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Ben Firth from EY talks to myGwork about promoting workplace Pride during the pandemic

As Unity Co-Chair for EY, Ben Firth is working to keep LGBTQ employees healthy and happy.

2020-06-01

For firms like EY the switch to remote working has been more of an extension of normal working than an entirely new shift. For years EY has operated as a flexible workplace, and all employees have remote access and video conferencing tools.

Ben leads Communications and Engagement for EY’s financial services business, so enabling leaders to reach their teams and stay connected is always front of his mind, but of course especially so since lockdown.

“As a large firm with colleagues across the globe, we are well used to conference calls, so the biggest change has been turning on the video function! It has been really important to add the visual in, as it’s meant we’ve been able to literally look out for each other and our clients.”

During such tough times, the smaller moments are something Ben has noticed have become more profound.

“When you only get to be outside once a day, it’s amazing how much more you appreciate what’s happening around you. I’m originally from the countryside so have enjoyed being in my local park more. Something as simple as new families of ducks on the ponds have become a daily highlight!”

Ben has over 15 years of corporate communications experience, gained through a variety of sectors in the UK and Australia. He’s been working at EY for three years and before that, he spent eight years at the Financial Services Authority and Financial Conduct Authority working in internal and change communications throughout the financial crisis and the subsequent evolution of financial services regulation.

It was here that Ben started to drive LGBT+ inclusion in the workplace. He’s now co-chair of Unity, EY’s LGBT+ network in the UK and Ireland.

“I came out in my mid-twenties. Hiding part of yourself for so long isn’t easy, especially as you hit the world of work. I promised myself to be out in all parts of my life and give something back by getting involved in LGBT+ inclusion. I was co-chair in my previous firm so I was keen to continue at EY and to do everything I can to help LGBT+ people feel they belong in business."

Ben shares his Unity co-chair role with Alex Enness-Laporte, manager in Advisory at EY, and both are one year into their two-year tenure. With Unity’s 25th birthday coming up it is a busy time as the group looks to celebrate achievements and continue driving awareness and change for good.

"We’re really proud of our focus on bi inclusion, increasing the visibility of LGBT+ role models and intersectionality – it’s encouraging to see progress happen in these areas. But we know we have more to do."

A big part of the role is listening and asking network members about what they expect from the co-chairs and the Unity strategy; “It’s really important that we’re approachable and accountable; people should be able to ask us questions and help shape what we do over the next year.”

One of the areas that will continue to be a priority is thinking about the different challenges faced by the LGBT+ community throughout COVID-19.

Image: Renee Taleb

“We know that lesbian, gay, bi and trans people are already statistically more likely to suffer from a mental health issue during their lifetime – and the current environment will likely exacerbate this.” There are steps businesses can take to ensure all their people have access to the advice and guidance they might need during this time.

“A key part of our approach has been focused on creating a culture of social togetherness across our firm to help safeguard mental and physical wellbeing.”

Unity’s newsletters are used to communicate virtual social events and outline how people can get involved in key events to help maintain a strong sense of community, even as people are all physically separate. They’ve also been used to highlight the resources and support available both within EY and externally through specific LGBT+ charities and organisations.

“We make sure EY resources for mental health and external resources, such as LGBT+ mental health charity MindOut, and Galop, the national LGBT+ domestic violence helpline, are prominent so people can easily access them.”

Understandably key LGBT+ events have been cancelled or postponed this year. These are normally high-profile platforms to help raise awareness, build networks and instil a sense of community.

“That’s one of the reasons why EY has partnered with myGwork on WorkPride running from 22-26 June. We’re delighted to sponsor the conference. It’s jam-packed with inspiring speakers, panel events and socials to bring the LGBT+ community together in solidarity at a time where people would be marching down the streets for Pride”.

With one year left of his co-chair role at EY, Ben is more determined than ever to drive long-lasting change for the LGBT+ community.

“I went to National Student Pride for the first time this year and was really inspired by the non-binary people I met at the event. The corporate world needs to be ready for fluidity. People are leaving school, college and university as themselves and it’s important they retain everything about them as they enter the world of work.”

Ben is determined to make as much impact as he can, and if the achievements and agility of Unity and the teams at EY during this pandemic are anything to go by, he will leave a lasting legacy.

After Ben’s tenure as co-chair on, he will continue his role as trustee at MindOut and will look to support other charities too, but right now, it is particularly important thatorganisations keep corporate social responsibility high on the agenda, helping charities continue their work.

EY is the main sponsor of the free online myGwork WorkPride conference on the 22-26 June.