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Investigation launched into KPMG Conviviality audit

An end to discrimination?

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KPMG has set itself a target for working class directors and partners. That should spur us all on to address a long-term embarrassment.

13th Sep 2021
Partner An unnamed firm
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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.

Replies (8)

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paddle steamer
By DJKL
13th Sep 2021 17:05

How does KPMG want to define "working class" re its target?

The fact is there are myriad ways, Edinburgh University for instance used state school or private school and whether the parents had degrees as part of their U/G admissions process (they may still so do, this was back in circa 2011 , they asked re the application process, you could not answer but they then no doubt inferred an answer from the non answer)

So I suspect if my wife and I had not been to university my kids would likely have qualified re Ed Uni's diversity programme as they both attended state schools, lived in Leith etc, but the fact is the last members of my family who were really working class were my paternal grandparents, I mainly attended private schools, short of invasive interrogation how on earth would KPMG really know, can they actually really observe what they are trying to measure?

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By Hugo Fair
13th Sep 2021 17:45

".. regardless of gender, colour, class or any other random decision-making factor."
Did you deliberately omit arguably the most contentious discrimination ... religious belief?

Oh, and the appropriate adjective within your final sentence would be 'irrelevant' (not 'random') ... it's not the randomness or indeed unfairness that is the real problem, it is that these factors are not relevant to any competent decision-making process.

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By Paul Crowley
13th Sep 2021 17:51

How do you define working class?
Usually people who are successful would not use the term either for themselves or others.
And how would someone who thinks of themself as middle class like to be told that they are now a box tick selection, not someone who got the job on merit.
Surely KPMG would be better focussed on getting audits done correctly and not 'misleading' the regulators.

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By Paul Crowley
13th Sep 2021 17:55

"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."
Most small firms have been using Merit for the last 40 Years.
What matters is can the person do the job.

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Replying to Paul Crowley:
By coops456
19th Sep 2021 10:35

Paul Crowley wrote:

Most small firms have been using Merit for the last 40 Years.


Yeah right.
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Replying to Paul Crowley:
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By AnnAccountant
19th Sep 2021 11:39

Small firms using merit? Hmmm

My experience at a smaller firm was that hires for trainee a/c positions tended to have some connection to one of the partner's drinking/golf/whatever mates. They felt it was less risky than opening the process up to all and sundry.

In contrast, when I went through the application process at a Big 4 firm after uni, it felt fair to me - and I don't remember the office being full of posh types. Certainly, I had no connections or posh schooling in my life story, so it was good that they didn't ask about them

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By AndyC555
16th Sep 2021 10:48

Could be fun if one parent is, say, a 'stay at home mum' when the child is born but resumes her teaching career later and the father was a sub-contracting plumber when the child was born but the millionaire owner of a plumbing business by the time the child went to university.

Would a proportion of the child qualify as working class?

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By AnnAccountant
19th Sep 2021 11:43

I have a theory that there is probably less downside to just accepting that there are some injustices in life - rather than wage massive, costly, ill thought out and divisive campaigns for (some mythical notion of) equality.

Or maybe it's just me. Maybe everyone else loves receiving messages from all directions every day about their "privilege", their inbuilt subconscious "isms" etc etc. I don't know.

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