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Thought Leaders: Liz Bingham, Managing Partner, People and Talent, UK and Ireland, Ernst & Young

By Melissa J. Anderson

“In order to attract and retain the best people, we have to make sure that we are looking at talent through a diversity and inclusion lens,” said Liz Bingham, Managing Partner of People and Talent for the UK and Ireland at Ernst & Young. “This is an area I am completely passionate about. As a school leaver (non graduate), a woman, and also an out lesbian, I tick quite a few gender diversity boxes.”

Bingham rose through the ranks at Ernst & Young as a member of the firm’s restructuring business, eventually becoming managing partner of the $150 million practice. Last year, she decided she was ready for a new challenge, and was appointed to the UK firm’s leadership team as Managing Partner for People and Talent. Now she is keenly focused on taking learning and development, diversity and inclusion, and employee engagement to the next level.

“I want to be sure talent in every shape and form is nurtured, to create a more meaningful experience for every individual who works for the firm for however long they stay with us,” she said.

Working in a Meritocracy

Bingham joined Ernst & Young in 1986. “I started as a school leaver,” she said. “At the time the firm was one of the Big 8, and it was described as being a meritocracy, which was appealing to me before diversity and inclusion became common parlance.”

She joined the restructuring business – and, she said, she found herself inspired by the team’s dedication to equality. “When I first joined the firm, one of my role models was promoted to partner and he was also a school leaver, like me. In the same year, a woman was also promoted to partner in the restructuring business and that spoke volumes about meritocracy.”

Bingham spent her technical career in the restructuring business, eventually becoming head of that business, which was worth over $150 million, with over 30 partners and 400 people. Last summer, she took on the role as Managing Partner of People and Talent for the UK and Ireland, where her role is to focus on the firm’s employer brand. She explained, “It’s about connecting with our market and clients through our people agenda.”

“The team trims the sails of this great ship,” she said.

Working at Ernst & Young has enabled Bingham to continue to grow throughout her career, she said. “One of the things that’s kept me in the firm so long is that many different opportunities have come my way for personal development – whether working overseas or with a variety of clients. And even now, at the tender age of 50, I’ve been asked to take on a new role. I’m still stretched and I’m still getting those opportunities.”

“If I reflect on my absolute passion, it’s to continue to create an environment where everyone, regardless of background, can succeed. I think that I’m a great example of that. This is a huge opportunity for me to use my new role and my background to really bring this to life in the business,” she said.

“That can really change how we are perceived as being different from other professional services organizations. It can drive how our employer brand is perceived, and how our employer proposition can be meaningful, from Gen Y and Gen Z to the partners.”

Development and Diversity

Currently Bingham is considering the next step for the firm’s people development strategy. “It’s a root and branch review of our high potential programs,” she explained. ‘We have had amazing leadership development programs running for a number of years, and I want to ensure they are the best that they can be.”

“If you accept the hypothesis that 30% of development comes from formal programs, how do you plug that into the experiences we offer people to supplement our high potential development programs and vice versa?”

“My vision for Ernst & Young is to be the most successful firm within the professional services sector as a developer of partner talent in the future,” she added.

Firms face a challenge in creating more diversity at the senior ranks, she continued. “The big business issue is, how do we get better gender diversity and ethnic diversity at the more senior levels in the organization? How do we get our networks to play a bigger role in encouraging diversity and inclusion in the business?”

She continued, “Organizations need to be a bit more reflective on tailoring the experience of a formal learning development path to different people. It’s not that people are resistant to change – it’s just that change is difficult.”

The firm is working to create leadership development experiences for women at an earlier stage of their careers. “Nine times out of ten, women are the child care provider for their families – how do we engage with them in a meaningful way before they go off and be a mum, and when they come back? How do we anticipate people’s individual desires to balance work with their personal commitments?”

In Her Personal Time

“I feel my life is made incredibly rich by the people in it.” Bingham said. “I just had my 50th birthday, and at my celebration there were friends who were there at my 18th, and friends who weren’t there at my 40th, as they have only recently come into my life. The richness of friendships of people of different backgrounds keeps me going.”

She also noted that she enjoys spending time with her dogs and traveling with her partner.

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