Every October, on the third Wednesday of the month, the world celebrates Global Ethics Day, a day created by the Carnegie Council for Ethics in International Affairs to draw attention to the importance of ethics in our society. This is the eighth annual Global Ethics Day observance and its theme is “Ethics Empowered.” This theme resonates with me as an IMA employee because ethics is foundational to everything IMA does in its work on behalf of the professional accounting and finance community. It is what made me want to work for IMA, and it is what keeps me motivated to do my best work everyday.
Empowering ethics can be interpreted in many ways, but I think it means putting ethics first in decision-making and considering the short- and long-term impacts of the choices we make. There is no playbook for ethics, but there are lessons to be gleaned from other people’s experiences and choices. This is ethics at the individual or micro level.
At the institutional or macro level, public trust in institutions like government, the media, NGOs, and business is influenced by how ethically they act in the public’s mind. Global communications firm, Edelman, conducts an annual Edelman Trust Barometer survey on the topic of trust. The 2021 survey, which gathered responses from 33,000 people around the world, has found extreme distrust by the public in institutions like government, the media, and NGOs, with business scoring highest in trust measures.
From the 2021 Edelman Trust Barometer:
“The 2021 Edelman Trust Barometer reveals an epidemic of misinformation and widespread mistrust of societal institutions and leaders around the world. Adding to this is a failing trust ecosystem unable to confront the rampant infodemic, leaving the four institutions—business, government, NGOs and media—in an environment of information bankruptcy and a mandate to rebuild trust and chart a new path forward.”
What that “new path forward” looks like is still evolving, but it now lies squarely on the shoulders of business because business is now the only institution the public trusts. It is a striking contrast to results from the 2011 survey when the public’s trust in business was lower than government, media, and NGOs.
So what has been the root of this turnaround? I believe it has been businesses’ greater willingness to address and provide solutions to the macro societal issues we now face. These include:
- Managing COVID-19
- Racial injustice
- Economic inequities
- Technological change
- Climate issues
A compelling proof point is the increase in formal diversity, equity, and inclusion programs in business. According to HR Dive, “Over the past five years, the number of executives with diversity and inclusion (D&I) titles has more than doubled, according to a report released June 23 by ZoomInfo, a business-to-business database.” These programs vary from company to company, but many work on improving educational opportunities and professional training for under-represented groups to improve diversity in the workforce, and subsequently increase representation by these groups in the C-suite.
For instance, IMA has had a full-time DE&I Director since 2018 and has undertaken global research on DE&I in the accounting and finance profession. The results of IMA’s U.S. study on DE&I is available here and points to a critical need for workplaces to create more inclusive environments where advancement is not impeded by gender, race, or sexual orientation.
Another major issue facing business is how to shift from a short-term, to a long-term focus on sustainability. Consideration of new key performance indicators (KPIs) that fall outside the purview of traditional financial reporting is a topic of discussion inside many boardrooms and executive suites. Businesses have many stakeholders (investors, employees, consumers, and society at large) and stakeholders will be the driving force behind capture of new KPIs, which may encompass metrics on emissions, DE&I, or other non-financials.
IMA has also been at the forefront of sustainable business research and thought leadership. We believe CFOs have an important role to play in working cross-functionally within their organization to capture non-financial data that is material to the performance of the organization and integrating into financial reporting. Research we have undertaken on this topic includes a C-suite report, “CFO as Value Creator: Finance Function Partnering for the Integration of Sustainability in Business,” and a complementary whitepaper, “CFO as Value Creator: Finance Function Leadership in the Integrated Enterprise.”
At IMA we know our members’ work in accounting and finance influence the strategic direction of their organizations, and we seek to equip them with the information and resources they need to act ethically and make a difference for the better. That is why we offer the IMA Ethics Series courses as complimentary member benefits. All IMA members must adhere to a Statement of Ethical Professional Practice, and IMA offers an ethics helpline for their convenience and to help guide them with on-the-job ethical decisions. All of IMA’s resources on ethics can be found in our online Ethics Center.
Working at IMA, with its focus on ethics, has made me realize how lucky I am and how, in my small way, I am contributing to that “new path forward” that Edelman has identified as necessary for our society to overcome the significant problems we face. As we celebrate Global Ethics Day this year I am hopeful that professional organizations like IMA are giving professionals more resources and more confidence in tackling ethical dilemmas they may encounter in their work and in their lives outside of work.