Driving inclusion in Ireland

Stephen Harford

Driving inclusion in Ireland


1. Tell me more about yourself, your background and your EY journey.

I started in EY as a summer 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 in the Insurance department. I found that I really enjoyed the challenging work and I really liked the people that I worked with. When I re-joined, it was great to come back and work again with some of the same people. So a few years later, I’m still working away in FS Assurance in.

2. Tell me about the network you have created. 

When I was a summer intern, I was working on a business challenge. It was based around diversity and inclusiveness. In 2014, all of this was quite new for a business to be looking at it and it is something that is of interest to myself. I learnt a lot in a really quick period of time during those 12 weeks that I was on the internship program. It was really interesting to see what EY was doing regarding 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. So I guess one of the key things I was looking at was how can we make a difference in FS in Ireland using 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 and build those sort of skills. I attended a number of external events during my time as a Unity network and I built up my network with people from some of the largest banks based in Dublin. When we came together, it wasn’t really a challenge to get firms to come together and have those objectives of sharing best practices for our network looking into how we can develop as an industry and sharing those opportunities for 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 and how we can work together to either better equip our people or how our business are structured in a way maybe we can break down those barriers and make it easier for LGBT community to actually succeed in their careers. Keeping all of this in mind, this was our intention at the start. 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 just an incredible event. We had over 130 people 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 senior executives or board members from different firms. So having that real support showed us that it is something that is really important, it means something to each of the businesses involved, and 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.

3. Tell me about this feedback you have received so far.

We set up the network in a way that would allow people to understand what FuSIoN is and what we are trying to achieve. But also, why FuSIoN exists. FuSIoN is spelt like this because it is the Financial Services Inclusion Network. This network is primarily about LGBT employees. We had a welcome final group meeting before we launched, and I gave a speech about why FuSIoN is there. We also ran a session around personal and professional development where we asked senior leadership people from all firms involved to share their personal stories about how they have become successful and the obstacles they face.

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

4. What makes you so passionate about this? Why is this important to you? 

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 and 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. All of this does help with your professional development as you’re going through development ranks in your roles at EY.

So one is networking, two is the skills you can develop and grow, and then three is the positive change you are making for LGBT+ in the FS industry. All of this also supports building your personal brand.

FuSIoN is trying to achieve something that can actually make an impact to not only individual people in each of the firms involved EY but also to your employer and also to the wider Financial Services (FS) industry. FuSIoN is about a journey. Bringing our people within the wider FS industry along this journey to make more the industry a more accepting place. And 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.

5. What’s next/coming up? 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 networt
  3. Provide career & leadership development opportunities
  4. Promote Ireland’s Financial Services industry as a destination of choice for LGBT+Professional
  5. Harness the impact and influence of our collective institutions to better Ireland’s LGBT+communities where we live and work

Each event is going to be associated with a particular pillar. Watch this space for our winter event in December!

Where do you hope the network is in two years’ time? What do you hope to have achieved?

Since our launch a few weeks ago, we have all put it on our LinkedIn and shared information about our network on social media to push it externally. We now have seven founding firms and I sit as the co-chair along with a representative form CITI. We all have our own individual committee member roles however we are looking to expand this committee to other Financial Services firms. We already have a number of large FS 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 engage other companies to join. We haven’t had a challenge of approaching people yet as it has been a case of our FS firms realising 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 Financial Services (FS). I hope that we are able to produce tangible benefits for all employees within FS. We also hope that we are recognized for the employers being progressive and inclusive.

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