ICAS publishes non-authoritative guidance to the Code of Ethics in relation to Equality, Diversity and Inclusion
Ann Buttery, Head of Ethics, ICAS Policy Leadership, highlights key points from new non-authoritative guidance to the ICAS Code of Ethics developed to assist CAs to understand their responsibilities in relation to values of equality, diversity and inclusion.
In November 2015, ICAS launched its business ethics initiative: The Power of One. In November 2020, ICAS reiterated this call and issued second editions of The Power of One series of publications. The Power of One calls on all Chartered Accountants (CAs) to place ethical leadership at the heart of their professional responsibilities and to help shape the culture and values of their organisations. Every individual CA must take personal responsibility for living the ethical principles of their profession and every CA also has an important role to play in promoting ethical behaviour.
ICAS recognises that CAs are a force for good in the organisations in which they work. All ICAS Members are therefore encouraged to act as a catalyst for positive change in the accountancy profession, organisations and society generally.
Equality, Diversity and Inclusion – A priority for ICAS
In 2019, ICAS identified the adoption, promotion and embedding of a culture of equality, diversity and inclusion as being a priority for ICAS. The ED+I Committee (formerly known as the Guthrie Group) was set up to take ICAS’ equality, diversity and inclusion strategy forward. In addition, The ICAS Foundation, founded in 2012 with the help of ICAS, was set up to support academically talented young people facing economic and social barriers to further education, to gain a degree in accountancy and finance.
Guidance to the ICAS Code of Ethics – Equality, Diversity and Inclusion
With effect from 1 January 2021, in order to highlight ICAS’ commitment to the embedding of values of equality, diversity and inclusion, the ICAS Code of Ethics contains provisions to specifically emphasise a CA’s responsibilities in relation to values of equality, diversity and inclusion. The amendments are in ‘Subsection 111 – Integrity’, ‘Subsection 115 - Professional Behaviour’, and also in Section 200 in relation to organisational culture. Detail of the changes is provided here.
To be clear, these amendments to the Code do not represent a change in the substance of the Code. By requiring professional accountants to adhere to the five fundamental ethics principles, the Code already prohibited behaviour by CAs which is contrary to values of equality, diversity and inclusion, even though there was no specific reference within the Code to these values.
These changes have been introduced to the 2021 Code to bring attention to values of equality, diversity and inclusion; to highlight that upholding these values is in the spirit of what it means to be a member of ICAS; and to emphasise the behaviours expected of individual CAs.
Paragraph 1.1 of the ‘Approach, Scope and Authority’ section of the Code states: “The Code applies to all members of the Institute, affiliates, students, employees of a member firm or an affiliate, and member firms where relevant.” The guidance is therefore equally applicable to all such individuals.
Individual ethical leadership
CAs can be found in all walks of life, business and society and, as noted above, need to take personal responsibility for the important role they have to play both in terms of their individual ethical behaviour and in terms of the positive influence they can have on the culture of the organisations in which they work.
Within the integrity and professional behaviour principles, CAs are now reminded to conduct themselves in a manner which respects values of equality, diversity and inclusion. This would include avoiding behaviours such as bullying and harassment.
Within Section 200 of the Code, application material highlights the responsibilities of professional accountants in relation to organisational culture. CAs at all levels, but especially those in senior positions, have a key role to play in establishing and embedding ethical values in an organisation, including values of equality, diversity and inclusion.
Organisations are also encouraged to consider having appropriate ‘speak up’ mechanisms in place so that concerns can be raised regarding behaviours or practices that may demonstrate a lack of equality, diversity and inclusion. Speaking up allows issues to be dealt with at the earliest opportunity before they escalate. However, if someone speaks up but nobody listens, then the speaking up will not be effective. There is therefore a need for managers to listen to concerns and then take action to investigate the issue.
Values of Equality, Diversity and Inclusion
As there is no globally accepted definition of values of equality, diversity and inclusion, the terms are not specifically defined within the ICAS Code of Ethics. Reference to some material from different sources is provided in the guidance.
ICAS ethics resources
ICAS is committed to providing ethics resources and support to its Members. Since 2015, ICAS has published a series of publications, guidance and resources as part of the Power of One initiative which are all available on icas.com.
In November 2020, to mark the fifth anniversary of The Power of One, ICAS issued second editions of its series of publications on ethical leadership:
- Ethics -The Power of One
- The Power of One – Personal responsibility and ethical leadership
- The Power of One – Moral Courage
- The Power of One – Personal Reputation
- The Power of One – Organisational culture and values
- The Power of One – The CA and the organisation
- The Ethical Journey – The Right, the Good and the Virtuous
ICAS also offers the following:
- guidance on conflict of interest;
- an ethical decision making framework;
- ethics videos;
- case studies, including CAs’ real-life ethical dilemmas featured within the ICAS research publication Speak up? Listen Up? Whistleblow?; and
From 1 January 2021, compulsory ethics CPD is introduced for all ICAS Members. This does not involve compulsory attendance at courses or the purchase of material – it could simply mean some reading of ethics-related material available online. In addition to ICAS’ own ethics resources as noted above, other websites provide useful sources of information as explained here.
If you have an ethical query, including a query on the provisions within the Code of Ethics in relation to values of equality, diversity and inclusion, ICAS offers an ethics helpline service.
ICAS is also partnered with whistleblowing charity Protect to provide members and students with access to an independent, confidential helpline. This service offers free advice regarding whistleblowing and speaking up.