Why CAs must lead by example
ICAS and whistleblowing charity Protect are here to help CAs maintain professional excellence, says Michelle Mullen, Executive Director of Standards
CAs can support business and social change. Through their ethical behaviour, CAs are a force for good in the organisations in which they work. They can influence those around them, and thereby help shape the culture and values of their organisation. In short, CAs are a key component of building public trust in business and the profession, to the benefit of broader society.
This was the message at the heart of ICAS’ The Power of One business ethics initiative, launched in 2015. Five years later ICAS introduced, within the fundamental principles of integrity and professional behaviour, express reference to the need for members to respect values of equality, diversity and inclusion (ED&I). These changes were incorporated into the revised Code of Ethics, which came into force on 1 January 2021, and were highlighted in the second editions of The Power of One series of publications issued to mark its fifth anniversary.
Ethics is part of a CA’s DNA. It’s the defining feature of our profession and, as someone who has led on regulatory and policy issues for over two decades, I believe it has been the one constant of this profession. The revised Code of Ethics didn’t change the substance of the content, but it did underline the importance of CAs respecting the values of ED&I in their private and personal lives.
Taking a stand on ED&I still takes courage, but sometimes one individual can make a big difference. If CAs lead by example, others will follow. If CAs speak up, others will listen. If CAs reach a point where they feel they need to whistleblow, then hopefully their actions can help ensure that hitherto tolerated behaviours become unacceptable. That is the real message behind The Power of One.
ICAS research, published as “Speak Up? Listen Up? Whistleblow?”, underlines the need for clear guidelines. Two-thirds of CAs tell us they have encountered an ethical dilemma, of a technical and/or behavioural nature, at least once during their career. Speaking up is not always easy or appreciated, and outside of practice, a CA is often the only professionally qualified person in the organisation. As one CA said: “It can be a lonely job sometimes.”
Against that background, it’s important our members and students know where to turn for help. It is likely the relevant organisation will have speak-up policies which can provide support and outline the steps to take. CAs can also offer each other an excellent support network and ICAS staff are available to provide advice. However, sometimes independent counsel is called for, particularly when there are ethical and legal considerations.
For the last two years, ICAS has partnered with the independent whistleblowing charity Protect to provide members and students with access to its confidential helpline. We are proud to be able to work with Protect for the benefit of them all, so that when CAs and CA students feel they need to speak up, they will be supported and informed.
Access Protect or by phone on 0800 055 7215