Professional regulatory bodies and the slow creep of members’ speech codes

The only chartered professional body for actuaries in the UK, the Institute and Faculty of Actuaries (IFoA), has begun a consultation on amending the Actuaries’ Code (AC) to include ‘diversity, equity and inclusion’ – or DEI – requirements.

The only chartered professional body for actuaries in the UK, the Institute and Faculty of Actuaries (IFoA), has begun a consultation on amending the Actuaries’ Code (AC) to include ‘diversity, equity and inclusion’ – or DEI – requirements. The AC is the profession’s ethical code of conduct and one of the foundational documents governing the behaviour of members of the IFoA, so any changes will have considerable ramifications – not least because the IFoA has 32,000 members, including 15,000 student members and 46 partner universities.

It’s clearly important for professionals to be held to high standards of behaviour, and as with many other, similar codes, the Code applies to members across a very broad range of circumstances – wherever conduct could reasonably be considered to reflect upon the profession. So, for example, social media posts or political activity in members’ personal lives are covered by the Code.

I get that the IFoA wants to encourage decorum and politeness among its members, and the current AC does appear like the modern equivalent of an ‘etiquette code’, which any reasonable person might be expected to conform. However, the proposed new guidelines in the IFoA’s consultation show worrying signs of mission creep.

Take the proposed amendment that “members must show respect for everyone and treat others fairly”. At first glance, that might seem reasonable. But the problem with words like ‘respect’ is that their meaning is potentially – sometimes designedly – vague and subjective. Is the IFoA talking about ‘respecting’ individuals as fellow members of society, for instance, or ‘respecting’ their self-declared identity? The two aren’t equivalent – the latter might require members of the IFoA to use the preferred gender pronouns of trans people, for instance.

And what about other people’s views? Will IFoA members be expected to respect them? When Richard Dawkins opines on religion, his manner may well be respectful, if by respectful we mean ‘polite and courteous’. But individuals with strongly held religious views may not find him at all respectful, if by respectful we mean ‘deferential and unquestioning’. So could an IFoA member be found to be in breach of the new Code simply for showing support for a public figure who expresses perfectly lawful criticisms of other peoples’ beliefs?

Then there’s the stipulation that “members should encourage diversity, equity and inclusion”.

Many individuals and groups consider equity, in particular, to be a divisive concept – certainly in the way it is most usually interpreted in our public discourse. One need only look at ongoing debates in the political arena on related topics such as ‘white privilege’, ‘anti-racism’ and ‘unconscious bias’ to see how damaging it could be to impose this requirement on members. If this requirement were to be incorporated in the Code, it could be used as a way of pointing the finger and hounding out individuals from the IFoA (or putting them through unnecessary and expensive disciplinary processes) simply for expressing perfectly lawful and reasonable political views. I fear that this proposal, if implemented, could have a very chilling effect on debate and discussion within actuarial communities. Ultimately, a person’s understanding and interpretation of DEI is a matter of conscience, and therefore ‘encouragement’ of DEI should remain a matter of conscience.

If any FSU members who are also members of the IFoA are thinking of submitting a response to the consultation and want to discuss the issues at stake, then please do feel free to get in touch with the team via

The IFoA’s initial instincts highlight the changing role of professional organisations in regulating the behaviour – and speech – of their members. Where once these bodies would restrict themselves to upholding professional standards in the workplace, they now seem intent on collapsing entirely the distinction between occupational and private life.

In Canada alone, for instance, the Law Society of Ontario has been pushing for a mandatory diversity pledge for all lawyers, while the province of British Columbia recently passed a law that can result in doctors being jailed for up to two years if they are found to have spread certain types of “false or misleading information”, e.g. saying that face masks don’t prevent transmission of Covid-19.

Here in the UK, the FSU has also had a glut of recent cases in which employees from a wide range of occupational backgrounds have got into trouble with their professional associations simply for expressing their entirely lawful beliefs outside the workplace.

Social worker and FSU member Rachel Meade was recently sanctioned by Social Work England (SWE), the regulatory body for social workers, for Facebook posts on her private account that criticised some aspects of the transgender rights movement. SWE found Rachel Meade’s “fitness to practice was impaired by way of misconduct”, and argued that her actions had the potential to undermine public confidence in social workers even though there was no evidence her work had been affected (MailTimes).

Barrister Sarah Phillimore was investigated by the Bar Standards Board over a period of two years over complaints that she had caused ‘offence’ by tweeting about her gender critical beliefs – thanks, in part, to our help those allegations have now been dismissed.

Then there’s James Esses, a former barrister who we’ve helped in the past. James recently won the right to sue the UK Council for Psychotherapy for discrimination over allegations the regulator instructed the Metanoia Institute in London, where he was studying, to have him thrown off his Masters course in psychotherapy for expressing gender critical views (Mail).

The FSU is campaigning for an amendment to the Employment Rights Act 1996 to make it impossible for companies to discipline staff for saying non-woke things outside of the workplace. Increasingly we’re finding that it isn’t HR departments per se, but external professional bodies and regulators that give the policing of this out-of-office behaviour the momentum that it otherwise might not have.