Liz Bingham joined EY 32 years ago, thanks to a bold application letter. She went on to open doors for countless others through her commitment to diversity and inclusion and, despite recently leaving the firm, continues that work as a trustee of the EY Foundation
A little bit of audacity never goes amiss. Just ask Liz Bingham, OBE. The former managing partner for Talent at EY in the UK & Ireland joined the firm 32 years ago, thanks to a letter she wrote to a senior managing partner in the firm’s Restructuring business.
As a state-school educated gay woman from a working-class family, who hadn’t been to university, she was not an obvious candidate for a Big Four accountancy firm.
“I wrote a letter saying you haven’t got one of me and I think you need one of me,” Liz remembers. “I think he thought that was a cheeky, but quite interesting, approach. It took me nine months to get a position here, but it was a firm I wanted to join, and I proved to be quite successful.”
A meritocratic firm
Liz was attracted to EY because, she says, it operated as a meritocracy long before anyone was aware of what diversity or inclusiveness were. The fact she was offered a place at the organisation spoke volumes to her. “The firm’s leadership really lived those values. I had an unusual background so that worked for me.”
Successfully leading EY’s 500-employee Restructuring business through the 2008 global financial crisis is among the many achievements Liz chalked up during her three decades with the firm. Another was the role she played promoting diversity and inclusiveness across EY and the wider corporate world during her time at the head of the Talent team.
Through her work in this area, Liz helped colleagues in the firm understand that diversity is intrinsic to better business performance. “If we wanted to be creative in how we served our clients, we needed to get the very best people approaching a problem from a very diverse set of experiences and viewpoints to create better answers and solutions,” Liz explains.
A legacy of diversity
EY’s many diversity networks are a legacy of Liz’s work here. They have helped create a safe environment where everyone feels they are able to make a contribution, that their voice will be heard, and that their differences will be valued.
“Working in that environment makes people more committed to the job they are doing and the clients they are serving,” says Liz. “It is the absolutely fundamental bedrock for high-performing teams.”
Thanks to Liz’s leadership on diversity and inclusiveness at EY, the firm has become a corporate leader in this field. “We started to see clients coming to us, saying: ‘Can you help us with our journey?’. That moved us out of being seen as quite transactional into being a much broader business partner,” says Liz. “We had a voice with government on the topic, too, which enabled us to attract really smart people because of what we were doing.”
Helping the young
Attracting smart people is at the heart of another initiative Liz set up during her time as managing partner of Talent, and of which she is still a trustee today.
The EY Foundation, an independent charity, works with disadvantaged young people, employers and social entrepreneurs. It helps young people, regardless of their background, realise their career ambitions and transition into work, higher education or self-employment.
“The EY Foundation is a passion for me, personally,” says Liz. “I was state-school educated and from a working-class background. I was lucky to get into this line of work and I wanted to take the ‘lucky’ out of it for as many people as I could. Through the Foundation, I think we can do that.”
Set up in 2014, the Foundation has so far helped more than 1,000 young people in major cities across the UK.
Employers are particularly keen to get involved in Smart Futures, one of the Foundation’s flagship initiatives. The 10-month programme, open to 16-17-year-olds, gives students paid work experience, skills that make them more employable, and access to a mentor to guide them through their journey into higher education or work.
The Foundation is also part of a new coalition which aims to embed an accredited School to Work Framework into the national curriculum so that every young person aged 9 to 18 is better prepared for the world of work.
The importance of networks
Ask Liz what she thinks lies behind the success of her work on diversity and inclusiveness, and she’s likely to point to the importance of networks and using them well. “Be prepared to ask for help, but also be prepared to give help in return,” she says.
That’s advice she’ll be putting into practice herself as a member of the EY alumni network. “I think having the opportunity to learn from other partners will be very helpful, and staying connected to the firm will be very important to me. Having spent 32 years here, it’s a huge part of my life.”