It's quite simple really. It takes courage to do the right thing and the right thing today is doing something about racism in our organisations and creating cultures of inclusion and belonging. It is about calling out racism and being an anti-racist organisation. But maybe you're thinking "it's too difficult", "it is hard", "the work is hard to do, so why do it at all"? Or maybe you just don't see what all the fuss is about as there is no racism in our organisation, we have clearly stated values and an equal opportunities statement? Or maybe the Audit Committee has not raised it with the Head of Internal Audit, so there is nothing to do about it? Internal audit is not excluded from this conversation, yet there seems to be a natural shyness that draws us, as a profession, away from the conversation. Like culture, perhaps the topic of equality, diversity, inclusion and belonging are too opaque for the likes of Internal Audit? Forget discussing being an anti-racist organisation, that is a step too far for internal audit. Or perhaps this is how we view ourselves "simply, this is not what internal audit does" - let's not have the difficult conversation. But hold on, until recently we used to say the same thing about Culture, didn't we?
Our organisations say we are equal opportunity employers, but it is clear that they cannot be equal opportunity employers when we don't even have an equal playing ground for all members of our society. So how can Internal Audit evaluate effectively recruitment practices and provide assurance over whether recruitment controls enable a fair and equal process, when we know that there there is inherent, structural racism inbuilt into the collective psyche of our society? This is not academic, it is reality.
This is also true for our governance processes. Our organisations say they perform an equal and fair recruitment process for appointment of Board members, but as soon as that vacancy is advertised, people who apply will not have an equal opportunity - this is because an individual's life choices are inherently dictated by the colour of their skin. How can we (internal audit) continue to accept this disparity?
Research shows an “alarming” level of discrimination against job seekers from minority ethnic backgrounds, who need to send an average of 60% more applications to receive the same level of interest as those from majority groups.
Ideal recruitment practices are designed to filter in people with positive characteristics and capabilities and to filter out people with negative ones. But "research shows that personal characteristics are racialised (your name, where you live, whether you are British born or not), filtration processes tend to disproportionately exclude BAME people and include white British people."
So there is clearly a problem here and Internal Audit is uniquely placed to evaluate their organisation's practices. The Global IIA recently published their paper on Understanding the Effects of Diversity (2020) in the workplace. The paper talks about what diversity means and that there are clearly benefits to having a diverse workplace. The paper also talks about inclusion. But it does not talk about anti-racism. In my opinion it does not go far enough to help the internal audit profession navigate this space.
If we can audit culture, we can audit whether our organisation is measuring it's own inherent racial biases. We can audit whether our organisation's are taking an anti-racist stand and are actually doing something about it. We can audit whether we have high psychological safety in our organisation that enables people to feel safe to speak up. We can audit whether we live (with integrity) our inclusion values. This IS about our organisation's culture.
Being an anti-racist organisation is a must if our organisations are truly going to live their aspiration of being an equal opportunities employer.
And, inclusion is not a nice thing to have, it is necessary, it is a must. Inclusive spaces is fundamental to increasing performance and productivity, it directly links to staff feeling safe. Research shows that only 3 out of 10 people believe their voice matters, if this could increase, it would have a fundamental impact on your organisation's bottom line - increase in productivity, lower turnover, more spaces where people feel they belong creates better customer experiences.
Internal Audit should be upskilling if this is an area it does not fully understand.
Here is a video that can help - an extract of an interview I held with an Inclusion Expert - Ishreen Bradley of Equality Pioneers talks about what inclusion and belonging means in the workplace today and importantly in the context of black lives matter [inclusion and belonging]:
inclusion is an external act taken by an organisation to make sure everyone is included and has equal opportunity [00.22]
the human experience at work requires three elements [01.04]
unconscious bias as an organisation is like fish to water. Unconscious bias training does not work on its own [02.15]
exploring systemic barriers for each type of community that exists in your organisation [03.37]
the role of the senior team - they have to believe it is possible and desirable [04.10]
The importance of alignment with different groups
Understanding shared language
Benchmarking and working with the senior team to identify gaps
Starting with the senior team creating inclusive meetings
examples of Equality Pioneer clients who are doing the work now and taking a stand as anti-racist organisations [08.57]
We are living in courageous times and it requires courageous leaders, and that includes Heads of Internal Audit.
As a courageous leader what kind of internal audit legacy do you want to create?
ACEVO - Voice4Change Home Truths report - the report can be downloaded from here: https://www.acevo.org.uk/reports/home-truths/
GLOBAL PERSPECTIVES AND INSIGHTS: Understanding the Effects of Diversity and Inclusion on Organizations, IIA - you can download the paper https://bit.ly/3fDAvzt