Improving diversity in the accountancy profession
In the last year we’ve blogged a couple of times about improvements in diversity that are slowly happening in the accountancy industry – from gender equality to LGBT figureheads – […]
In the last year we’ve blogged a couple of times about improvements in diversity that are slowly happening in the accountancy industry – from gender equality to LGBT figureheads – and while we know there’s still some way to go, we’re excited about how much more accessible our profession is for some of those who might previously have struggled to make headway in it.
However, the UK’s future prosperity depends on firms recruiting and nurturing the country’s best talent, in order to develop the business leaders of tomorrow. Therefore, the accountancy profession needs to become more representative, at all levels, of the wider socio-economic development of society, and be prepared to unearth talent wherever it might be. Thankfully, there’s already an action group working on just that.
Socio-economic diversity: the current picture
Charitable policy association, The Bridge Group, recently conducted a survey on behalf of Access Accountancy, which encompasses detailed analysis on the socio-economic backgrounds of applicants and hires across ten firms and three professional bodies, and work experience placements across nine firms.
From 2015-2016, 40% of applicants had parents with no experience of higher education, 12% were eligible for free school meals, and 14% for income support. Over three quarters (76%) of those surveyed attended a state school, however those from Independent Schools had a 14% higher success rate compared with those from state schools. Indeed, candidates from higher income backgrounds generally had a higher success rate than those from lower backgrounds.
Based on these findings, Access Accountancy (a collaboration of employers and professional bodies dedicated to improving access to the accountancy profession) have set up a series of aims for firms to encourage a levelling of the playing field, which include:
- Allocating a specific board member to have accountability for socio-economic diversity, and monitoring socio-economic data of applicants and hires;
- Providing a proportionate number of places on internship programmes and work placements to students from under-represented groups;
- Not using A-Level or equivalent grades as the only filter for talent when hiring, and/or considering the context in which those grades are achieved;
- Giving careful consideration to the extent to which online tests accurately assess required competencies;
- Considering, wherever possible, the introduction of regional assessment centres outside London;
- Taking part in externally validated reviews of Access Accountancy; and
- Generating interest in accountancy by delivering common messages in more target schools and colleges.
Who is involved?
Currently there are 28 members of the Access Accountancy initiative, and this includes a combination of accountancy firms and professional bodies (ICAEW, AAT, ACCA. AIA, CIMA, CIPFA, and ICAS). The majority of the accounting firms are in the top 20, but there are some smaller firms such as Kreston Reeves, Blick Rothenberg, and Duncan & Toplis that are also part of the group.
Sacha Romanovitch, CEO of Grant Thornton and outgoing chair of Access Accountancy said: “Investing in social mobility is a win-win and a great example of business doing well by doing good. It leads to greater equality of opportunity, a wider pool from which to draw talent, improved organisational performance, and a more productive economy.”
Rachel Hopcroft, Head of Corporate Affairs at KPMG and incoming chair of Access Accountancy spoke about the need to do even more in the coming months and years to reach the group’s vision. “Critically, we will work to engage more businesses in our efforts, as only by working together to break down barriers to social mobility will we be able to bring about the fundamental change that is required.”
Achievements so far
Access Accountancy are already reporting a shift in focus towards the progression of students on firms’ various schemes into more permanent roles, while recruitment methods have started to change as well. Some firms have scrapped A-Level requirement in certain roles, and others have introduced contextualised recruitment, in which candidates’ backgrounds will play a part in the final choice.
Many firms are also already publishing in-depth reviews of their workforce, which will allow them to look at the extent to which they are adopting best practice around diversity, and make any necessary improvements.
Support for aspiring accountants
Access Accountancy is currently offering tangible ways to help people get into the accounting profession, and their website contains many resources to help get into the profession, especially for those from low socio-economic backgrounds. If you think your background maybe holding you back from achieving your career goals, do take a look and get in touch with them with any further questions or support needs you may have.