ICAEW.com works better with JavaScript enabled.

Diversity: what accountancy can learn from different sectors

18 March 2020: with many employees looking for a clear commitment to diversity and inclusion from their employer, it’s important for accountancy professionals to find out what other sectors are doing to set themselves apart.

For many job seekers, being part of a socially and culturally diverse workplace is non-negotiable. In a recent survey by Hays, 58% of professionals said they look for diversity and inclusion policies when researching a potential new employer. This was particularly important for younger professionals, with 65% of under 25s stating that this is a top priority.
A survey from CABA highlighted a perceived lack of diversity within the accountancy industry. Of the 251 chartered accountants surveyed, two fifths said they believe employees from disadvantaged backgrounds were unable to progress as well as those from more affluent circumstances. Almost half of the respondents agreed that the accountancy sector is more suited to those educated to degree level.

With diversity and inclusion now high on the agenda for a new generation of accountants, it’s vital that the profession looks at what other sectors are doing to promote and encourage this. Here are a few examples of what leading businesses have done to create equal opportunities:

Gender balance: Goldman Sachs

Goldman Sachs has set a new benchmark for gender equality in the financial sector by promoting 29% of their female employees to senior level – equivalent to 134 of the 465 bankers who received the promotion. This is a welcome step for women in finance, as it has been found that as career level rises female representation declines significantly. This is evident in the number of women employed at executive level, which currently stands at 15%, despite women making up 46% of the workforce.

For accounting, the situation is just as troubling. A 2016 report by ICAEW surveyed female accountants to find out more about their perceptions of the profession and discovered that over half (57%) admitted to seeing accountancy as a male-dominated field.

To attract and retain the best talent, employers need to actively encourage more women to apply for senior positions. Companies who work to increase the gender balance in the upper quartiles can expect to benefit from improved financial performance, reduced risk, more challenging and robust decision making and an increase in the attraction to a wider talent pool. 

Age diversity: Coca-Cola and Mastercard

In 2013, Coca-Cola introduced ‘Millennial Voices’ - a group of employees aged between 25 and 35, that has kickstarted advanced technology pilots, recycling initiatives, competitive employee benefits packages and flexible work policies. This entrepreneurial mentality motivated and empowered employees, while simultaneously making itself more attractive to young job seekers. 

Companies also need to ensure they don’t isolate older employees. To this end, Mastercard has introduced a scheme which encourages older employees to get more involved with the social media functions of their company. Not only is mastering social media an important skill for most business strategies today, but it also makes older generation workers feel part of a modern business.

For the accountancy industry, the mean age in 2017 was 46, slightly above the UK workforce as a whole (41). However, as more millennial and Gen Z workers enter the industry, establishing a working environment that caters to a multi-generational workforce should be top of the agenda. 

LGBTQ equality: Marriott International 

Marriott International was recently placed among the “Best Places to Work for LGBTQ Equality”, achieving a 100% score. To earn a perfect score, companies need to meet certain criteria, including ensuring full spousal and partner healthcare coverage parity and affirming coverage for transition-related care. 
Many top accountancy firms already have LGBTQ support networks in place. Recently Stonewall named KPMG as number 51 in its list of top 100 employers in 2019. However, in ICAEW’s research report on diversity and the accountancy profession, interviewees were far more likely to hear diversity being talked about than to see any practical changes in the workplace. 
Companies need to be more transparent about how they support their employees, to avoid the perception that they are merely paying lip service.

Related content: