Black history month: Young black talent key to long-term business representation

Marking the start of Black History Month, EY’s Zaheer Ahmad sets out what his firm is doing to tackle low black numbers in the accounting profession, including 30% targets for black work experience and school leaver recruitment

Improving black and ethnic minority representation in the workplace requires sustained effort at every level of a business. To achieve long-term change, we need to make a concerted effort to build a healthy talent pipeline which nurtures high-potential diverse individuals from entry level all the way through to partner.

Crucial to this is student talent. Internships, apprenticeships and graduate programmes present a real opportunity to develop future business leaders from black and ethnic minority communities.

For many businesses, having a focus on diversity, race and ethnicity is not new, but it has perhaps taken on even greater prominence for many companies over recent months following the disparities highlighted by Covid-19, the killing of George Floyd and the global impact of the Black Lives Matter movement.

At EY, diversity has long been seen as a key business priority and we have taken a number of actions over the last few years to accelerate the progression of high-performing ethnic minority talent such as publishing our ethnicity pay gap and running targeted sponsorship and mentoring programmes.

In early 2019, we set ourselves ambitious new diversity targets, committing to having 40% female and 20% BAME partners by 2025. In July, we also went one step further by announcing a series of new anti-racism commitments, covering a range of actions on recruitment, talent process and new diversity data reporting and targets.

‘the onus to tackle racial inequality is on all employers who need take actions and intent one step further’

Zaheer Ahmad, EY's UK&I race and ethnicity diversity & inclusion lead

Scrutinising data and understanding the makeup of our UK workforce has been key to making progress on our diversity targets to date. For example, following an analysis of EY’s student recruitment data in the UK, we set up a new Black Heritage in Business event to help attract and recruit more black students to EY. This has resulted in 22 black students from the programme being selected to join the firm as interns next year.

Our recruitment team have also worked with grass roots organisations such as Young Diverse World Changer and TapIn to host events that can help us attract black talent. At these events, candidates have the opportunity to meet leaders from across the business, gaining valuable career insights into EY.

With the tragic the events of the past six months, businesses cannot shy away from this important agenda. The onus to tackle racial inequality is on all employers who need take actions and intent one step further.

As part of the series of commitments EY announced in July, we have pledged to stop using ‘BAME’ as a category as far as practically possible when we scrutinise the experiences of our people in the UK. We have also set a target for at least 15% of our Black, Asian and Minority Ethnic partners to be black by 2025 and have committed to publishing our black pay gap data.


Importantly, we have made two commitments that draw on the critical role of young talent; 30% of the work experience places on EY’s Smart Futures and Our Futures programmes will be offered to black young people for the next five years from September 2021. Additionally, we have set a target of offering entry into EY school leaver pathways to at least 30% of black alumni of the EY Foundation’s Smart Futures and Our Futures programmes from next year.

These actions have sparked further conversations about how best to support black apprentices and graduates. Better understanding the challenges candidates face in accessing work experience or employment opportunities can also inform hiring processes, inductions, and other processes that are in place at entry level.

Mentoring and access to senior leaders can also play an important role in inspiring young talent. Strengthening buddy schemes and mentoring programmes can help students access advice and guidance during the early stages of their career and can have a real impact in helping to identify career opportunities, push past barriers and ultimately succeed.

Support structures can be implemented in different ways; in addition to more formal mentoring, connecting new hires with employee-led networks and communities from day one can be powerful in developing a sense of inclusion and belonging.

Understanding the obstacles facing young talent and adopting an approach that harnesses the high potential of black student recruits could be a gamechanger for black representation in the workplace, across all levels. We need to create this change quickly, and we need to see that change become a permanent fixture of UK business in the years to come. 

Further reading:

Click here for Accountancy Daily’s - BAME firm survey 2020 - which analyses ethnic diversity within the UK’s top accountancy firms, data reveal partners and staff remain overwhelmingly white while Black Lives Matter movement forces concrete action.

Accountancy Daily also spoke to Ahmad as part of an interview series to discuss the BAME representation within the accountancy profession.


About the author

Zaheer Ahmad is EY’s UK&I race and ethnicity diversity & inclusion lead

Zaheer Ahmad |Zaheer Ahmad, UK&I race and ethnicity diversity & inclusion lead, EY

Zaheer Ahmad is EY’s UK&I race and ethnicity diversity & inclusion lead...

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