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Steve Keith of EY on being out at work: "It is just a place where you can be free to be yourself"

The myGwork team met with Steve Keith, Marketing and Communications Lead for Apprenticeships at EY, to discuss his experience in a previous role of being in the closet ‘9-5’ and his efforts in helping to overcome the obstacles that prevent social mobility and to create equal opportunities for everybody.

With a great passion for working with young people, and as the first of his family to graduate from University, Steve understands the hurdles that can prevent social mobility. Research suggests that people from privileged backgrounds end up taking a great number of the top jobs available.

“Only 1 in 8 people from a low-income background are likely to become a high-income earner. It’s a problem in society a not one that should exist. Your background shouldn’t really come into it; it should be about an individual’s talent and potential for the future. It can be a particular challenge for young LGBT people – it can feel like another workplace barrier to overcome.”

Before joining EY in 2010, Steve spent 4 years working in a secondary school, recruiting and mentoring trainee teachers. Following the advice of other LGBT+ colleagues whilst teaching, he decided to stay in the closet, afraid of the reaction he would get if anybody found out.

“You read and hear about so many stories about homophobic bullying, that choosing to go back into the closet 9 to 5 seemed like a better option at the time. As a teacher, I became really frustrated and spent a lot of time dwelling on a missed opportunity of being a positive role model for children in the school going through the journey that I had gone through myself.”

After being made redundant in his previous role, Steve stumbled on his career at EY by accident, not only to find himself incredibly successful professionally, but also motivated by a completely different work environment.

“EY was about to launch a school leavers programme and they needed some assistance with working with schools. I had the experience of working in schools and working with young people and I’d always been interested in a career in marketing. I don’t think my sexuality has ever been a barrier whilst I’ve been at EY. It’s really liberating to go to work and be myself; it’s taken a huge weight off my shoulders that I previously had carried. Without even realising, I’ve come back out of the closet. A lot of it was just down to the culture at EY, it is just a place where you can be free to be yourself.”

EY is a pioneer in creating equal opportunities and recently changed its student recruitment process to attract and retain the best and brightest candidates.

“One of the mechanisms that can prevent social mobility is academic entry requirements. We conducted a detailed review of the impact of using academics as an upfront screening tool, and found a lack of evidence to support subsequent on-the-job performance. So we took the step to remove the academic screening criteria and introduced a new process focused on an individuals’ strengths and their future potential. Also the application process does not ask for details of prior work experience, which can perhaps give an unfair advantage to those that have strong connections or networks. It’s the same process for our apprenticeships. We introduced coaching prior to the first interview stage, where everybody no matter their background receives the same training opportunity. We also introduced a CV blind interview process, whereby details of a candidate’s application are only visible to the student recruitment team not the interviewers. The new recruitment process actively supports social mobility.”

EY was recently recognised as one of the UK’s top 20 employers in the inaugural Social Mobility Employer Index, which encourages Britain’s employers to access and progress talent from all backgrounds. Changing the way that EY recruits students resulted in a 75% increase in applications. 18% of EY’s 2016 graduate & school leavers’ intake in the UK would have previously been ineligible to apply under the previous process.

The changes have had a very positive effect and shows that the door is open to everybody, especially when it comes to recruiting school leavers onto exciting new programmes like our Business and Digital Degree Apprenticeships. Our school leavers are very impressive, hungry to learn and share their knowledge. They are disrupting the way we’re thinking about work and helping to shape the future of UK business.”

It is the commitment to a truly diverse workforce that sets EY apart and sends out a positive message.

“Ultimately any workplace’s success is driven by its people; they’re the most important asset that you have. If you have a leading people culture that attracts and retains the best talent than you will provide a leading service to your clients. Diverse teams with different values, backgrounds, perspectives and opinions – whether its education, gender, ethnicity, nationality, sexuality and religious background – makes for a better performance. Embracing diversity in an inclusive working environment, encourages people to be themselves and perform at their best.”

EY is a corporate partner of myGwork.

(originally published

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