Behind the numbers: why keep secrets about diversity?

Could diversity be 2008’s big issue in accountancy? Well, plainly not. But it
is showing every sign that it may run the credit crunch surprisingly close.

Some of the driving forces at work are positive. The Big Four, for instance,
are making noises about it moving up their agenda. PricewaterhouseCoopers has
been telling anyone who would listen about its latest graduate intake (45%
female, drawn from 15 countries etc). Others will no doubt take a similar line
when their time comes.
But most of the factors causing renewed interest in diversity are negative.
Cairn Energy’s Jann Brown is now the only female FTSE-100 FD. Yes, I know it
came about for good reason ­ the promotion of Helen Weir at Lloyds ­ but then
again two female FDs was hardly a breakthrough.

And only last week, one of the most prominent African-Americans in US finance
slated Wall Street’s lack of progress on the diversity front.

‘There are just so many fields that we’re just not there,’ John Rogers,
founder and chief executive of Ariel Investments, told the Financial Times. ‘If
you go down the lucrative fields in our economy these days, you just see the
lack of progress is truly stunning.’

Our Top 50 survey, again last week, showed how far firms on this side of the
Atlantic have to go before their partner ranks are broad churches.

The percentage of female partners in an average Top 50 firm is around 12%.
Yes, it’s a two-percentage point rise on last year, but the glass ceiling is
barely being scratched, let alone smashed.

But while those results disappointed, though perhaps not surprised, it was
the ethnicity results that I found deeply troubling. Only one in four firms was
willing to disclose details on ethnicity, with the average percentage of
partners in the UK’s biggest practices drawn from an ethnic minority background
is 4% This compares with 5.9% a year earlier, when 30% of firms surveyed
responded to the question.

So, representation of ethnic minorities at partner level is stuck in reverse.
And what’s more, the number of firms willing to disclose the proportion is in
decline too. Neither reflects well on the profession.

Damian Wild is editor in chief of Accountancy Age. His blog can be
found at accountancy

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