Can you give us a snapshot of your professional and personal life? Who is Enya Cai?
I’m 24 years old and in my professional life I work as the Oceania Diversity and Inclusiveness Coordinator at EY, one of the big four global professional services organisations. Prior to this I was part of the EY Advisory business, consulting clients in the government and health sectors. In my personal life, I really enjoy going to music gigs, seeing art, and also eating a lot of food. I love trying new restaurants!
What motivated you to take the leap from a corporate position at EY to a role that purely focuses on culture?
I had always been interested in diversity and inclusiveness, and that enthusiasm came out in different iterations. When I was at uni I was always involved with women in leadership events, and that trickled into my career at EY. I then got tapped on the shoulder to join Unity, our professional network for LGBTI individuals and allies.
I realised I was really passionate about diversity of thought, and making people feel included so they could be themselves at work and bring their diverse ideas to the table. This means they can produce better work, because I know that when I’m my full self, I’m more productive and happier. It just so happened that a role in the D&I team came up, and I was lucky enough to get it.
What does your role as Diversity and Inclusiveness Coordinator involve?
At the heart of it, it’s about developing and implementing our strategy and activities for diversity and inclusion across Oceania.
On a day to day basis my role involves reporting around our numbers, for example promotion figures for culturally diverse people compared to non-culturally diverse people and understanding those figures, unpacking why they may be. I also help implement different programs, for instance we did a big activation for ‘Wear it Purple’ day, an LGBTI celebration day.
I also work on award submissions, in order for us to be recognised as one of the best employers for diversity and inclusion. On top of that there’s always questions from inside the business. It’s an area everyone is interested in – our people want to support us. Often we’ll get people wanting information to include in a proposal, they’ll have clients who are interested in understanding what we do.
EY was recently named the 2018 Employer of the Year for LGBTI inclusion. What initiatives and policies do you have in place that helped achieve this?
EY Unity is a network which started in Australia in 2011. Before then we didn’t have a formal LGBTI network, no one really talked about it openly, so there have been some really important milestones for us as an organisation.
Firstly, setting up our network – building a network of people with executive sponsorship, buy-in from our leaders as well as driving visibility. We distribute merchandise including pencil cases, lanyards and badges. These are all important in the LGBTI space where it’s an invisible type of diversity, so you need to have visible signs of inclusion. We also have initiatives that bring people together, such as movie nights, Mardi Gras, and events like IDAHOBIT day. Celebrating those days are part of our initiatives to make people feel more included.
All of our policies were updated quite a few years ago to be inclusive to LGBTI people, and are continually reviewed. Our family leave policy includes surrogacy and adoption, and other family structures that include LGBTI people. Our anti-bullying and anti-harassment policy specifically includes examples of homophobia and transphobia. Being explicit about this is important to raise awareness amongst our people.
We also have a transitioning and intersex guide for people who may wish to transition or have already transitioned from one gender expression to another. We give awareness of what intersex is, as it’s not commonly talked about, especially not in the workplace.
What has your experience been like working in a global corporate organisation as an Australian-Asian female? Have you faced, or witnessed, any specific barriers or situations of discrimination throughout your career because of gender, race or otherwise?
Within EY, in my experience, it’s very rare for people to be openly discriminate for any reason.
There have definitely been instances, either at EY or at a client site, where I was the only female or Asian female in the room. I wasn’t necessarily uncomfortable, but I can definitely see situations where it could be for others, or even myself when I was younger and less aware of my cultural identity. I’ve seen people make jokes about Chinese food or the number of Chinese cultural holidays, and I’ve become very comfortable owning that and explaining the reasons why they’re important to people like me rather than just laughing it off.
I’ve definitely seen things happen to other people. From a cultural lens for example, people coming from an Asian background are typically seen as more quiet and reserved, I’m speaking in really broad brush terms here. They tend to speak more on behalf of the team, they advocate for themselves a lot less. In a Western society that can be seen as a negative, they can be seen as shy if they don’t speak up. I have an advantage and privilege because I grew up in Australia, but I recognise that if I came to Australia at a later stage I would have a tougher time in the workforce.
