ACCA’s Small Practice survey makes for unsettling reading. In a conclusion that indicates British accountancy may not be as progressive as once thought, the report states that most accountants from ethnic minorities feel there is a lack of opportunity in larger firms because of racism.
One respondent to ACCA’s survey said there was no way in for ethnic minorities because: ‘The decision is based on colour not on calibre.’
In one sense we should not be surprised at this. Racism exists in other parts of society and there is no reason why accountancy should be inherently full of virtue. In another, we should be horrified and managing partners everywhere should be asking serious questions about recruitment at their own firms.
Of course, whether people from ethnic minorities are actually suffering discrimination is notoriously difficult to quantify. The point is that the perception exists, it is real and firms and professional bodies should be acting to deal with that perception.
Managers should be asking if the perception indicates real conditions on the ground. If it does, there is no question that any form of discrimination should be removed. But it must be borne in mind that a perception is a danger in itself. It is pernicious, convinces people they should not apply and ultimately talent is missed. Firms should be working as hard to dispel a perception as they should real racism.
The danger is complacency. Just as in business ‘standing still’ is going backwards, so it is with issues of discrimination. Firms need constant vigilance and should maintain rolling reviews. There are some things to which even profit must play second fiddle.
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