Championing Unique Perspectives: Cole Agbede CA
Cole Agbede CA shares his perspective on the importance of EDI in the accountancy profession, the influence that firms have on the wider business world and how we can all play our parts to ignite change.
Inspired by the Black Lives Matter movement that spread across the globe after the murder of George Floyd in 2022, a group of MBA students came together to initiate change at their school. Cole Agbede CA co-founded The Black in Business Club at London Business School, where he was one of eleven black professionals in his graduating class of 500.
What opportunities for creating a more inclusive accountancy profession do you see from forming the Black in Business Club?
It’s kind of a mix of ideas and job opportunities. We knew that by driving change at The London Business School (LBS), we could drive change in the business world too. One of the ambitions we had when we set up Black in Business was to change the mentality around having Black societies - for allies and Black people to feel comfortable in Black spaces, talking about Black history, learning about what it means to be Black.
I think the creation of the club makes LBS more attractive to Black talent. We’ve done the work with the school to ensure that recruitment is more geared towards Black talent. The hope is there will now be more Black accountants who will finish the programme and return to work better equipped and more senior, creating a diverse workforce with a stronger position to influence inclusion.
Why do you feel diversity is so important in accounting, and do you feel the profession is ahead or behind when it comes to EDI?
Professional bodies and regulators, such as ICAS, have an influence factor over their members and firms, and the wider business world. They have a material influence on the conduct of the business world. It's important because they can drive the behaviour of accountants, and non-accountants, so for them to put EDI at the forefront of what they do and all their communications and events that they run, that will have an impact on the wider business world. So, no doubt, they have a pivotal place.
At an organisational level, what practical steps do you think firms can take to ensure they act as allies and ensure real action is achieved?
The first thing would be a level of acceptance of individual employees and their lived experiences. [As a Black man] the rational thought process, based on my lived experiences and what we see in society, is that the person I’m speaking to could be biased. They could be racist. And so that is something that I will always have to think about as an added layer that someone that isn't Black wouldn't have to think about.
The CEO saying they want change isn’t enough. What really matters is the everyday employees. They need to be the ones that are brought into the idea of recruitment, retention, and progression of Black talent.
“Sometimes I think companies are always trying to show you how much progress they've made, and I don't think we're at that stage yet. We should be focused on what still needs to be done.”
I think in terms of real action, it can be broken down into three pillars. Awareness, opportunity and community.
I think within awareness there needs to be initiatives that are a mix of events and communications, where the organisation is consistently sharing that they are aware that some of these issues exist. Then using that as a mechanism to change mindsets and behaviours - no longer pretending that this isn't an issue. Once you have that baseline, it then becomes easier to change some of the interactions around the topic.
I think around opportunity, it's something as simple as how recruiters think about diversity in recruitment. Recently, recruiters have rightly been focused on improving gender equality, and I’m not sure that message is going across in terms of hiring more minorities, which is an initiative firms need to take more seriously.
Regarding community, it needs to be easier for Black professionals within these organisations to come together and support each other, such as through the creation of a Black Network. The initiative will be around removing that taboo of having Black people come together on a regular basis, and actually having the firm find ways to support that, whether that's providing facilities or providing funding. These are all opportunities around creating a voice for positive change
Marking Black History Month
ICAS is marking Black History Month by sharing stories from incredible CAs throughout the month. Read more about the diverse experiences and perspectives Black CAs have gained from working to create a better and more inclusive accountancy profession and society.
Be part of the change
Join us on 31 October from 12:30 to 1:30pm for an insightful discussion with Clive Bellingham CA, Kudzai Zendera CA, Tosin Ajay CA and Temi Labor CA and Marta Philips CA. They will reveal insights that all CAs can action as allies and share the lessons they have learned as advocates for equality when building inclusive businesses and enterprises.
Speakers will also reveal details of the ICAS Black Member Network, launching this month, which will help deliver change by actioning the ambitions of ICAS’ Black Talent Action Plan.
Get in touch if you would like to share your story and join the conversation on social media with #UniquePerspectives.
Read more about topics covering diversity, equality and inclusion within our Championing Unique Perspectives series.