How did you protect yourself, or respond to these situations?
I usually respond to discrimination by calling it out. Being an ally for the LGBTI community for example means I can be part of protecting people so they don’t have to out themselves. If someone says “that’s so gay”, I can say “hey I think we can think of a better word”. It helps lift the burden from the minority themselves.
As for protecting myself, I’m vocal when I see that things aren’t right. I try to do this in the most respectable way possible, because in my experience, making people feel uncomfortable and defensive is not the most effective way to create change. There are different ways of giving feedback, but pulling them aside and not making them feel like they’ve purposefully done something wrong is a real art.
However, I acknowledge that being vocal can be difficult in certain contexts. For instance when you’re a grad, sometimes you don’t feel comfortable speaking up because you’re not sure how others will react and you’re the most junior. That’s where leaders can step up and should say something when they see something wrong.
It’s also about being proactive. My current role enables me to try and change the structures that exist that can be discriminatory, for example our promotion process – understanding where unconscious bias can seep into it and what we can do to check ourselves. It’s more about affecting policies, structures and systems, actively making our workplace more diverse and inclusive.
Do you feel like we’re getting closer to gender equality and embracing diversity within Australian organisations? If so, why, and if not, how can we change this?
I think we are getting closer to gender equity and embracing all types of diversity. Definitely at progressive places like EY, we’ve been talking about gender equity for a very long time, and now we’re also focusing on other areas like cultural diversity, ability rather than disability and diversity of thought. In society it can sometimes be incremental and slow, but I am optimistic. The more you chip away at it the more you see leaps of progress. (Our EY Oceania D&I Leader, Heather Geary, wrote a great piece about incremental change which you can read here)
In terms of what we can do, as individuals it’s in the micro behaviour and micro moments. It’s about understanding and listening to other people. I challenge myself all the time – am I focusing only on women, for example? Being open to other viewpoints really helps me understand how we might include men so they’re part of the solution and focus on similarities rather than our differences, to get to our end goal. Even if you disagree, it’s worth being challenged and thinking differently. It will either make your argument more robust or make you think about something in a different way, which is really beneficial.
From an organisational point of view, visibility is important. Marriage equality was a really good example of that. EY signed an open letter supporting marriage equality back in 2015, and our early involvement was an important visible message to our people.
Who inspires you in your career? Do you have any mentors that have helped you get to where you are?
The people who inspire me the most are the people I have day to day interactions with. I can tell that the work I’m doing is actually impacting them. When I get feedback to say that something I’ve put together has positively affected someone and inspired action, that’s what motivates me to get out of bed and do something different.
I’ve had quite a few mentors throughout my career and I’ll continue to have more. Having a diverse range of mentors helps give me perspective, and knowing when to go to them and seek their advice is key. They put things in a different light and help me change my mindset when I’m confused or overwhelmed.
What do you wish to achieve in the future within your role at EY and beyond?
I’d really like to make an impact on as many people as I can, focusing on building a more diverse and inclusive working world.
In terms of the future, who knows? I know there are aspects of my career that are non-negotiable, things like me having the flexibility to have my own personal responsibilities, taking care of parenting responsibilities if I have them in the future and also being purpose-driven in my work. It’s crucial to me that I’m living my strengths and able to make a difference in any role that I’m in. I feel so lucky to say that I’m able to do all those things in my current role, so for now, I’m focused on my current role and enjoying every minute!
Connect with Enya Cai.
Read more about Enya’s Life at EY.
Link to EY Diversity and Inclusiveness.
The views expressed in this article are the views of the author, not Ernst & Young. This article provides general information, does not constitute advice and should not be relied on as such. Professional advice should be sought prior to any action being taken in reliance on any of the information. Liability limited by a scheme approved under Professional Standards Legislation.