Our work shows that professional identity is not something that is widely discussed, and concepts of the ‘audit professional’ can seem disparate and unclear. Investing in the development and promotion of the distinctive identity of the audit professional is especially necessary and challenging in a world of work where recruitment is shaped by global openness, diversity and inclusiveness.
Professional identity influences and is influenced by many things, both inside and outside the audit profession, shaping how the profession sees itself and how it is seen by others. To preserve its attractiveness, relevancy, retention and respect, the profession should be placing more emphasis on the characteristics, values and commitments that auditors should identify with. Beyond focusing on skills and knowledge, the profession can benefit from discussions that question its purpose and role in society and explore the virtues that it aspires to foster. In turn, this will assist with plans for developing the competencies and skills that maybe needed in the future. A richer understanding and connection to the needs of a wider range of stakeholders could help us to redefine the scope of professional expertise, by giving appropriate weight to particular competencies and qualities.
These personal qualities, attitudes and strengths for moral behaviour are what we define as virtues. Some of the virtues that have been associated with the audit profession during our workshops are: fairness, integrity, truthfulness, honesty, trustworthiness, service to the common good, gratitude and benevolence. In addition, we have also discussed the importance of virtues that help individuals to act wisely within different contexts: courage, perseverance, diligence, constancy and humility.
For much of audit’s long history, what it meant to be an auditor changed little from one generation to the next, and the auditor’s role was well understood. In recent years, audit has been reshaped by social, political and technological developments and increasingly sophisticated financial markets, laws and regulations, and the role of auditors and their professional identity has become less clear and less well understood.
AuditFutures has done a significant amount of work on exploring what a profession is and what should define its professional identity in the future. The goals that motivate professional work also define what qualities and principles individuals need to uphold to accomplish these aims. To understand the particular individual virtues that are necessary within the audit profession, we need to develop a richer understanding of the ethical commitments and the social purpose that drive the nature and work of the profession.
The essays in our online resources section [www.AuditFutures.net/manifesto-resources] share what has been learnt, from some of AuditFutures’ projects and workstreams, about how the audit profession’s distinctive identity may be developed, reinforced and promoted.
Developing a professional identity [[www.AuditFutures.net/manifesto-resources ] focuses on how this is achieved. It shares how AuditFutures’ workshops have enabled auditors to reflect on the development of their professional identity (by positioning professional competencies, technical knowledge and ethical values in a broad context) and how this could culminate in the identification of a distinctive ethos to guide the audit profession into the future.
Ethos as a unifying narrative for auditors [[www.AuditFutures.net/manifesto-resources ] introduces the concept of ‘professional ethos’: the characteristics of people who share core values, aspire to contribute to a higher purpose and exhibit particular virtues. Ethos is a way to communicate the key aspirations and commitment of the profession and to motivate and guide individuals on their professional journey. We explore: how this narrative fits with a professional code of ethics; whether professional ethos reflects the attitudes and aspirations of auditors; and why professional ethos should be understood as the core of what it means to see, think and work as an audit professional.
A number of AuditFutures’ activities encourage auditors to think deeply about what shapes their personal and professional identities, and this is reflected in the essay Becoming a professional: the journey ([www.AuditFutures.net/manifesto-resources). It shares some AuditFutures’ research and collaboration with academics, educators and training providers and considers how to guide the professional journey towards some key outcomes.
We explore why it is important to motivate the audit professional as a moral agent; initiate auditors in professional ethos; and build a reflective practice through education and training. As professionals, it is important for auditors to appreciate that their actions can impact society and that the power and trust it places in them can – and should – contribute to a specific public good.
In other words, virtuous professionals are not merely competent technicians who follow professional rules, but people of moral and intellectual qualities that enable them to achieve the public good they have committed to – the social purpose of the profession.
The development of identity is a long-term process that is shaped through various stages of education, reinforced through meaningful lifelong learning and practice, and can be mapped as a continuous journey. A modern profession needs to explore the interdependent elements of this journey and the processes that interact to develop professional identity, professional culture and practice.