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Helping members to speak up

Author: Fiona Wilkinson

Published: 11 Jul 2019

Everyone should feel free and able to speak up in the workplace. Encouraging and supporting people to raise issues of concern when they arise, is a crucial part of maintaining a healthy workplace culture – and at ICAEW we work hard to provide this to our members and our staff.

ICAEW members are expected to uphold high standards of professional conduct and to act in the public interest. We maintain a rigorous Code of Ethics, which sets these standards and is based on the code of the International Ethics Standards Board for Accountants (IESBA). At the heart of our code are several fundamental principles, along with guidance on applying them to specific types of work or situations.

One principle is to act with integrity and to be straightforward and honest in all professional and business relationships. This means calling out wrongdoing or inappropriate behaviour, to ensure it is addressed.

However, this has to be balanced with another principle - to respect confidentiality of information acquired as a result of professional and business relationships.

These conflicting pressures – often involving employers, colleagues and clients – require a high level of judgement, and knowing what to do and when and how to speak up can be difficult.

To help our members understand their options and the implications of their professional requirements, we’ve developed a number of support services – including our online framework for resolving ethical problems, detailed helpsheets and a dedicated ethical advisory service and Support Members Scheme.

Our ethical advisory service is free and confidential to ICAEW members, and provides a safe and secure opportunity to talk through the situation with an objective outsider, who can highlight ethical obligations and potential options for ‘speaking up’ in an appropriate way. In cases where further detailed advice or guidance is needed, members are also directed to other specialist organisations – for example, in relation to whistleblowing and the Public Interest Disclosure Act.

Most enquiries are handled by telephone, enabling the advisor to pick up on indicators of stress – such as tone of voice – while getting a feel for the circumstances and being able to question the caller to get to the nub of the issue. Help can also be accessed online via a webchat service.

But we recognise that not all chartered accountants will want to seek advice from their professional body – so we offer further assistance through a Support Members Scheme. This allows members to get in touch with one of around 50 volunteer members who give their time to help other members in difficulty. This service is also free and confidential, and the provision of peer-to-peer support can prove particularly beneficial.

The sensitivity of the information that ICAEW Chartered Accountants deal with means that they face many very difficult – and sometimes very serious – challenges. Our ethical advisors and support members are trained to discuss with members the potential implications of taking certain decisions, as well as legal and professional requirements that apply to the circumstances.

By encouraging our members to speak up - and supporting them when they do - we empower them to uphold their high standards of professional conduct and to make informed and ethical decisions in the public interest.