Diversity, equity and inclusion sits at the heart of the Grant Thornton network. Join us as we explore the journeys of some of our member firms and discover how they're inspiring positive change in their communities.

People are at the heart of any great business, and a true commitment to those people can result in phenomenal success across the board.

Looking at Grant Thornton Ireland, the 2022 Go Beyond Firm of the year, it’s important to acknowledge how their investment in DE&I has been one of the cornerstones of their current success. However, this investment isn’t a new development for the firm, it’s something they’ve been championing for years.

Grant Thornton Ireland’s DE&I programme is called Embrace, and it consists of five main pillar Employee Resource Groups (ERGs):

  • Ability
  • Gender equality
  • Family
  • Ethnicity & Culture.

“We’re five pillars but we work as one, we’re collaborative and we really have a one-firm approach to all of our initiatives. It was important to us to ask ‘is diversity and inclusion enough?’ and it’s not. Something really important was bringing ‘equity’ into this. It’s really about removing barriers to entry and creating opportunities for everyone, having equitable opportunities available to all of our colleagues." Shauna Rahman, Associate Director of Equity, Diversity and Inclusion, Grant Thornton Ireland

This inclusive approach has allowed Grant Thornton Ireland to grow its Embrace programme from humble beginnings as an entirely voluntary initiative to one now with a dedicated resource in the form of an Associate Director of Equity, Diversity and Inclusion that sits under the firm's Sustainability pillar.

"It’s really about removing barriers to entry and creating opportunities for everyone, having equitable opportunities available to all of our colleagues." - Shauna Rahman, Associate Director of Equity, Diversity and Inclusion, Grant Thornton Ireland

Why focus on DE&I?

Grant Thornton Ireland has had a clear focus on DE&I over the past decade, with a host of initiatives and programmes being implemented. However, over the past number of years there’s been a significant investment in these initiatives to provide a structure and strategy that can meet the cultural needs of its workforce.

“We feel that there’s a need to be authentic and genuine in how we approach DE&I as a large firm in Ireland and within the Grant Thornton network. Also, as we’ve grown over the last number of years, we’ve become far more diverse with regards to the people we have working with us, so we recognise that we really need to provide a platform for good culture, respect, and genuine DE&I focus for the firm to provide people with an appropriate environment for them to flourish.” Dan Holland, Audit Partner, Grant Thornton Ireland.

This approach has paid long-lasting dividends, with the firm’s employee net promoter score rising from 12% to 41% between 2018 and 2022 while it also continued to expand internationally – Grant Thornton Ireland now has over a quarter of its workforce coming from over 50 different countries.

How has this investment in DE&I impacted the firm?

This focus on DE&I has benefitted the firm in a variety of ways. While it’s obvious to look at the strong culture of inclusivity and the feeling of safety for employees that it creates, there’s also some unexpected benefits to this kind of investment in DE&I. Aisling McCaffrey, Director of Financial Services Advisory at Grant Thornton Ireland, describes how it has “fostered collaboration and networking across staff and service lines” and has “given opportunities to staff that have gotten involved with the ERGs, allowing them to pick up different skillsets, get involved with planning events and initiatives, things that are slightly outside of their day-to-day role but that are also complimentary skills.”

From a business point of view, Grant Thornton Ireland’s strong development of its DE&I offering has allowed it to grow its numbers and, importantly, retain its staff through periods of economic uncertainty through creating a culture where people feel valued, represented, and that the company truly cares about their wellbeing.

“That increase in visibility and really emphasising what we stand for as a company, what’s important to us in terms of values – especially for newer staff that aren’t as familiar – having such strong representation in our DE&I initiatives gives people a sense of identity. They understand the company that they’re working for and what it means to be part of the Grant Thornton family.” Aisling McCaffrey, Director, Financial Services Advisory, Grant Thornton Ireland

This sentiment is echoed by Dan Holland, who speaks to the genuine manner in which the firm engages in DE&I and how it can positively affect recruitment and retention. He also outlines the benefit this can have when dealing with clients by displaying how the firm “provides an appropriate framework for people to work and to experience the working environment within Grant Thornton.”

