Skip to Content

Mind of Jacka: The White Elephant in the Room

Mind of Jacka Mike Jacka, CIA, CPA, CPCU, CLU Aug 31, 2022

I was listening to a podcast today in which the host and guest began discussing racism. One person made a very astute comment. "White people seem to feel they should not talk about racism, that it is a sensitive subject they feel ill-equipped to address and one they are not even sure they should be discussing. However, white people are the very people who need to talk about it." The ultimate point was that, by not talking — by avoiding the subject — white people begin to believe the issue is being resolved. Out of sight; out of mind.

"Be brave enough to start a conversation that matters," said American author Margaret Wheatley.

Well, let this old, white guy try to keep the discussion going.

I continue to speak at IIA chapters, attend conferences, and visit departments where the racial representation within those organizations does not match the demographics of their regions. To put it quite simply, there are a lot — a disproportionate number — of white people in those crowds.

Is this racism? There is a small chance racism may be buried in some of the decisions that are made in hiring, but I don't believe that is the main theme. But there is something going on here, something that is not good. And I believe that, just like racism, the subjects of diversity and inclusion are ones we need to address head on — ones about which we must be willing to have open and frank discussions.

As we look at risks within the organization, we must include the risks that result when our organizations are not inclusive, when they take no action in diversity, and when they spout platitudes with no real action. We have to be willing to point out the problem, help the organization take the necessary steps, and ask questions about what is actually being done. This is not easy, and we must be bold about stepping into an arena in which we may not feel comfortable. But boldness is required.

I've told this story before, but it bears repeating.

I was talking with an audit director about issues of equity and discrimination. We had already discussed his department's ability to access and analyze data, so I suggested the team perform an analysis of the makeup of its salary grades. The results could determine: 1) if there was an equitable distribution — diversity and equality — across all positions from entry-level to management, and 2) if salaries were equitable among all participants regardless of race, gender, etc.

I got a very surprising/upsetting response. The individual agreed that it could be done. However, he felt it should not be done because such analysis might reveal a problem. And then, if upper management didn't do anything, there would be a larger problem — that upper management knew there was a problem but did nothing. He felt it was better to not look into it, not find any problems, and require no action. With nothing found, nothing need be done.

I was appalled at the concept of internal audit not looking into an area because a problem might be found and, even worse, that internal audit might not take steps to ensure action was taken.

"Be brave enough to start a conversation that matters." And my addendum, "Be brave enough to dig into areas that matter."

Diversity and equality are problems at the organizational level. But we cannot hide our own culpability by claiming that it is a problem that is bigger than us. We must take an active role in identifying these selfsame issues within our own departments.

I started this whole conversation by talking about what I see within internal audit. And, if we are going to point the finger at the organization (and we must point that finger), then we better look at our own glass houses for cracks. Because I think a lot of stones are shattering those particular walls.

I hear lots of talk. I hear lots of ideas. I hear lots of lots of things. But no change. Why is this? What is going on that change does not seem to be happening? Where are the initiatives/actions/outcomes that we know should be happening?

As the saying goes, lots of good excuses, no good reasons.

A friend recently related this story. He works for a nonprofit that does a lot of work around innovation. One of the areas the organization looked into was diversity and racial representation within the ranks of teachers. Even in areas where the population was primarily Black, the teachers were almost all white. His organization spoke with those in charge of hiring — principals, school boards, etc. They all lamented the fact that they were unable to find qualified teachers that would help provide a better representation of all races — that, effectively, no one fitting such profiles even applied

The nonprofit worked with a training group whose purpose included upskilling teachers that could provide such diversity. A long list of very qualified individuals was provided to the schools. And do you want to guess how many were hired?

Spoiler alert: zero.

Lots of good excuses; no good reasons.

And do you think it would be any different if internal audit departments were provided such a list? I'd like to think so. But, again, here we sit looking out at seas of lily-white faces …

The upshot is that we can no longer accept excuses about who is applying, who has the skills, and not knowing what to do. These are all the excuses of victims, what Conners, Smith, and Hickman, in the book The Oz Principle, call the victim cycle. To borrow from their list, we ignore or deny the problem exists anymore, we claim it is not our job, we point fingers at others, we sit back and hope someone else will tell us what to do, we try to cover our own tail, and we just wait and see, hoping a solution falls from the sky.

Lots of good excuses; no good reasons.

Internal audit must take personal accountability for initiating positive action toward diversity because we can help change the corporate culture, because it is the right thing to do, and because we can lead by example — to show it can be done. But, while these are all good reasons, ultimately, we must do it because it will make our departments better, stronger, and more effective.

That is the true message of diversity and inclusion.

Do something now. Keep the discussion going. But find actionable approaches that will actually diversify and strengthen your departments. Only then can we have the right to be a harbinger of the opportunities that exist and the risks if nothing is done.

I started all this by saying we need to have this discussion. And, with this post more than any other, I ask for your thoughts, comments, and concerns. And I welcome your discussion.

Mike Jacka, CIA, CPA, CPCU, CLU

Co-founder and Chief Creative Pilot, Flying Pig Audit, Consulting, and Training Services (FPACTS), based in Phoenix.

Access the Digital Edition

Read Now