ICAS President, Indy Singh Hothi CA: Tackling 'EDI fatigue'
Diversity doesn’t just mean visible difference – rather it’s about boosting social mobility for all, says ICAS President Indy Singh Hothi CA
The Parker Review published its first report in 2016 with the stated ambition of improving the ethnic and cultural diversity of UK boards. The report revealed only 2% of directors in FTSE 100 boardrooms were British citizens of colour. Rather than express regret and let the matter rest, the review set those 100 companies a target – to each have at least one person of colour on their board by the close of 2021. As of March, 94 have achieved that target.
As we celebrate Black History Month in October, following South Asian History Month in summer, we should acknowledge that British business is making clear progress in the realm of diversity. But we are also in a moment within the corporate space where there is almost a sense of fatigue, where some business leaders are beginning to say, “What more can we do?”
Pivotal change typically only happens when you push through a barrier. Marathon contestants talk of the section beyond the halfway point, what regular runners call “the wall”, being the toughest. Just because we feel we’ve nailed one part of the picture, it doesn’t mean our work is done in others, such as the gender pay gap or opportunities for people with disabilities.
To give one pressing example, social mobility is a great enabler of improved EDI outcomes, especially for underserved and minority communities. Education is the fundamental driver of social mobility and I feel this is where ICAS has an important role to play. I was the first member of my family to go to university. I’m a classic case study of how education, hard work and perseverance can create opportunity and forge upward mobility.
Take the lead
During my time at EY, I led and ran several graduate insight days, in which students from non-target universities were able to understand what a career in finance, banking, professional services or accountancy could look like. I remember going through that journey myself, and I really struggled with it. I had no one in my network who could advise me on how to structure a job application or prepare for an interview. Because I recognised it was a challenge for me, I knew it would be for others too. Over a period of about two years, these insight days supported around 300 students into careers in finance.
At a recent ICAS event in London, one CA from EY told me: “I’m only here because those sessions gave me the practical skills.” It was great to have that impact confirmed first-hand. ICAS plays an essential role here too: since its formation in 2012, the ICAS Foundation has helped hundreds of people from lower socio-economic backgrounds to gain qualifications in finance. We also offer practical resources for members to champion diversity within the profession.
The Social Mobility Employer Index, as curated by the Social Mobility Foundation, ranks three accountancy firms, including two of the Big Four, in its top 10. It’s great to see that our profession is doing a good job of enabling upward social mobility, supporting people who may have felt excluded by their backgrounds into rewarding careers.
When we look at the bigger picture, however, the government’s Social Mobility Commission reported last year that “attainment gaps between advantaged and disadvantaged children are getting wider” – and that the impact of Covid-19 could make matters dramatically worse. Furthermore, social mobility has stagnated in the UK for much of the past decade.
To address this, we need to understand local community needs at a human level and undertake outreach more engagingly. We need to provide the education young people need to make informed choices about their lives and to understand what opportunities are available. This is why ICAS recently became a partner of Rise, a new initiative to provide schoolchildren from areas of low social mobility with the tools to forge a path towards a successful career.
Some people think if their race, gender, sexuality or physical characteristics don’t place them in a minority group, the pressure to boost diversity is, somehow, at their expense. But this isn’t a zero-sum game. We’re not taking from one to give to another. It’s about taking everyone on the journey, one that ultimately benefits our economy – something we need more than ever as we head into a challenging and uncertain time for many British businesses.
A survey for Monster’s revealed 63% of employers have failed to fill a role because of skills shortages. Again, this comes back to education. If we cannot deliver the skills employers need, we need to know why – and do better. We do that by making everyone know the road to success is open to them – regardless of what they look like or where they come from.