When it comes to diversity and inclusion, the ICAEW Student Council (ISC) and student societies lead by example, giving students a voice and helping to drive change.
For those embarking on careers in accountancy, ICAEW student societies are a vital part of the experience, providing a welcoming and supportive environment where students can improve their skills, expand their network, and enjoy social and sporting events.
Jas Rayat, trainee business adviser at BDO in Birmingham and Vice-Chair of the ISC, is focused on making student society events more inclusive and representative of the society that accountancy serves. “It’s about developing more of an awareness about the inclusivity of our events and making sure we’re doing our best to ensure fair representation for everyone,” she explains.
Jas, who initially joined the Birmingham Chartered Accountants Student Society (BCASS) before also getting involved in the ISC, is passionate about ICAEW’s mission to embed diversity and inclusion across its operations and the wider profession. “Accountancy is changing rapidly, so it’s more important now than ever to increase diversity in the profession – and that starts with students,” she says. “If people enjoy their student experience, they’re far more likely to stay in the profession.”
Jas adds: “Interacting with peers from varied backgrounds equips future accountants with essential communication skills for global collaboration. Embracing diversity enhances the profession's reputation, showcasing its commitment to fairness. Ultimately, inclusivity nurtures adaptable and culturally sensitive accountants, ready to excel in a rapidly changing landscape.”
There’s an unfair stereotype that student events centre on drinking, too, something that Bejay Mistry, auditor at DJH Mitten Clarke in Manchester and President of the Manchester Chartered Accountants Student Society (MCASS), thought when he first got involved. “People’s attitudes have changed, particularly over the past few years, so we’ve introduced a series of wellbeing events,” he says. “We started with yoga and pilates, then moved on to more intense workout classes like barre and boxercise. We’re also planning for caba to visit and give a talk.”
Jas and Bejay agree that continuing to successfully embed diversity and inclusion in student societies requires ongoing work and collaboration. “Everyone needs guidance in some way,” says Jas. “There might be things that we accidentally miss as a committee but we’re trying our best to make it inclusive for everyone.” Bejay adds: “We might not get it right the first time, but we’ll be using a continuous improvement process to build it and make it better. That’s what it’s all about.”
Moving on up
Social mobility is equally important for the profession, advocated by pan-profession initiatives like Rise and Access Accountancy. “When I was looking at careers, I didn’t know anyone in the accounting profession to ask for advice, so I had to take a leap of faith into the unknown,” says Jas. “Coming to BDO and seeing successful people from a similar working-class background to me has been so empowering, showcasing the potential to break barriers and attain ambitious dreams.”
Bejay, too, remembers how hard it was to “break through the barrier”. “There are so many things I just didn’t know about at the time,” he says. “That’s one of my reasons for volunteering: to break down barriers and enable people to get involved. It’s something we’re hoping to develop more. We now have a learning provider secretary on our committee, and one of their objectives is to visit learning institutions across Manchester to help young people who are thinking about a career in accountancy.
“I’ve got a real passion for driving change, understanding people and helping them to fulfil their goals through things like the student society. There’s no better sense of achievement than when you’ve helped somebody. Giving back and investing time in social causes is great for personal development, too – it’s a way to build on your strengths, but also to work on your weaknesses. It can be hard in your day-to-day job to develop a particular soft skill, but taking the plunge and doing it on a voluntary basis, you’re working with people who are in the same boat. Being with others outside of the normal corporate environment also means you lose that fear of getting it wrong.”
Both Bejay and Jas are seeing the benefits of diversity in action in their societies and fellow volunteers. “In our committee, there’s lots of representation of people from different companies, ethnicities and backgrounds,” says Jas. “They all have different ideas and approaches – and that’s one of the reasons why I strongly believe diversity is so important. It’s a strategic advantage in a workplace, in an organisation and in a society like ours because it brings together so many different perspectives – and that’s been proven to lead to better decision-making, innovation and change.”
Jas concludes: “You learn so much just from being around different people. That’s key not only to the success of our committee, but to the profession in general. When you’re bringing people in at the start of their accountancy journey, and you’re showing them that we’ve got lots of different people, they’ll go into the workplace with a really positive way of thinking about diversity – because they’ve seen it and they know it works.”