Ensuring the chartered accountancy profession is diverse and inclusive is a key part of ICAEW’s 10-year strategy.
The majority of organisations across all sectors now understand that diversity and inclusion (D&I) is a strategic priority. An impressive 90% of business leaders across Europe have initiatives to encourage D&I in their organisations, and two thirds have now formulated a strategic approach. This approach sees them undertake coordinated and specific activities to align resources to strategy action plans, dedicate specific budgets for D&I initiatives and give employees explicit goals to create and implement a D&I strategy, according to data from Workday. Furthermore, 36% will increase their investment in D&I in the next financial year, according to the same data.
ICAEW is no exception to these trends. Core themes within our strategy are designed to drive the required change over the next 10 years to achieve a sustainable economy and help the world hit net zero greenhouse-gas emissions targets. The core strategy themes of increasing trust in the profession, mastering technology and data, supporting trade and the economy and achieving sustainable development goals, will not be achievable without strengthening the chartered accountancy profession by attracting diverse talent.
In practice, this means ensuring the profile of ICAEW members and students reflects the societies it serves, and supports the personal and professional development of all members throughout their careers. The Institute’s governance echoes these goals. “Growing numbers of talented individuals from all backgrounds are attracted to the world of accountancy and as we proactively take steps to increase access to the profession, many of these exceptional individuals will seek ICAEW membership,” says Michael Izza, ICAEW Chief Executive.
“We will not only evolve our respective corporate governance to reflect our membership, but we will also take steps to ensure that our membership is representative of the communities and societies that we serve. We are currently delivering industry progression by increasing access to the profession and removing complex and sometimes invisible barriers.”
Increasing access to the profession means encouraging people with different characteristics, from a range of backgrounds and with a range of different experiences to become chartered accountants. And, just as importantly, once they have joined the profession, it’s crucial that they are valued for who they are and that they can bring their full selves to work to contribute.
“The pipeline is such an important part of the diversity journey to get right,” says Dr Antonia Sudkaemper, Diversity and Inclusion Manager at ICAEW. “If we don’t fix the pipeline, we’re never going to get anywhere at senior levels of the profession.” ICAEW’s strategy for access to the profession this year focuses on five areas: social mobility, Black talent, women in the profession, people with learning difficulties and students from the LGBTQ+ community.
For instance, ICAEW has been involved in the Queer Student Awards – which recognise talented LGBTQ+ students and allies in the community – since their inception in 2021. Last year, it sponsored the Role Model of the Year Award and this year will sponsor the Ally of the Year Award. Aimed at 16-24 year old students, and employers, schools, colleges and universities in the UK, the awards provide an opportunity for the accountancy profession to demonstrate its commitment to D&I to this age group, according to Lara Soltan-Mohammadi from ICAEW’s D&I team.
ICAEW is also leading a coalition of firms – EY, KPMG, PwC, BDO and Grant Thornton – to run the Rise programme. This teaches communication, problem-solving and teamwork skills to 14-to-16-year-olds at schools in disadvantaged areas across the country. It is aimed at raising the aspirations of young people from low socio-economic backgrounds. ICAEW plans to run 50 workshops this year, reaching 3,000 students.
Initial Rise workshops have already taken place at Featherstone High School in Southall, west London, where staff have found it hard to encourage young people at all levels of the academic spectrum to explore the wide range of opportunities available to them through training schemes and apprenticeships.
“I want young people to understand that people in professions come from a wide range of backgrounds, have taken a wide range of qualifications and have a wide range of experiences to reach the current role that they’re in,” says Andrew Webb, Head of Careers at Featherstone High School. “The Rise workshops are fantastic. They give the children in year 9 the opportunity to work with a range of professionals to be creative, and collaboratively work as part of a team, to solve problems that are relevant to themselves.”
Progression in the profession
Beyond schools, ICAEW champions D&I across all stages of the profession as well – from students to the most senior partners, board members and executives. A Black Members Community launched by ICAEW in 2021 aims to support and inspire Black students and members throughout their careers, promoting Black talent in the profession and encouraging networking. “It’s open to non-members, too, and allies are really welcome in the group,” says Yelena Travis-Powell, Diversity and Inclusion Manager at ICAEW.
The community is part of ICAEW’s commitment to the Charter for Black Talent in Finance and the Professions. Notably, ICAEW was the first professional body to sign in 2020. The charter aims to boost recruitment, career progression, retention and promotion of Black talent in these sectors and encourages organisations to focus on accountability, measurability and transparency. ICAEW has created a five-year plan and established targets to improve equality of opportunity for Black professionals working both inside and outside the Institute.
ICAEW has also signed HM Treasury’s Women in Finance Charter, a pledge for gender balance and fairness across financial services. As part of this, the ICAEW Women in Finance Community is also open to everyone to encourage personal development and networking opportunities. “At ICAEW, we have long recognised that our global community is a powerful force for good, achieving prosperity in ways that are resilient and responsible,” says Izza. “We all have a role to play in strengthening and future-proofing the profession by attracting the very best talent, building diversity and promoting inclusion to drive innovation and change.”
We all have a role to play in strengthening and future-proofing the profession by attracting the very best talent, building diversity and promoting inclusion to drive innovation and change
Members realise that ICAEW is focusing on D&I in the chartered accountancy profession. Alan Chan, founder of Cornerstone Accountants, participated in ICAEW and Step’s drama workshop, which was filmed to launch the Welcome Inclusion campaign. It “shows how seriously ICAEW is taking D&I. Hopefully that is the start of real change,” he says.
ICAEW will continue to participate in initiatives such as the aforementioned Charters and other areas of activity, such as the charity Stonewall’s Workplace Equality Index, “The Broadcast” series, Women in Finance Charter and is working on future programmes and a key strategy that focuses on D&I. As Sudkaemper says: “D&I is not just a topic that concerns minority groups, it's a topic for everyone – ultimately everyone is going to benefit from diversity of thought in the profession. We really want to encourage all of our members to engage with this.”