Principle Accountant Bolton at Home
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Makbul Patel at AccountingWEB Live Expo
Makbul Patel alongside Lola Oguntokun on the Diversity and Gen Z panel at December 2021's AccountingWEB Live Expo.

Diversity: The profession still needs to do more

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Despite firms talking a good game about how diverse they are, the accountancy profession still needs to do more, writes Bake Off star and accountant Makbul Patel.

10th Jan 2022
Principle Accountant Bolton at Home
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By far the highlight for me last year was attending AccountingWEB Live Expo in Coventry. Those of you who were there will no doubt have been impressed by the event. Plenty of pens, free bags and socks (yes, they now do corporate logo socks!) were up for grabs.

Peppered amongst the glorious IT and accounting software stands were podiums where serious discussion took place. After my cooking demo, I joined a set of illustrious and very intelligent team of people to discuss diversity and Gen Z.

Diversity and Gen Z

After being constantly outgunned by the other speakers I realised that even though firms may have the best of intentions in promoting diversity within the accounting workplace there was still some inertia in this quest.

The fact that 20 years in the new millennium we are still discussing the issue is evidence enough.

Though it is encouraging that there was a constant pressure from new employees that enter the profession for flexibility and genuine diversity it still wasn’t enough.

The panelists gave examples of a lack of applicants and difficulty in filling posts. I don’t know but it just seems that after the pandemic people just want different things out of life. Work has taken on a different meaning. Status and security are now being sought elsewhere in more emerging markets such as social media platforms.

The firm I work for does try its best to make the workplace more flexible and inviting. However, the usual problem of the dilution of diversity beyond a certain pay grade is very stark.

We can go down avenues of ‘old habits’ or unconscious bias or even blatant discrimination but what was also touched upon in this panel discussion is that firms who fail to recognise talent regardless of where that talent resides are getting left behind.

Diversity stats from large audit firms

The above chart only reinforces what I have witnessed on the ground. Firms will bang on about how diverse they are with this amazing policy and that amazing culture shift. There is still a lot to be done. For example, the findings of institutional racism at Lambeth Council should come as no surprise to many people.

A cost accounting analogy

My analogy would quickly jump onto my cost accounting roots. I have a soft spot for cost accounting as that is where my formative years as a management accountant were spent.

Engineering factories, chemical plants and aircraft hangars; the principals are the same. Organisations want to build the best product for the least expense. No surprises there then. This logic to an extent can be applied to the structure of an organisation.

The bill of materials is made up of people and they connect with each other to make the company function. Weak parts will make a poor and unreliable product.

In an age where accountancy is really challenged by a stymied intake of new recruits all firms and managers must wake up and make the profession more inviting.

New and younger blood is essential for any profession, but as ACCA research from 2018 found, accountancy suffers from this perception that is mainly for white, middle-aged men. There is no smoke without fire as they say.

Recruitment has changed

With the revolution in technology, I think we are coming to a turning point within accountancy. Remote and flexible working forces change. Gen Z, or whatever label you want to attach to people will embrace the new way of working. Catch up on Netflix whilst doing a trial balance on some nifty Accounting package. It’s the way forward.

The recruitment in the profession has changed somewhat since my day. Within our finance department we have seen a sharp increase in apprentices. They are an effective way to train young accountants and provide them with an accountancy qualification.

Not everyone has had the opportunity to go into universities, and some would prefer are more direct route into finance. It is being recognised more and more that the workplace needs to be agile and flexible. Gen Z demands it!

Replies (26)

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By creamdelacream
10th Jan 2022 21:46

So bored of these types of article

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Replying to creamdelacream:
FirstTab
By FirstTab
12th Jan 2022 14:16

As a person of colour, I have experienced both outright racism (work environment) and subtle racism here on Accounting Web (by members) in my early days as a member.

I am not bored of these articles.

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Replying to FirstTab:
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By BryanS1958
12th Jan 2022 15:37

I think that a lot of people are bored of what is perceived as positive discrimination.

We have equal opportunities legislation, it should be used in cases of both positive and negative discrimination.

