Redressing inequalities in the profession starts with your firm
Our roving partner asks whether the profession is storing up big trouble by ignoring issues of diversity.
The profession may not be sexist and racist but an outsider wouldn't necessarily know it, judging by the lack of diversity at partner level.
While the rest of the world continues to boast about its frequently meagre efforts to equalise the numbers of men and women in senior posts, not to mention understanding what the term BAME means and even trying to ensure that those from that group get a fair crack of the whip, we happily continue to turn a blind eye.
There was a recent announcement that FTSE 100 companies have now reached the position where 33% of executives are women. This statistic hid the fact that most of those are relatively junior executives but it’s a start.
The corporate big hitters also struggle with Black Asian and Minority Ethnic representation but at least pay lip service to the idea of equality. When it comes to our otherwise esteemed profession, I wouldn’t mind betting that the numbers are not so much disappointing as embarrassing.
If my experience is anything to go by, any firm that has more than 10% of female equity partners is something out of the ordinary. They will do slightly better when you include junior partners, where the proportion is considerably higher.
Even so, it would be pretty accurate to characterise partners in accountancy practices as middle-aged, middle-class men. I wager that anyone arguing with this interpretation would only do so on the basis that there is a fair number of old middle-class men holding senior positions as well.
However, when you think about it, it wouldn’t be unreasonable to assume that given the population demographic, 50% of equity partners would be women. As for BAME, many firms might be struggling to get up to 1% at equity partner level and doing very little better at the next stage down.
Many readers will be asking why it makes any difference to their practice. In some cases, maybe it doesn’t. Ignoring such financially irrelevant concepts as fairness, there are a number of good reasons to attempt to redress the balance in the near future.
First of all, it can’t be good to have a reputation for working in a profession that hardly bothers to hide its gender/race bias.
Secondly, I wonder whether many of us are missing a trick. Some clients will respond much better to female partners, and this isn’t necessarily just other women. Similarly, it could be good to establish a niche as a practice sympathetic to the large BAME population, opening up further work opportunities.
Looked at from a different perspective, it might not be easy to defend an unfair dismissal claim by someone who believes that they have lost their job as a result of their gender or race.
If your practice takes such a dismissive view of women and those from minorities, refusing to take them seriously enough to offer progression to partnership or, in many cases, senior management, then you have to imagine that it won’t be very easy to stand up in court and defend even a fallacious claim about sexual harassment or failure to promote a talented individual with Asian or African antecedents, which could easily be deemed to constitute constructive dismissal.
I can’t wait to read what subscribers have to say in defence of what are clearly archaic practices in the profession. Maybe someone will be able to persuade me that the way that we operate is acceptable in the 21st century. I doubt it.