Q&A with Benoit Laclau, UK&I Managing Partner of EY Consulting

15 October 2020 Consultancy.uk 6 min. read
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Benoit Laclau’s blazing career has shown no sign of slowing down amidst the global pandemic – in May, he was named as the new UK & Ireland Managing Partner of EY Consulting. In discussion with Cat Callen from Rees Draper Wright, Laclau reflects on the importance of diversity & inclusion and how the consultancy is navigating the Covid-19 crisis.

Benoit, tell us about your leadership style?

Building a fully inclusive environment where both individuals and teams can flourish together is central to my leadership style. The whole has to be bigger than the sum of the parts. I strive to create the right environment – both inside and outside of work – where people feel they belong and where we genuinely value difference.

Investing to build strong teams, is truly important to me. I encourage my team to be bold, and to not be afraid to challenge the status quo to drive change, even if it is uncomfortable at times.

Benoit Laclau, UK&I Managing Partner of EY Consulting

Businesses have had to radically change the working environment. What has been your greatest realisation over the last few months?

One of my greatest realisations over the past few months has been the reality of everyone’s circumstances being a bit different. While some colleagues have a set-up that lends itself to home-working, others may live in crowded house-shares, have children and other dependants to care for, or are single carers, having to juggle work and personal responsibilities.

Open and regular conversations have been so important to build trust during this time of physical distance. As a result, we’ve been able to look at how we can best support people to work flexibly and around caring needs. 

One of things the crisis has helped with is allowing us all to connect in a different way – seeing a snapshot of our colleagues’ lives, and being more open and human. Leaders need to focus on connecting with their people, taking the time to ask questions, share their own experiences, and to a degree, show vulnerability. More trust means people feel like they belong – they feel safer, more inspired, and better connected to their colleagues. 

The business case for diversity in leadership remains strong. EY has ambitious growth plans to meet a more balanced and diverse workforce – what goals are in place?

EY has set ambitious UK diversity targets. Our new strategy – launched at the start of 2019 last year – sets out our commitment to Diversity and Inclusion (D&I) and this is seen as critical priority for our business. In July, we also went one step further by announcing a series of new anti-racism commitments.

These included actions to achieve 15% of our ethnic minority partner target to be Black Partners and offering 30% of the work experience places on EY’s Smart Futures/Our Futures programmes to Black young people for the next five years from September 2021. Additionally, the firm has set a target of offering entry into EY school leaver pathways to at least 30% of Black young alumni of the EY Foundation’s Smart Futures and Our Futures programmes from next year. 

Our commitment is to double the proportion of ethnic minority and female talent in the UK partnership to 20% and 40% respectively by July 2025. It also means that we report on the diversity of our partnership which is important in our efforts to be open and transparent. As of 3 October 2020, the UK partnership stands at 12% ethnic minority and 23% female – an increase of 1% and 1% respectively since 2019. 3% of our ethnic minority partners are Black as of 3 October 2020. 

Further reading: EY UK's gender and ethnicity pay-gaps narrow

To ensure a successful and diverse workforce, businesses must look at creating a fully inclusive environment. How has EY been successful in this regard?

Belonging is one of the key pillars to our diversity & inclusion (D&I) strategy and we are committed to creating an environment where all our people feel like they belong. We are pleased with the progress we have made so far, although know there is still more to do. All of our recruitment, recognition and retention programmes are evaluated through a diversity lens to ensure we are creating a culture where diverse talent can thrive.

We have also made education and awareness a key focus and want all of our leaders to be better equipped to talk openly about diversity with their teams. We are seeing huge energy from our people around D&I which is driving momentum across the business, as leaders we need to embrace this and take more individual ownership to accelerate the pace of change. 

With the current uncertainty, where do you see the opportunities for businesses?

With the continued Covid-19 situation and the Brexit transition period ending on 31 December 2020, the focus of our business is to continue helping the UK, our clients and other stakeholders respond to the challenges at hand. While the current environment we find ourselves in has presented many unforeseen situations, it presents opportunities for us to help our clients identify practical, commercial, no-regret solutions that mitigate negative impacts of change to best prepare them for the future. 

Finally, what advice would you give other business leaders currently tackling the challenge of managing a remote workforce?

Take the time to stay in touch with colleagues and clients to regularly ‘check in’ on one another. Whether that’s a video call or a virtual coffee break for your team, it can help everyone stay connected and boost morale. 

At EY we have a number of communities and employee networks that are helping our people stay in touch. For example, the EY Race and Ethnicity network, EY Family & Parents network, EY Women’s network, EY Ability network and more. These are great forums to help bring people together, share tips and advice and sometimes just to have a chat! 

Also, be understanding of individual experiences and circumstances. Encourage transparent discussions around the personal challenges team members might be facing. Staying connected and communicating openly is particularly important as many people continue to work remotely. We all need to help each other through this uncertain time. 

About Benoit Laclau
Benoit Laclau is EY's UK&I Managing Partner for Consulting and a member of the EY UK&I Executive. Up until July 2020, he was the EY Global Energy Leader and before joining the firm, he worked in Chief Information Officer and Managing Director of Strategy and Transformation roles at EDF. Earlier in his career, he served Accenture and Kearney

About Cat Callen
Cat Callen is an Associate Partner at Rees Draper Wright, a specialist executive search and interim management firm focused on the advisory market. Cat is based in the firm’s London office and is passionate about diversity and inclusivity within her marketplace and, in particular, women in leadership.

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