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Replying to FirstTab:
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By creamdelacream
12th Jan 2022 18:31

This article contains subtle racism (and discrimination), so I am not sure why you would be in favour of it given your experience. You should make a complaint when this happens, not support it in another form.

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By meadowsaw227
11th Jan 2022 09:48

For me it will always be the best applicant for the job/business in the long run irrespective of all the current box ticking exercises going on.

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Replying to meadowsaw227:
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By Andrew Learmond
11th Jan 2022 11:32

That is the problem, is it always the best applicant?

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By BryanS1958
11th Jan 2022 13:42

Why wouldn't it be?

If a person is being discriminated against then we have laws to counter this.

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By BryanS1958
11th Jan 2022 13:46

Interestingly, my post in response to this topic has been withheld for review. It seems that Accounting Web does not cater for freedom of speech.

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LL
By RickyRoark
11th Jan 2022 13:52

When they say 'Diversity' they mean 'Arbitrary quotas based on race and gender'.

I'd rather hire and promote based on merit.

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Replying to RickyRoark:
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By BryanS1958
11th Jan 2022 15:13

Likewise.

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LL
By RickyRoark
11th Jan 2022 13:53

Edit - posted twice - whoops

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By BryanS1958
11th Jan 2022 14:10

The ICAEW is promoting Black Talent Matters and #10000blackinterns. Is this diversity or positive discrimination?

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Replying to BryanS1958:
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By Paul Crowley
13th Jan 2022 21:34

Maybe that explains the ethnicity categorisation I was requested to submit when trying to pay my subscription fee?

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FirstTab
By FirstTab
12th Jan 2022 14:49

With respect, native Caucasians, as shown by the comments, do not understand. They have not been through discrimination. To see what it is like at the other end.

Comments indicate they are not even willing to understand.

Best person for the job, tends to be a person like the people on the selection panel. Same culture. Seen as less risky and he/she is likely to fit in and get on with them.

It is sad to see after so many years of talk of race, there is little change in the accountants perspectives.

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Replying to FirstTab:
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By RickyRoark
12th Jan 2022 15:12

How do you know that all of the comments were made by "Native Caucasians"?

Do you think that just because someone is a Caucasian they wouldn't understand racial discrimination?

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Replying to FirstTab:
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By BryanS1958
12th Jan 2022 15:19

We are perfectly able to understand. Our comments are pretty much all along the lines of 'best person for the role'.

What we do not understand is positive discrimination, which by definition is NOT equal opportunities. Positive discrimination in favour of one person is negative discrimination for everyone else.

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Replying to BryanS1958:
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By Paul Crowley
13th Jan 2022 21:22

USA uses the term 'reverse discrimination' to describe blatant and deliberate discimination against white people.
Caucasian does seem problematic. Never used for census or ethnicity statistics.
I went through one such attempt to classify me today when trying to undate my profile on ICAEW membership portal

"The Caucasian race (also Caucasoid[a] or Europid, Europoid)[2] is an obsolete racial classification of human beings based on a now-disproven theory of biological race." From Wikki, but what would they know?

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Replying to FirstTab:
By ireallyshouldknowthisbut
12th Jan 2022 17:51

FirstTab wrote:

With respect, native Caucasians, as shown by the comments, do not understand. They have not been through discrimination. To see what it is like at the other end.

Comments indicate they are not even willing to understand.

Best person for the job, tends to be a person like the people on the selection panel. Same culture. Seen as less risky and he/she is likely to fit in and get on with them.

It is sad to see after so many years of talk of race, there is little change in the accountants perspectives.

@first tab, I quite agree. There is still a lot of it about, and indeed it seems to have gotten worse in the past couple of years. Just because the posters might not consider themselves racist doesn't mean other people are not operating along those lines, intentionally or otherwise or that its not a valid area to be posting about.

Denial doesn't help as I think unintended racial bias is the 'silent' issue that is not talked about.

The comments on here are very disappointing when such things are published. Same happened with LBQT stuff last year.

Many people seem to be operating at the "but i have a gay friend so I cant be homophobic" level.

