EY’s Leslie Patterson Discusses the Power of Corporate Allyship

(Courtesy of EY)

Leslie Patterson, U.S. talent leader at EY (Fair360, formerly DiversityInc Hall of Fame), says she’ll never forget the day Kelly Grier, EY chair, called and asked her to lead the company’s anti-racism efforts. She had been explaining the death of George Floyd to her three young sons and how police brutality affects Black males like them, and she felt the need to take action. This opportunity allowed her to help the company she had been part of for 27 years use its power to serve as an ally.

“Who gets an opportunity to really combine their personal passions—especially given looking in the eyes of my kids trying to figure out what can I do to help—with a place that you love and have spent your entire career?” Patterson said. “I’ve been working at this effort alongside our board and our chairman for the past 45 days to really determine how we meld these two together,” she said.

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EY has consistently driven diversity and inclusion efforts over the years, as evidenced by its standing in the Fair360, formerly DiversityInc Hall of Fame. Patterson said in the past few months, the company sought to take an even stronger stand against racism by approaching the issue holistically.

“Public statements of just the outrage and condemning all of this, that’s all extremely important,” Patterson said. “But it’s not enough. And so, we’re trying to … leverage our influence to drive strategic change within our firm and within the communities where we work, as well as looking at it from a public policy perspective.”

When EY released its anti-racism statement in June, it outlined actionable items it planned to implement. These steps included ramping up volunteer efforts, committing donations, and diving deeper into EY’s own supplier diversity and diversity and inclusion efforts. EY announced it would donate $3 million to organizations that address the inappropriate use of force in law enforcement, incarceration of Black males, and healthcare disparities and economic inequalities in the Black community. It also committed $4 million to four historically Black colleges and universities (HBCUs): Hampton University in Hampton, Virginia; Howard University in Washington, D.C.; Morehouse College and Spelman College, both in Atlanta.

“We’re really excited about that and working with the schools to determine how best to help them to be able to help our industry in getting more Black professionals,” Patterson said.

EY also has a program called College MAP, which is in its 10th year in connecting EY volunteer mentors with underserved high school students to help them graduate. For 2021, EY has plans to establish a companywide effort to dedicate Martin Luther King Day to participation in company-sponsored community service projects.

In light of COVID-related restrictions that have led to students learning and professionals working completely remote, EY decided to invest in work to bridge the digital divide for Black and Latinx entrepreneurs. “We expanded an effort that we were just getting ready to launch called the EY Entrepreneurs Access Network. And it’s really focused on … leveraging some of the platforms that we already have with existing entrepreneurial programs but really focusing on those two communities,” Patterson explained.

Internally, Patterson said, groups have been engaging in learning and having conversations about race.

“Many of the allies that I’ve spoken with are recognizing that they really didn’t have visibility into what many of their Black colleagues face each and every day,” she explained. “If you think about EY, we’re a group of very inquisitive people. We learn. … We’re problem solvers. But in this type of situation, we’re really emphasizing the approach of learning through conversation.”

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Patterson added that EY has learned that even though it is a large corporation, it must operate with empathy. “We work hard to really cultivate an environment at EY of respect and safety and equity,” she said. “And over the last few months, we’ve been reminded that it is so important to lead with our values. And because inclusiveness is one of our values, that’s who we are … Our people are held accountable. So, it reinforces the responsibility that we all have to speak up.”