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ICAEW President on the importance of Black History Month


Published: 11 Oct 2022

Julia Penny, ICAEW President, talks about why Black History Month matters to the profession and how ICAEW is driving change.

Black History Month

One of ICAEW’s five Strategic Themes is to strengthen the profession by attracting talent and building diversity. This is a theme I feel particularly and personally passionate about, and which I am shining a light on during my year as President.

Society has made significant progress in recent decades in addressing many social inequalities, but there is still a great deal of work to be done

Every year in the UK, Black History Month helps to focus minds on a critical part of our nation’s history: the diverse legacies of Britons of African and Caribbean descent, and their achievements and contributions to our social, political, and economic development. Many of us need a better and fuller understanding of the events that have shaped today’s society and of why we still have a long way to go to achieve full and genuine equality of opportunity. It is a time for learning and for honest and open debate and discussion.

We’re undertaking a range of activities across the month and, as we do every year, are flying the Pan-African UNIA flag outside Chartered Accountants’ Hall – symbolic of our belief that unity is vital to progress.

The profession

Those of us in business and finance face a significant challenge in improving Black and other ethnic minority representation at senior levels.

Things are improving; last year, it was revealed that the number of FTSE 350 companies with a director with ethnic minority background on their board had more than doubled since 2020. However, the number itself is still low, representing only 45% of FTSE 350 companies.

Of course, representation in itself won’t solve inequality, but it’s an important part of achieving greater diversity of thought and experience in leadership and inspiring the next generation who will see a more inclusive, and therefore more accessible, profession.

ICAEW activity

We were the first professional body to sign up to the Charter for Black Talent in Finance and the Professions, which calls for more representation of Black professionals at senior levels.

Our associated action plan considers Black representation through our employees, our membership, our committees and our advisory groups, as well as through widening access to the profession.

Last year we joined the ‘10,000 Black Interns’ programme and continue to promote it across our networks. We have already welcomed several Black interns on placement at ICAEW and are working with key partners towards ensuring that 10,000 internships are offered by 2025.

Widening the talent pool

Even beyond racial inequalities, we’re working to improve the diversity of our future generations of members, including through our student recruitment activities. We chair and administrate Access Accountancy, a collaboration of employers and professional bodies seeking to improve access to the accountancy profession in the UK.

Our new Rise initiative, which we run with several larger firms, aims to raise the aspirations and skillsets of the hardest-to-reach young people across the UK through a series of school-based workshops. It has so far supported over 2,800 disadvantaged young people.

The work of Black History Month needs to reach as many personal and professional communities as possible to make a difference, so I hope that many of you will consider marking this important occasion in your own way.