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Support for values is important: women and girls’ safety

Author: ICAEW Insights

Published: 08 Oct 2021

As a public interest body, I believe ICAEW’s members have a moral duty to lend our collective voice to a very wide problem, that of personal safety, writes Deborah Harris, especially in relation to women and girls.

I am heartened by another year of visible recognition by the ICAEW for UK Black History Month. But I am not convinced we have no moral duty to lend our voice to a wider problem. I believe there is a real duty on us to raise awareness of issues facing women and girls internationally, such as access to education, and ability to live their life safely. 

Let’s not forget that Biba Henry, Nicole Smallman, Sarah Everard, Gabby Pedito, and Sabina Nessa will not be with us this year to celebrate the International Day of Girls that takes place today, on 11 October. The common thread that joins these women is that those with power over them – and often also with authority plus a duty to protect or serve them – failed them, leading to loss of life. And with one woman’s death every three days in the UK, this is sobering. 

The level of violence against women is germane for ICAEW and its Council that governs it. Why? Because we have signed up in support of the theme of ‘attracting talent and building diversity’. This applies equally to the girls and women who pursue careers in our profession.

And achieving sustainable development goals needs ALL genders safe to sit around the table – and in boardrooms – to create the solutions the world urgently needs.

This professional body has shown leadership in its ability to have difficult conversations. We’ve discussed ethics, the profession itself, transformation, actively supporting innovation, and creating an environment where every member has a real sense of belonging. 

I am not raising this issue because this is a specific issue plaguing the accountancy profession particularly. I am raising it because we have a position of influence with our staff, colleagues, clients and in society. Our voice needs to be heard in support of eradicating violence against women. I exhort all individual members to reflect, even celebrate, where you already speak up, call out poor behaviour, use your power and authority to remove barriers, and make it safe for women in your network to live and work confidently alongside you. 

We lean on our intelligence to talk about investments, operational plans, new ways of working, transformation, and making it safer to ‘bring your authentic self to work. I would like to encourage all members to use this month to also draw on their emotional intelligence and have more conversations with their colleagues about what is acceptable – in terms of actions, attitude and behaviours – that can enhance our profession and society to keep our girls and women safe. 

Deborah Harris FCA, is the Chair, Audit Committee, Trinity Laban Conservatoire of Music and Dance; Risk, Audit and Compliance Committee Chair of The Children’s Society; 

Deputy President, London Society of Chartered Accountants; and ICAEW Council Member

Further resources for readers who may want to take action

  • In male-dominated sectors like finance, have conversations around support, safety, and the type of banter and ‘locker room’ chat you allow to go unchallenged.
  • Put in the work. Become a male ally. Learn what it means and how to show up as an impactful ally challenging violence against women 
  • Have a domestic violence (DV) policy - Vodafone have a lead on this
  • Work with charities like Women’s Aid to help enhance the firm’s understanding of how to further strengthen their support for staff vulnerable to DV. 
  • Have conversations with HR/performance leads about behaviours that will enhance the work environment for all

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