Responding to COVID-19: insight, support and guidance

Opening the door to diversity

12-12-2019

By Rob Whiteman, CIPFA CEO

Diversity is a concept more important than ever as we enter an age of political uncertainty and rapid technological change. To navigate this change successfully, we must recruit the best and brightest talent in our communities and ensure our profession reflects the populations we are making decisions for. Diverse perspectives are crucial to understanding the world we live in and finding the best solutions to problems. It’s essential that marginalised voices are heard and incorporated into our decision making. This will make the public finance field even more innovative moving forward. Well-intentioned discussions take place frequently around the topics of diversity and inclusion, but how do we actually turn good intentions into action?

There are immense complexities and uncertainties confronting the workforce as we look to the future. Those who work in the public finance and accountancy professions are ageing along with the general population in the UK, and the majority of people employed in these fields continue to be overwhelmingly ‘pale and male’. 

This topic was addressed at the CIPFA Central Government Summit at the end of November, by Rachel McLean from MHCLG and Dr Louise Ashley from Royal Holloway University of London. They touched on how organisations should make special efforts to recruit individuals of diverse and often marginalised backgrounds who may need different types of support and working arrangements as they move through their lives and careers. 

At CIPFA we believe that the first step is to be aware of the lack of diversity in our field, understand the potential causes and be transparent about what our organisations are doing to combat these issues.

The culture of the workplace must also change. We need to work harder to make employees feel like their aspirations and career development are supported. Individuals working in our organisations must not feel like outsiders. 

Dr Louise Ashley used the idea of Cinderella’s glass slipper to explain how roles can favour people from particular backgrounds. Because the finance profession was made by and for white and often middle class men, the role fits them perfectly. Over time, we begin to associate the characteristics that this group of men exhibit to be necessary to perform finance jobs well – and we know that this is simply not the case.

A dedicated effort must be made to recruit those who would not normally consider or be considered for jobs in public finance. This is crucial if we are to effectively provide services for those who are marginalised in our communities. The public finance field helps society at large, and to do that our workforce must reflect the populations we serve.

A highlight of the summit was a panel discussion between four CPFAs in central government leadership positions: Comptroller and Auditor General Gareth Davies, Head of the Government Finance Function Mike Driver, CEO of the Government Internal Audit Agency Elizabeth Honer, and CEO of the Financial Reporting Council Sir Jon Thompson. 

Diversity was an important aspect of their discussion, as they responded to questions from the audience about the best ways to encourage new talent to enter the profession. They stressed the importance of internships and outreach, attracting talent from the private sector, as well as focusing on creating well-rounded finance professionals that can gather expertise and move around the public sector.

In addition to attracting people from diverse backgrounds, at CIPFA we believe it is vital that an effort is made to recruit young people and motivate them to remain in the field for life.

Research tells us that today’s young people want different things from their careers than their parents and grandparents did. They want to feel like they are making an impact on the world as a whole by dedicating themselves to a profession that displays environmental consciousness and offers flexibility for its workers. 

If we are to attract young people to the public sector, we must be open to changing our mindset and investing in our existing and future workforce. We have to demonstrate a willingness to rethink our long-standing talent management strategies and upskill our workers in the technologies and working practices of the modern age.

At CIPFA, we’re dedicated to making this goal a reality and bolstering diversity within our own organisation. In an effort to support the talent pipeline, CIPFA offers training and lifelong learning to those who wish to continue gaining skills that are essential for the profession moving forward. If we are to prioritise attracting new and diverse talent, we must take every step possible to ensure that we are opening doors, not closing them.