And much like the results of this survey, research by government body Age Positive also suggests that ageism is a problem.
‘In general, graduates were less likely to report age discrimination,’ it found. ‘However, in some more traditional hierarchical sectors, such as law and accountancy, they were more likely to report instances of age-related discrimination.’
That said, it’s not all bad. And in the last year, in a couple of important respects at least, accountancy has moved forward. And it is a change that has happened at the very top.
Last June, Claire Ighodaro became the first female and the first black president of CIMA worldwide. Having considered and ultimately rejected a career as a civil engineer (people said she would never be able to get training because, as a woman, she wouldn’t have been allowed on a building site) she settled on a career in accountancy.
And for Ighodaro, role models are very useful in helping to break down barriers. She admits her inspiration came from former prime minister Lady Margaret Thatcher.
‘The time Margaret Thatcher was campaigning to become prime minister was around the time I decided to join CIMA. I remember listening to her on the radio and thinking: “She’ll never do it”,’ she told Accountancy Age soon after becoming president. ‘The night of the election I was thinking “my God, she’s done it!”.’ In becoming president of ACCA at the same time, Sam Wong also scored a symbolic first in becoming the first non-European head of the accounting body. ‘It demonstrates that every member is equal no matter where you come from,’ Wong says.
As the big firms’ recent campaign to promote employment opportunities among accountants and potential accountants from ethnic minority backgrounds demonstates, the profession recognises that it has a problem in terms of both reality and – equally importantly – perception.
It’s worth bearing in mind the last time the discrimination debate gripped the profession. Five years ago, as the institutes wrestled with the issue of whether to introduce ethnic monitoring of members, Accountancy Age asked 200 finance directors what they thought. Only one in four thought it sensible, with many warning that it would serve no purpose, and could incite ill will rather than remove barriers.
Finding a solution will not be easy.
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