10 Oct 2020

Diversity and Inclusion in Accountancy Practices – or lack thereof.

Rob Davis

A massive topic of both discussion and debate over recent (and not so recent!) times surrounds the diversity and inclusion in accountancy firms, or indeed the lack thereof.

As we try to make the case for how important diversity and inclusion are in today’s accountancy practices, we ought to start with a plain, simple truth: everybody can bring value to a firm and so deserves an equal shot.

It’s not just middle aged, upper class white men, for example, who have a unique perspective on the financial landscape or who bring passion and skills to the table. People of all colours and backgrounds bring diversity, passion, skills and life experiences – and this combination tends to create the unique perspectives and potential which really ought to be realised.

No matter what an individual’s race, ethnicity, gender, disability, sexual orientation or other personality traits, he/she deserves an equal opportunity. If we can’t realise this, then we have, in fact, gone far back not just as accountancy practices but also as a society.

Why we absolutely need diversity and inclusion in today’s accountancy firms

The finance services sector can serve the general public far more comprehensively if they at least try to base their firms’ values around equal opportunity. When they unduly leave diverse people and communities behind, depriving them of chances that they deserve just like anyone else – they are severely falling short.

Research has consistently shown that diversity can make us more creative and innovative, enabling better decision making, and in turn, even paving the way for more effective customer engagement.

Unfortunately, despite the clear advantage diversity can potentially offer accountancy practices, and that countries with top firms such as the UK and US continue to become more diverse – increased diversity in the financial sector has been slow – with just a handful of gains for women in particular, and practically none for minority groups in well over a decade.

But are we to leave things the way they are and turn the other cheek?

Real, sustained and meaningful progress will demand that all of us shift our perspectives and work together across the entire accountancy sector – in order to innovate as well as share insights and knowledge to openly encourage diversity and inclusion without any bias. But where is a good starting point?

Each firm must focus on diversity within their own hierarchy and then find smart and innovative ways to propagate diversity, by openly working with others in the industry to further  encourage it.

We all need to play our part in promoting inclusion and diversity.

If you happen to be an accountancy recruiter or work in-house for the recruitment department in your practice, one way you can encourage a culture of diversity and inclusion might be by allocating a fixed percentage of your budget to minority-owned accountancy practices.

Women and minorities generally leave the profession at significantly higher rates than white men, and are under-represented at key stages: successfully securing jobs, advancement to leadership roles, and so on.

Why the accountancy sector cannot do without diversity

In order for the accountancy sector to keep up with other sectors, accountancy recruiters must understand the underlying value of diversity and inclusion. First off, the firm’s framework itself can function a lot more efficiently when teams reflect a diversity in perspectives, life experiences and backgrounds.

Strong and diverse talent is crucially important to any business. And this is especially true in the financial sector where value stems from talent itself. After all, accountants are responsible for providing guidance and advice, based on which their clients make key decisions, often with great impact.

Given the fact that there isn’t a single demographic group which has the talent market covered, it’s important that accountancy firms and accountancy recruitment teams, at least, cultivate a culture of hiring broad and deep talent.

Talent itself is as diverse as we are as individuals – and we would be extremely short-sighted if we fail to see talent due to clouds of (even unintentional) bias.

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