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ICAEW marks Black History Month

30 September 2020: In the wake of recent global unrest, this year’s Black History Month takes on a new resonance. ICAEW Chief Executive Michael Izza outlines the challenges accountancy faces regarding representation and how ICAEW intends to drive change.

ICAEW will once again be proudly marking Black History Month, which takes place every October in the United Kingdom.

This month-long commemoration promotes and reflects on the diverse histories of Britons of African and Caribbean descent, and their achievements and contributions to the UK’s social, political and economic development. It has taken place every year since 1987.

In the wake of recent global unrest, this year’s Black History Month will likely take on a new resonance. There is an increasing realisation that many of us need a better and fuller understanding of our history – of the events that have shaped today’s society and why we still have a long way to go to achieve full and genuine equality. This is a time for learning, open debate and discussion.

ICAEW activities

As in previous years, we will be flying the Pan-African UNIA flag – symbolic of the belief that unity is vital to progress – outside Chartered Accountants’ Hall. We will also be sharing a series of activities under the mantra, ‘Embracing a new sense of purpose’, starting with videos showcasing some of our most inspirational black ICAEW members. This is an opportunity to hear some of their experiences and insights on issues such as leadership, skills and intersectionality in the professions. These issues will then be discussed in an online summit on Monday 26 October, focussing on the future of black leadership.

We hope these activities will help raise awareness and empower fellow professionals to drive further success in their careers.

The accountancy profession

Our profession has ramped up its engagement and action on ethnic inequalities in recent years but there is still a long way to go, particularly regarding representation in senior leadership roles. Earlier this year, the Parker Review found that more than half of the 256 FTSE 350 companies it reviewed did not have a single director of colour on their boards. The FRC also reported that more than half of FTSE 250 companies fail to consider ethnicity as part of their board diversity policies. 

These are long-term challenges which require long-term solutions. At ICAEW, we’re working to improve the diversity of our future generations of members, including through our student recruitment activities. In 2014 we co-founded Access Accountancy, a collaboration of employers and professional bodies seeking to improve access to the accountancy profession in the UK. Our work with the Milton Keynes Community Foundation is also helping to support social mobility specifically among black communities.

This is often primarily regarded as a moral issue, but there is a business case here too – a wider diversity of talent means greater diversity of thought and innovation, which can only bring economic benefit.

Making change happen

We need to ensure that the knowledge-building and awareness-raising that lies at the heart of Black History Month stretches beyond academic audiences and corporate bubbles; it needs to reach local communities and all economic sectors to help achieve real change, and that is why I hope that readers will also consider marking this month in their own way and with their own businesses.

This continues to be a difficult year for all of us, and many of us are facing challenges in our personal and professional lives which we never anticipated. However, we must not lose sight of addressing some of the wider societal challenges we all still face, and which will have a fundamental impact on all our futures.

Further reading and resources