Highlights from Difference Makers Discuss… The Value of Diversity

Difference Makers Discuss the Value of Diversity

More than 1,700 people from over 60 countries registered to attend  the first episode of a new series from Chartered Accountants Worldwide, ‘Difference Makers Discuss…’

This first episode ‘Difference Makers Discuss… The Value of Diversity’ included a dynamic group of speakers with expertise in chartered accountancy, strategic leadership, entrepreneurship, and academic research.

Mandy Muchnick, CA(SA), Chair One Young World Africa, Panda, Founder Imagine.Nation, hosted the event which included three guests with fascinating experience and insights:

  • Vincent Egunlae, Chartered Accountant, Strategic Leadership Team, Grant Thornton UK, founder Open Private School.
  • Dr Caroline McGroary, Chartered Accountant, Assistant Professor of Accounting at Dublin City University Business School.
  • Mufseen Miah, Chartered Accountant, Financial Planning Manager Little Dot Media.

The event was rounded off with a lively Q&A session with attendees’ questions from around the world.

Mandy welcomed guests and attendees for what promised to be an insightful event: “We’ll be speaking to both those types of leaders who have fought discrimination and stood up for inclusion; they’ll be sharing some of their personal and professional experiences. And hopefully you will walk away with a few practical tips today on how you can start making a difference.”

Disadvantage begins with a lack of finance, but it survives through a lack of exposure to resources, opportunities, and networks

Vincent Egunlae’s key insights from experience: “The people who have influenced and hold the top jobs across media, the judiciary, politics, finance or pretty much any professional service…. are five times more likely to attend a private school than the general population. And I feel that that lack of diversity is suboptimal economically, and it’s morally undesirable. But why does it happen? We all know the privately educated students are typically more likely to be from wealthier backgrounds. But it isn’t simply just that they have more money that produces better outcomes.”

“I still remember that when I started my first job as an auditor and I sat down and met a partner for the first time, I couldn’t stop calling him sir, just because that’s what I was used to.”

Vincent outlined the career path of a private school student and the unequal contrast with equal – or higher performing students – albeit students who attended state schools. He highlighted the difference it makes being exposed to wealthy environments and feeling comfortable in this sphere.

Speaking about the challenges even top students in state schools face after university, he said: “then, when you get your first job, you’re still less likely to feel comfortable in that environment because you’ve never been there before. You’re less likely to have grown up with access to senior professionals. When you’re in that kind of environment where you feel intimidated, where you feel like things are new… then it’s tough to display that confidence that only truly comes with familiarity. And that means it’s difficult to hit the ground running; first impressions count for so much in the professional world.”

“Disadvantage begins with a lack of finance, but it survives through a lack of exposure to resources, opportunities, and networks. At the Open Private School, we want to expose our students to the right opportunities, believing that if we give them the right resources, and the right information, and the right level of support, that they can be just as good as anybody else.”

Vincent shared his own inexperience navigating the careers and the corporate world after university with lighthearted humour, while still emphasising the disadvantage Open PrivateSchool is tackling.

“I remember after finishing an interview, I went out with the other candidates I’d interviewed with. And they said: ‘did you apply for the big four?’ And I remember I was wondering, why would I apply for Liverpool, Manchester United, and Arsenal?”

Vincent Egunlae’s practical steps to increase diversity: What I would encourage people to do is something that I’m also trying to do this year, and that is to spend more time learning about more under-represented groups that I don’t have  natural affinity with. Because, while I am black and Muslim, I am able bodied, I’m a male; first I need to understand the privileges that I have, so I can better understand how I can make a difference for those that need it.”

…you must talk to the people in your organisation and get direct feedback from people to see where the issues are.

Dr Caroline McGroary’s key insights from experience: She began, based on her experience over eight years working in Saudi Arabia’s women’s only university, Princess Nora. Saudi Arabia is a country that is ranked147 out of 156 countries in gender equality. Caroline spoke about witnessing the impact of government supported women’s empowerment and inclusion programmes and the change that takes place when governments invest in social development.

“Really what we were trying to do, is to ensure that all our graduates were leaving our programmes, having both the technical and the soft skills that they need to be effective in the workplace. But it was equally to ensure that they develop the life skills that they need. We ran many different initiatives alongside our main programmes and one that got a lot of attention over the last number of years was around financial literacy and development. The feedback was phenomenal.”

Speaking about her experiences in Ireland, Caroline referenced the initiative run for Masters of Accounting students at Dublin City University that exposes them to really important topics including diversity and inclusion. During one session, students explored diversity and inclusion in the workplace from the perspective of people with intellectual disabilities.

“Again, the feedback from the students was absolutely phenomenal; it really wasn’t something that they had necessarily considered from a perspective of their career as an accountant.”

Finally, Caroline outlined her work at Boston College within its Cybersecurity Masters Programme, “Globally, women only hold 25% of the roles in cybersecurity. So, this particular sector is calling for diversity of skills”.

Caroline McGroary’s practical steps for increased diversity and inclusion of women: “Gender pay gap reporting… I think the accounting profession does well in this area… led by the big four accountancy firms. But I would say for organisations that are not currently engaging in gender pay reporting, that this is something that is coming down the line from a perspective of mandatory reporting. For organisations that are not reporting on this, they should even do so internally.”

“My experience is that you must talk to the people in your organisation and get direct feedback from people to see where the issues are. Because without that feedback, and again, it can come in many different forms that can be through surveys, one on one conversations with people, but really trying to get to the heart of where the issues are within organisations.”

One of the key things about inclusion is never to assume

Mufseen Miah’s key insights from experience: Mufseen began with insights from his experience as former financial director of Pride in London, UK part of the larger global LGBTQ+ rights movement globally. He explained the roots of the moment and how objectives have shifted and progressed in the UK. “Pride is celebrating 50 years in London this year. So that’s a great landmark to have. And whereas before, we would be fighting for same sex marriage, we have that now, which is great. Now we are fighting for LGBT representation in education. That’s great. We still have a lot of fights and stuff to lobby for in our countries”.

Mufseen also spoke about mental health and the role of employers in their workplaces. “For most LGBT people, if not all, we constantly must come out, because the assumption is that we are all heterosexual or cisgendered. So, we are always kind of surveilling our environment to make sure it’s a safe environment. So small acts of allyship from other people make a huge difference to an employee’s mental health in the workforce.”

Mufseen practical tips for better acceptance and inclusion in the workplace: One of the key things about inclusion is never to assume, always ask in a very inclusive way, and never to interrogate people. If you learn that lesson, then you can fight against unconscious bias and hopefully make an environment that works well for all colleagues.”

“One of the key issues in the UK, is banning gay conversion therapy. I am a Muslim, when I was growing up, there was a lot of homophobic sentiments, and [belief] that you can be cured. There needs to be a legal recognition that that kind of practice is not okay. But the UK Government keeps delaying that. However, if you really want homophobic and transphobic bias to disappear in a country, then it is essential that you ban gay conversion therapy. But what employers can do is also advocate for that and send that message out across to their workforce. This is an issue that we care about, this is where our values lie. It’s the same for trans healthcare. So, if companies and employers can support initiatives that put more pressure on governments to make laws more equal for people and accessible, that would be great stuff.