Accountancy: a diverse profession

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Accountancy can no longer lay claim to having a staid image of men in suits. Far from it. We meet the AAT members who are bucking the trend

All professions have their stereotypes. Fairly or unfairly, accountants have become typecast as white, middle-class men in sensible suits, sitting in stuffy offices poring over ledgers. Indeed, it is an image AAT acknowledged a few years back with ‘Colin: a new kind of superhero’ – a spoof YouTube video which played up to the stereotype.

But times are changing. Accountancy is, in fact, an incredibly diverse profession, as these members and their stories show:

Arman Hussain, 18, financial analyst at Morgan Stanley and Level 4 AAT student

I don’t feel my Pakistani background has ever been an issue in my career – and nor should it be for anyone else when it comes to applying for a job. We live in a modern society where companies are more interested in employees’ talent and skills than their ethnicity.

My career goal is to become a stock-market trader, so I’m hoping my multicultural background will actually be an advantage. I speak Urdu and Punjabi, and I can read and write Arabic; trading is an international career, so hopefully I’d be able to apply the languages I’ve learned from having this background.

Sanaz Amidi MAAT, 32, director of Rosetta Art Centre,

I think that more small businesses than ever are being run by ethnic minorities, so it’s great for business that the accountancy sector is becoming more diverse too. If you are, say, a Polish or Iranian businessperson, it helps if your accountant speaks your language and shares your cultural background.

That’s not to say that the white British male no longer has a place in accountancy, just that the UK sector is increasing its appeal to non-white accountants from all over the world. AAT has an international presence, and people can see its cosmopolitan appeal.

It stands to reason that accountancy has become more diverse than the population as a whole. After all, numbers are numbers and maths is maths – it’s a universal language. All over the world, the basic methods we use are the same.

Greg Edelston, 42, Level 4 AAT student and former sports therapist

I’ve never encountered any prejudice among accountants because of the fact I’m gay, but I think that’s because I live in London; generally, I think accountancy is still quite a heterosexual, white environment, and about middle of the pack in terms of accepting homosexuality.

It’s a case of what individuals you end up working with. You could be with easy-going people where it’s not a problem. Or the boss could be the blue-eyed boy who also happens to be a homophobe.

I’ve been lucky: the firm where I did four months’ work experience wanted to buck the trend where diversity was concerned, and told me the fact I was gay and Jewish was perfect.

Sheryl Miller MAAT, 39, senior manager, financial planning and analysis, at Tarmac

When I joined Ernst & Young in 1991, it was less common for black and minority ethnic trainees to come forward. My recollection was there were few people from black Caribbean backgrounds, and certainly not many women.

I would say that now diversity is on the agenda of most big corporate accountancy firms, the issue is probably less around attracting diversity into the profession and more about getting it into the upper echelons.

Here there are the same challenges faced by other professions about why we haven’t got more female and BME representation at the highest levels. That said, diversity is about more than just gender and race, but it’s a good place for organisations to start.

This is an abridged version of an article which first appeared in the July/August 2012 issue of Accounting Technician, AAT’s membership magazine. More information on studying and joining AAT is available online.

Steven Perryman is AAT Comment's former Content Editor.

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