ACCA - The global body for professional accountants
Diversity is one of ACCA’s core values. We believe that no matter what background, gender, race or religion you are, any career should be open to everyone. To concretely illustrate our commitments to boost gender balance in company board rooms, I am proud to announce that ACCA has recently become a supporting member of the Global Board-Ready Women Initiative. This project aims to make available to companies through an online database a comprehensive list of international women who are experienced and ready to immediately take on mandates in listed companies. ACCA membership counts an impressive pool of such talented qualified women around the world, who are ready to shatter the infamous ‘glass ceiling’
—Martin Turner, deputy president, ACCA

There is an economic, societal and business case for this but, changing mentalities takes time, incentives, and, crucially, requires stronger business and stakeholders’ engagement, a more focused attention from decision-makers, and better awareness-raising actions and dialogue with society, were the main conclusions of a timely ACCA high level conference organised in Brussels ahead of International Women’s Day

 Fighting inequality and supporting diversity: Europe's big challenge

Equal treatment between persons irrespective of gender, religion or belief, disability, age or sexual orientation is a core founding value of the European Union. In addition to being a fundamental right, with the financial crisis, equality has also become an economic imperative that needs to be further addressed and given exposure.

ACCA (the Association of Chartered Certified Accountants) recently organised in Brussels its 2013 President's debate, in association with the Irish presidency of the Council of the EU, to discuss with experts what can be done to fight inequalities and discrimination in the workplace.

The aim was to exchange best practice in terms of existing support towards diversity and also envisage what could be the next steps to reinforce that support. 

The debate’s discussions revealed that despite the positive steps taken in the last half century, real equality is yet to be achieved in society. Managing diversity in working life needs further improvement – women are still facing discrimination in issues such as equal pay, or still experiencing difficulties such as reconciling a work and family life. Other interlinked societal issues include the discrimination towards older and disabled workers, which urgently require new structures and approaches. 

In addition, the current economic crisis is putting further pressure on the finances of all EU member states, resulting in austerity measures and cuts in social policies, including equality. There was a large consensus among panellists that investing in equality policies should however not be sacrificed: these policies, by ensuring that all groups at risk of discrimination are empowered to play a positive role for growth and given the opportunity to show their talents, could contribute to the creation of a more inclusive and prosperous society. To face the daunting challenges linked to growth and jobs that are today – and quite realistically tomorrow as well - affecting most major economies, we cannot indeed afford to waste any economic contributions.

Richard Howitt , MEP Rapporteur on Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR), stressed that: 'Business progress on diversity must not be a victim of the economic crisis. The gains that we have worked hard to secure are now under huge pressure with redundancies a lingering threat, and continued economic uncertainty. The European Parliament has been clear in my report voted last month that CSR has to be at the heart of a truly inclusive and long-term sustainable recovery. Vulnerable groups are often the first and hardest hit victims of an economic downturn, but as policymakers we must use all tools at our disposal including a better use of public procurement and an increased emphasis on social and human rights standards to ensure that a sustainable recovery is also an inclusive recovery.'

 Fighting inequality and supporting diversity: Europe's big challenge

Participants were also interested in gender equality issues, especially the controversial 'gender quotas', as suggested  by Commissioner Reding in her proposal  to improve gender balance on company boards. This proposal would fix a binding quantitative objective of increasing the proportion of women among non-executive company board members in large publicly listed companies to 40 per cent by 2020.

Evelyn Regner, MEP rapporteur on the topic for the Legal Affairs Committee, highlighted  that: 'Diversity in boards is a tool of success, much needed to reflect the whole picture in the society. Self regulation and the 'comply or explain' principle for a greater diversity on boards has not yet worked out, we are currently in a situation of market failure in terms of gender balance, which needs more than offering another impact assessment. There is a strong need for an ambitious legislative instrument - accompanied by sanctions if the goal is not reached - to increase the number of women, not only in non-executive positions, but also as executive directors and in the middle management bodies of companies. The measure shall be temporary and when the directive will expire in 2028, hopefully we won't be in the need of gender quotas anymore.'

Martin Turner, ACCA’s deputy president and chair of the conference said: 'Diversity is one of ACCA’s core values. We believe that no matter what background, gender, race or religion you are, any career should be open to everyone. To concretely illustrate our commitments to boost gender balance in company boardrooms, I am proud to announce that ACCA has recently become a supporting member of the Global Board-Ready Women Initiative. This project aims to make available to companies, through an online database, a comprehensive list of international women who are experienced and ready to immediately take on mandates in listed companies. ACCA membership counts an impressive pool of such talented qualified women around the world, who are ready to shatter the infamous ‘glass ceiling’.'

Fiona O’Sullivan, Justice attaché representing the Irish Presidency of the Council of the EU, concluded: 'Equality should not be seen as a cost but as a vital component of a strong economy where all citizens can contribute. It needs to be considered holistically: improving equality is also a way to improve the fiscal balance, to fight poverty and to strengthen the talent pool. Effective initiatives are not limited to government. We have heard today of innovative practices by enterprises, such as actions in the area of corporate social responsibility and in supporting entrepreneurship.'

  • ACCA, in conjunction with the ESRC (Economic and Social Research Council) produced a report called Women in finance: a springboard to corporate board positions?