Equality, diversity and inclusion at ICAS: Reflections from the CEO
Bruce Cartwright CA reflects on our journey towards creating a more diverse and inclusive profession.
“Where does ICAS stand on equality, diversity and inclusion?”
To me it’s obvious, we believe in it and want to play our part in creating a fairer and inclusive profession, just as we want to see in wider society.
“So as an ICAS Member, or a member of the public, how would I know that and what actions do I see that support that statement?”
These were two questions put to me by an ICAS Member about a year after I was appointed CEO. Another Member wrote to me and (quite rightly) asked why black Members were not visible when we highlighted success, particularly among our younger Members.
These were two prompts that made me want to go further, and I hope it might be helpful to share them.
From these two exchanges, I decided to “look under the bonnet”’ of our organisation and I started with the ICAS website. I found one reference to equality, but it was firmly rooted in explaining our gender pay gap and nothing more. In terms of the question relating to celebrating success, I did find that when we had put together judging panels for nominated awards, the judging was done on a “blind” basis with all applications reviewed without names or photographs to reduce the prospect for unconscious bias. However, as I dug further, I realised we did not have a robust awareness of our membership from a diversity point of view. How many black Members do we have and how many might we expect to apply for an award? The answer is we simply don’t know because, other than a request for Members to state their ethnic origin in their profile (approximately 15% do), we have not traditionally captured this data.
The Equality, Diversity and Inclusion Working Group was formed to establish a longer-term plan for ICAS to be more visible in its actions, to support our members and to work towards creating a more inclusive profession.
And conscious also of feedback from one or two of our Council Members (including a public interest Member), I recognised that our lack of real focus in this arena was indefensible. Hence, with strong support from the Executive Team and the ICAS Office Bearers, the Equality, Diversity and Inclusion Working Group was formed to establish a longer-term plan for ICAS to be more visible in its actions, to support our members and to work towards creating a more inclusive profession. We took these steps as I did not want to just pay "lip service" to this topic, but to really embrace this agenda and to drive it forward.
I think it is important that I stop at this stage and make clear that I am not simply pointing the finger and saying we should have done this before. We should. But I am in that past too. I was on Council for the eight years ending in 2014. I hope I made a valuable contribution to ICAS alongside many other Council Members during this time. And while I saw this as something we needed to pick up, it was not a strategic priority. However, when you consider that all of our Members are impacted by equality, diversity and inclusion, and all can be a positive force for good in promoting this agenda beyond words, it is clear that we absolutely have to respond.
So, in 2019 we had strong support from Council to get going and we did. An early change readily adopted by ICAS as a recommendation was to amend the criteria of the qualities expected of an ICAS Office Bearer to include an awareness and support for equality, diversity and inclusion. You may well think this would be a given. Well it is now explicit.
The group went on to set out its stall and shared its objectives with the membership in Spring 2020. Feedback from the membership to the published document was disappointingly sparse but Council subsequently endorsed the group’s plan and agreed that it should become a permanent fixture reporting directly to Council. And as the group moves from working group to becoming an advisory group at the heart of ICAS we recognise the need to increase representation from a number of underrepresented minority groups who can bring their experiences and ideas to the forefront to drive the institute and profession forward.
As this all quietly evolved in the background at ICAS, we collectively reeled back in shock and horror as we witnessed recent events unfolding in the USA. We were not watching naively in the belief that this is a USA issue. The UK has equal issues to address, and those reading from further afield will also know these are global issues.
I was brought up with the phrase “treat people as you would wish to be treated” and that is something I have always tried to adopt. I am conscious of failing in this on occasion and my challenge then has been to learn from my mistake. It may have been an unconscious error once, but it won’t be a second time. And beyond seeking to ensure that I am respectful of others, what role should I play in calling out the behaviour of others? I am often reminded of the phrase “everyone is someone’s son or daughter,“ which gives a parental perspective of the experience everyone should feel entitled to. But if you are not convinced by a parental perspective then at a more basic level the requirement is surely equally relevant from a humanitarian perspective. So, for me, I have a personal obligation to call out bad behaviour when I see it.
It sometimes feels like it would be easier to stay silent for fear of getting it wrong or inadvertently causing offence both at a personal and organisational level. That doesn’t play well to the “power of one” or our own code of ethics.
How does that translate to ICAS? ICAS has a tradition of speaking out in areas where we believe we have experience and knowledge to bear. Our expertise is clearly around equipping business leaders of tomorrow through our intensive training programme. We believe this preparation must be much wider than numbers – it must cover ethics, sustainability and the new arenas of risk and technology, and cyber security to give some examples. And we believe that member engagement and support is lifelong, cementing and complimentary to the initial intensive training period.
You may ask, what does ICAS as an organisation (or me personally) know about equality, diversity, and inclusion – not enough? We all have personal experiences to bring to bear; I happened to go to a school where bullying was sadly part of the DNA and it has made me overtly passionate about calling out bullying and intimidation when I see it. But I can’t say I have suffered first-hand experience of overt racism beyond a bullying culture that could be focused on my or somebody else’s accent being different from others. Nor have I suffered from prejudice in relation to my gender, a disability, my sexuality or my mental health. But we have Members in our ICAS community who have, and we must learn from their experiences, sadly experts (and not by choice) in the field of prejudice. I recognise that I am on a personal journey and more importantly as a leader of the profession, we are on a journey of educating ourselves and finding the best way forward to create true change.
We are starting at home by rolling out unconscious bias training across ICAS for all staff, Council Members and chairs of key committees. We are also recruiting a full time equality, diversity and inclusion specialist to help shape and drive our agenda in this regard. We have reached out to our Members and we are delighted with the response to our request to become directly involved.
We recognise we are on a journey and I hope all of our Members will join us in creating a profession that is truly diverse and inclusive, and that brings out the best in each and every one of us.
So, by combining the personal journeys/experiences of many and building in-house expertise (as we do on other matters where we wish to lead), we will make a difference. It’s not easy, but that’s the point. It sometimes feels like it would be easier to stay silent for fear of getting it wrong or inadvertently causing offence both at a personal and organisational level. That doesn’t play well to the “power of one” or our own code of ethics.
Like many individuals and organisations, we are learning. I know that Members will be looking for actions and positive outcomes; that’s what we expect in other arenas in which we actively participate. We recognise we are on a journey and I hope all of our Members will join us in creating a profession that is truly diverse and inclusive, and that brings out the best in each and every one of us.
ICAS Equality, Diversity and Inclusion survey
The ICAS Equality, Diversity and Inclusion survey was emailed directly to all ICAS Members and Students from the CEO (via an independent research company, James Law Research Associates).Your feedback is hugely important as it will help us to shape our Equality, Diversity and Inclusion Strategy. Please check your inbox for the survey; the closing date is 17 September 2020.