Profession should lift 'artificial barriers to progression'
Accountancy firms and professional bodies should do more to break the “not for me” stigma those from less advantaged social backgrounds attach to the profession, according to a new report from the ACCA.
The Purpose and the profession report found the accountancy profession should play a greater role in attracting a diverse talent pool and addressing the lack of accessible opportunities.
The need for this was demonstrated by the fact only 13% of the report’s respondents had been influenced by a teacher or careers adviser to find out more about the profession.
Despite 92% of the respondents feeling that it was important people from a spectrum of social backgrounds should have access to the profession, the report found a number of ways firms and professional bodies discriminate against those who don’t “fit the mould”.
Jimmy Greer, the report’s author, said access to the profession in the past has been a “closed shop”. He noted that those who accessed well-paid jobs within the profession relied on personal connections or paid-for qualifications. The report said that the profession’s social immobility has led to the perception of an accountant as “middle-aged, white and male”.
Making the profession known as a career option
Lack of awareness about the accountancy profession as career option still remains a barrier. For example, children born to parents without a university background or professional qualification are less likely to pursue this level of education.
“Deepening people’s understanding of the benefits of a professional qualification and making it a genuine option for their consideration has not been pursued with enough vigour, to the detriment of professional bodies and associated institutions,” Greer said in the report.
Where accountancy is falling short
When it comes to hiring, the report raised the concern that practices favour candidates with work experience over those who lacked the resources to take unpaid internships. In another example, practices could curtail social mobility because they promote those that share the traits of those already in senior management positions.
“How can everyone compete fairly if educational outcomes and other opportunities diverge so much from a young age?” Greer asked.
The ACCA’s chief executive Helen Brand noted in the forward that the accountancy profession has a key role to play in opening up access to opportunities and in ensuring people from all backgrounds can flourish.
"Progress is being made to make more people aware that professional accountancy is a career choice that is open to them and to remove artificial barriers to progression," she said.
"These range from building more ways to support people throughout their studies and their careers, to changing how people are hired and promoted so that employers can access wider talent pools and to eliminate unconscious biases."
The role the profession can play
The report recommended a number of practical steps to ensure the profession embeds social mobility issues into its future, rather than being an “ineffective add-on”:
- Engage with schools and career services to raise awareness of the profession among those without family and friends with professional qualifications
- Increase flexible learning approaches
- Keep the profession relevant and cater for a diverse set of accounting career opportunities as the world of work changes eg data analytics
- Use social networks like Slack or Coworker to remove artificial barriers
- Advocate social change with policy makers
Beyond the report, the ACCA shared a number of case studies that dig deeper into the need to improve awareness of the profession.
In one such case study, Scottish practice owner Faith Simpson discussed her route into the profession. The traditional firm of accountants she joined in 2000 had a certain mould which they wanted people to fit into.
“For those from a less advantaged social background I do see barriers, an old boy's network and a perception that you should have gone to university,” said Simpson.
“When hiring, many accountancy practices are still looking for a specific type of person – the straight A Student with a relevant university degree. I don't personally think that this has changed that much in the last decade. When accountancy practices now need to offer so much more in terms of service, that age-old bean counter with a maths degree is almost outdated.
“Accountancy practices that do not alter and do not change their perceptions are going to be the ones left behind. There has not been enough change. We still have that slightly elitist route,” Simpson concluded.