotion and direct admit partner are gender diverse. Women’s advancement and leadership are central to business performance and economic prosperity. While we acknowledge that we have far to go, at EY, we are working toward an environment in which men and women have an equal opportunity to participate and advance in the workplace.

(Chapter breaker)

Global review

Building lifelong relationships

We make a promise to our people – whenever you join, however long you stay, the exceptional EY experience lasts a lifetime.

However long someone stays with us, we don’t want leaving EY to be the end of our relationship. Our 1 million alumni around the world continue to build a better working world long after leaving, as they continue to do great things in business, as entrepreneurs, in government, in academia and in their communities. We are proud to be one of the great training grounds for business and financial talent globally. 

Strong relationships are key to our business – they underpin our high-performing teams delivering exceptional client service. They drive our commitment to build a better working world. Our alumni are some of the most important contacts we have. By nurturing alumni relationships, we create more opportunities to develop our people, grow our business, and deliver on our purpose.

One way we do this is through the EY Alumni network, an on- and off-line community that is active in more than 70 countries and which helps connect all EY people, past and present, to more opportunities, more resources and more of the people that they need to know for the future. It’s a mutually beneficial relationship, allowing alumni to continue to build on the legacy they created at EY and helping EY to continue to deliver on our promise to build a better working world.

Amanpreet Bajaj – Airbnb and EY alum


Everything we do for our 260,000 people across 150 countries is a vital part of building a better working world. We aim to give all of our people interesting, challenging work that allows them continuously to develop their skills and knowledge. And to do so in an ethical environment that strongly supports their personal integrity.

About this article

Related topics Global review