One of ICAEW’s strategic themes is to strengthen the profession by attracting talent and building diversity. By adopting this strategic approach to equality now, we will future proof the profession, ensuring that our members and students are reflective of the society we serve, drawing from a wide range of backgrounds to meet challenges and deliver against the core mission, to enable a world of sustainable economies.
This goal applies equally to strengthening diversity and inclusion among ICAEW staff and within our active membership that forms ICAEW regulatory and disciplinary committees. These committees make all the important decisions on ICAEW members’ and member firms’ conduct and competence.
Recently, the Committees and Tribunals Team has introduced a raft of initiatives to ensure accountant and lay members serving on these committees are drawn from as diverse a range of people, backgrounds, and experience as possible.
“From the membership point of view, ICAEW is working to make the profession attractive to diverse talent and is spotlighting diverse professionals at the top of their game, and we want to mirror that, so it's top-to-bottom and end-to-end approach” says Kim Nyawira, Head of Committees and Tribunals.
With this in mind, the team has been working closely with ICAEW’s Head of Global Equality, Equity and Belonging, Yelena Travis-Powell BEM throughout the process. “This has really helped to extend our reach and understand the challenges that present,” explains Kim.
Recruitment practices are an obvious starting point in any strategy to increase diversity. “So we started by changing these,” explains Kim. “We advertised in different places to try and attract different people, and we changed the application form, removing old wording that relied on demonstrable experience gained over a particular time frame to allow for a wider type and breadth of experience.”
In the past, committee posts were advertised on ICAEW’s website and in The Guardian. These routes are still used, but roles are also now posted on LinkedIn, and on other job boards such as Race Equality Matters and Women on Boards UK. And the team is reaching out to ICAEW’s specialist communities, such as the Black Members Community, Women in Finance Community and Small Practitioners Community.
“We're trying lots of other ICAEW avenues too,” says Kim, “such as the new member ceremonies and practitioners’ conferences through to the volunteering hub and the different faculties, so we get the message out to all kinds of members.”
“Instead of looking at experience in a certain sphere, we began asking for behavioural competencies, which can be shown and demonstrated in many different ways,” she explains. “So, you do not necessarily need to have experience in a committee, you could show working in a team in other ways. Diversity of experience is really important for us.”
“We also introduced blind sifting, so all the personal data is deleted to remove the potential for unconscious bias creeping in to decision making,” she says.
Getting a baseline
One of Yelena’s main recommendations was to conduct a baseline diversity survey. “We needed to start with a baseline of where we are now, so that we could start measuring which initiatives and changes to existing process were working, and where these were having effect.,” explains Kim.
This anonymous and completely voluntary survey looked at the current make-up of the committees in terms of the characteristics protected under the Equality Act 2010, as well as aspects such as background and experience.
“In our wish to get data to support our work,” says Kim. “We wanted to find the best way in which to do it so people could feel safe in providing that information, because that is the most important thing in having such processes.”
“When you do it in the way we're doing it at the moment, which is an anonymous, I think we’re able to get a truer reflection of who is on our committees.”
Wider initiatives that are also supporting diversity include retaining some of the committee meetings online post-pandemic, and a decision to remunerate contributing accountant committee members for expenses and time. Until recently, only lay committee members received payment for their time.
Kim believes these changes have a significant role in promoting greater diversity, in particular by attracting people earlier in their careers, and those who might find it difficult to take time off to do committee work, or to pay expensive travel costs.
In the past, applications from potential accountant members have often come from the larger firms, perhaps partly because they are more aware of the roles but also because these firms are more likely to have the resources to give employees time out of the office.
“If we don't pay our committee members, then it potentially limits the opportunity to people who work in those big firms, who are able to take the time off,” says Kim. The other angle to this is that the payment should allow younger people, earlier in their career, to consider committee work as an option.
“We're hoping to get greater diversity in terms of age and work experience, because everyone brings different perspectives to the table,” she emphasises.
Diversity of practice
Alongside the payment, the team is raising awareness of committee roles among sole practitioners and SME practices. “We’re asking them if they have an interest in joining our committees and bringing that diversity of practice, says Kim. “So, we’re looking at diversity from that perspective as well, not only the protected characteristics but also structural, by size and type of firm.”
The move to online meetings during the pandemic revealed some unexpected positives in terms of attracting different people and increasing regional demographics. For example, it removed some of the barriers for people who might not have the time or inclination or physical ability to travel to Chartered Accountants’ Hall in London for every meeting.
“We're also working on a diversity calendar, which will start informing how we schedule our meetings and training days,” adds Kim.
“Committees are a great learning opportunity for different people in different stages of their career, and we want to bring that to as many people as possible,” says Kim. “It’s a process and it’s early days, but we’re committed to making sure we do everything we can to strengthen our committees by making recruitment to, and serving on, them more inclusive and diverse.”
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