Analysis: Demolishing race barriers

The battle for racial equality in accountancy continues to gather pace after African and Caribbean Diversity, a group hoping to launch its members into business organisations, turned its attention to accountants.

Having already tackled the legal and investment banking worlds with a high degree of success, accountancy firms are the next logical progression for ACDiversity.

‘We are really at the infant stage with the Big Four,’ says Brenda King, chair of ACDiversity who at 41 has already been awarded an MBE for her work in the African and Caribbean communities. ‘But I am hoping to get involved with them so that they will be doing a lot more with the youth programmes that we have.’

KPMG and ACCA are both involved already, having taken part in the charity’s 2003 Diversity Careers Fair. But King wants to step up a gear and introduce a formal structure similar to the one already in place for the legal profession.

There she was driven into action after feedback from black and Asian graduates brought to light the difficulty of getting into the ‘magic circle’ of law firms.

‘It is so difficult for them. I think a quarter of graduates are black or Asian – but that proportion is no way represented in the magic circle,’ says King.

To tackle this, ACDiversity has been working closely with giants such as Clifford Chance and Baker Mackenzie. Work includes placing students in firms as ‘shadows’, appointing ‘mentors’ in the firms and the firms themselves taking a central role in graduate and career fairs.

‘I think KPMG is very keen to go down that route as well and so that’s why we have been looking to do some sort of diversity forum with the firms,’ she says. ‘We would like to use KPMG as well as get some other firms in.’

The signs from KPMG, at least, are good. ‘It would be totally irresponsible not to,’ says Keith Dugdale, director of recruitment and resourcing at the firm. ‘It makes good business and social sense. We will actively support it.’

Dugdale points to three reasons why firms must pursue a good diversity policy: a diverse cultural cross section is good because of the global nature of firms, it is ‘essential’ for firms to mirror the business community, and it is also hugely important from a corporate/social responsibility point of view.

One of the most attractive reasons for any profession to get serious about diversity is the supposed skills shortage. ‘When they talk of a shortage of skills maybe they mean a shortage of graduates coming through with three A levels and the “right” background,’ says King.

To this end, she is damning of the recruitment policies adopted by the professions, saying they show a ‘total lack of imagination’. ‘If you speak to the accountancy firms, the investment banks, the law firms, they all have one thing in common,’ says King.

‘Their first cut for graduate recruitment depends on A levels and they are looking for three As. I just find it amazing that firms that are supposed to be innovative use that as their first cut.’

But the signs are good. Clifford Chance has 10 ‘mentors’ who give students advice and allow them to see for themselves what it means to work for a large firm of lawyers. J P Morgan offers another 10. And with giants of the business world, such as HSBC, the Bank of England, the Audit Commission and Royal Mail all on board, things can only get better.

ACDiversity is holding its 2004 Careers Fair at the Novetel Hotel on 26 October. For more information, see, or call 020 7939 9925.


– Diversity training for SMEs

– Graduate Diversity Careers Fair: 85 exhibitors and 8,500 delegates attended last year’s event aimed at delivering a ‘rich source of graduate and professional talent’ to employers

– Career Focus for undergraduates

– Mentoring scheme for 13 to 14-year-olds starting their GCSEs, Placing mentors at prominent firms – already established at Clifford Chance and JP Morgan

– Formal initiatives in sectors, such as the legal and banking professions, to increase awareness

– Seeking support from the UK’s biggest employers.

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