An end to discrimination?by
KPMG has set itself a target for working class directors and partners. That should spur us all on to address a long-term embarrassment.
Coincidentally, two stories that hit the headlines last week offered reminders that discrimination should never be never far from our minds.
While the accountancy profession is highly commendable in many ways, its desire and ability to integrate those that have not traditionally held positions of power is, at best, questionable.
I will leave readers to decide for themselves the motivations behind the constantly beleaguered Gavin Williamson’s claim that he had met Marcus Rashford, before bizarrely backing down and explaining that what he really meant was Maro Itoje. The pair only have one thing in common.
Strangely, the education secretary might have felt at home in our industry, which sometimes talks a good game on equality and diversity but far too rarely delivers.
Having spent a couple of decades pursuing a career as a partner in a number of mid-tier firms, I can only ever remember meeting one partner of Afro-Caribbean heritage and precious few professional colleagues. That is a terrible indictment.
Discrimination goes deeper
If that wasn’t bad enough, discrimination goes considerably further, though perhaps to a lesser extent.
Partners from other ethnic minorities have also been a rarity, while I doubt that very many of our colleagues even realise that the LGBTQIA+ revolution is in full flow, with colleagues feeling obliged to remain in the closet. For those ignorant of the acronym, Wikipedia will prove a fine information source.
It could also be argued (by 50% of the population) that the situation of women is little better. They have often been the victims of prejudice, quite possibly unconscious in some cases, and worse.
Most accountants have learnt that overlooking talented younger women because of the “risk” that they might become pregnant is not something to talk about. However, sometimes I do wonder whether it remains a factor in recruitment decisions.
While the number of women in the industry has grown to the point where they represent approximately half of the workforce, the partner count is still ridiculously low, while the number that have been given an opportunity to step up to equity continues to beggar belief.
The sad thing is that not only is the way we treat colleagues unfair but it is also damaging to businesses, given that we are neglecting or missing out on a series of impressive talent pools that could help us to grow both top and bottom lines.
The good news is that some more enlightened firms are beginning to take action, particularly regarding gender.
Working class employees
On a parallel track, I was encouraged by the news that KPMG has decided to set itself a 29% target for the proportion of working-class people that it wishes to promote through to director and partner.
In principle, we all work in meritocracies and therefore the cream should rise to the top. However, as a general rule it is that much easier to rule a country or an accountancy practice if you happen to have been to Eton and Oxford or their plummy equivalents.
Given the bad press the Big Four firm has been obliged to weather in recent months, some might wonder whether this announcement is more of a publicity stunt than a serious ambition but you have to hope.
One concern is that the only people who can really measure the success or otherwise of this policy are those in power at KPMG. I doubt that anybody will seriously try to audit their figures, to determine the number of employees whose parents had routine and manual jobs, such as drivers, cleaners and farm workers.
In addition, given that even Oxbridge has been obliged to push for more working-class students, there would be some irony if a decade down the line KPMG could boast about hitting its target, without reducing the percentage of partners from top-notch universities, merely re-categorising them.
On the other hand, maybe we are at the start of something really big and the profession will embrace and benefit from a new outlook where merit comes first, regardless of gender, colour, class or any other random decision-making factor.