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Replying to ireallyshouldknowthisbut:
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By creamdelacream
12th Jan 2022 18:06

The kind of logic in this article is why it's getting worse, it's quite clearly divisive. We're all human beings and should be treated equally. There is no such thing as positive or negative discrimination, it's just discrimination. There is no such thing as reverse racism, it's just racism.

The notion that employers must ask candidates their sexual preference and hire them on that basis (or even take it into consideration) is simply absurd.

These narratives are starting to make our society worse, not better.

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Replying to creamdelacream:
FirstTab
By FirstTab
12th Jan 2022 18:33

The article is putting across the current position. I do not see it as being divisive.

The fact that there is another article on the subject indicates there are issues that need to be brought out in the open.

Systemic discrimination is challenging to address. Through articles like these, I hope we will eliminate most of it over a period of time. If the comments here, are anything to go by, I am not hopeful.

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Replying to FirstTab:
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By creamdelacream
12th Jan 2022 18:43

The article is grouping people by sex, race and sexual preference and saying that groups should be treated differently based on these characteristics, what about that is not divisive? It's literally the definition of divisive.

If you actually read the comments rather than assuming they're a bunch of racist remarks, you would actually see that they agree that discrimination is not acceptable but these crazy solutions and narratives are not the answer.

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By adam.arca
13th Jan 2022 13:29

I agree there is a problem and I agree that bias can look very different based on where you look at it from.

That said, I agree with the majority of comments made so far that self justifying articles like this one are more a part of the problem than a part of the solution. The diversity graphic in particular is meaningless as presented.

But, as I'm male, white and middle aged, then I'm automatically biased apparently. I do resent the implication that this means I haven't got a mind of my own or the use of my own eyes (whilst not for one moment denying that there is quite a lot of racism, both conscious and unconscious, out there).

May be it's just me but I would also take the OP more seriously when he learns to spell.

Makbul, I'm guessing you're a "Principal Accountant" and not a "Principle Accountant" (box at top of article).

And then we have "Engineering factories, chemical plants and aircraft hangars; the principals are the same. " (in the section headed up "A Cost Accounting Analogy," not that I could actually see the point being made). "Principals" there should of course be "principles."

Appreciate that I'm being a bit bitchy here but I would like to think we're all principle-led accountants. And the way it reads, I'm led to believe that bosses in factories, plants and hangars are all the same? Well, that bit probably is true.

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By AndyC555
13th Jan 2022 14:54

You'll find that the vast majority of those employed in dirty, dangerous, labour intensive, outdoors jobs are male.

Should we have quotas to ensure 50% of the workers are female?

"Gen Z demands it!"

Set up your own business. Staff it how you like.

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By BryanS1958
13th Jan 2022 15:55

Those who are not persons of colour seem to be remarkably tolerant of the fact that persons of colour are over-represented, as a percentage of UK population, in fields such as professional football, athletics, pharmacies, dentistry, TV advertising, many areas of accountancy, etc.

Perhaps persons not of colour should be insisting on more diversity in these areas, rather than selection based on merit?

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By Paul Crowley
13th Jan 2022 22:00

I would be confident that the graphs relating to disability and LGB are miles adrift
People tend not to declare those, Even the LGB pride month people declared that they kept these things to themselves
Latter not a matter I would ask employees, so problematic to suggest any such discrimination
All people have disabilities, it is just a question of degree
Being left handed is a problem in the military. Weapons tend to be right handed, and are taught right handed.
I had a problem with the Browning High Power pistol. Needed to turn my hand 180 degrees to get proper grip on the slide. But that is not the "proper" way.

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By Paul Crowley
14th Jan 2022 14:38

"With the revolution in technology, I think we are coming to a turning point within accountancy. Remote and flexible working forces change. Gen Z, or whatever label you want to attach to people will embrace the new way of working. Catch up on Netflix whilst doing a trial balance on some nifty Accounting package. It’s the way forward."

Watching telly whilst pretending to work?
You really think that is what people expect to be paid for without challenge upon discovery?
ICAEW would probably consider that to be both dishonest and lacking integrity
That is so much worse that stealing consumables or overclaiming expenses. It equates to leeching off a free tax helpline

https://www.accountingweb.co.uk/practice/general-practice/accountant-exc...

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