"For the firm as a whole, it’s definitely delivered a culture to ensure that people are fully respected in what they do and how they perform within the firm." - Dan Holland, Audit Partner, Grant Thornton Ireland

The reward for investing in DE&I

Grant Thornton Ireland’s focus on DE&I has not only been transformative internally, but it has also brought about a significant amount of external recognition. April 2022 saw the firm be awarded the Bronze Accreditation for Diversity by the Irish Centre for Diversity, with the Silver Accreditation being received late last year. This puts the firm on course to receive Ireland’s highest honor for diversity – the Gold Accreditation – should their trajectory continue.

Shauna Rahman highlights that this is an ongoing journey however, with awards not being the ultimate goal.

“The journey doesn’t stop there, ever. We decided to take a step back from ultimately going for Gold straight away, and give ourselves time to embed the feedback that we got from the survey for the Silver award.”

February 2023 also saw the Irish firm win the Outstanding Resource Group Award for its Embrace Programme at the National Diversity and Inclusion Awards in Ireland as a result of its continued dedication to excellence in DE&I. The programme introduced a host of important initiatives including surrogacy, adoptive, and fertility leave, and its highly popular ‘one hour for you’ initiative that gives employees an hour to themselves each month to engage in something that positively impacts their mental health.  

Finally, the firm was also awarded the Go Beyond Firm of the Year award from Grant Thornton International last year, in no small part due to its strong investment in DE&I. This has allowed the firm to further leverage the strength of the Grant Thornton network when it comes to international business prospects.

“It enabled us to leverage and market ourselves from an international client perspective. Considering how well recognised the Grant Thornton brand is globally, for us to be able to say in Ireland that we were awarded the Go Beyond firm of the year last year has real weight, and has enabled us to have conversations with people that we probably wouldn’t have been able to have conversations with before.” Dan Holland, Audit Partner, Grant Thornton Ireland

What’s next for the Ireland firm in its DE&I journey?

A firm’s DE&I journey is never truly complete, regardless of how successful it may be. Investing in DE&I needs to be an ongoing process that consistently changes in response to an ever-evolving world. Grant Thornton Ireland has moved DE&I a lot more centrally within its organisational structure, linking it formally with ESG. With it now seen as “one of the key pillars of the firm’s overall engagement with ESG” according to Dan Holland.

There are always going to be challenges facing global firms when it comes to DE&I, with Shauna Rahman outlining that “data-collection, the gender equality gap and the barriers to entry in recruitment and talent retention” are three key areas that will require future focus. Grant Thornton Ireland is actively engaging in education campaigns around these issues in order to mitigate their risks in the future, while also committing to initiatives such as the Women in Finance charter that promotes women into senior leadership roles. Through setting clear targets, continued progress can be made and tracked despite these challenges.

Embedding DE&I within the core of your firm

Grant Thornton Ireland’s DE&I journey has been one of enormous success, with a clear commitment to its people at its heart. The dedication to sustained momentum in its DE&I initiatives is something that echoes through the firm at every level. 

“It’s been a very energetic journey for everybody that’s been involved, it’s been exciting for those that have been involved, and it's been rewarding for those that have been involved. For the firm as a whole, it’s definitely delivered a culture to ensure that people are fully respected in what they do and how they perform within the firm.” Dan Holland, Audit Partner, Grant Thornton Ireland

When you consider how far the firm has come from the initial inception of its Embrace programme, it’s clear that this kind of success takes clear planning, a strong team, and enough time for initiatives to really take effect. The “positive rollercoaster” that is the firm’s DE&I journey, as described by Shauna Rahman, truly sums up the ups and downs of trying to create real cultural change. However, if you can dedicate the time and resources to rooting DE&I within the core of your firm, it can pay long-lasting dividends for both your business and your employees.