Accountancy is a profession, which is associated with a certain stereotype and some people may think that it is only accessible to those with a particular background. However, the reality is that the profession requires people from a variety of backgrounds with different ways of thinking. There are various career paths available to become an ICAEW Chartered Accountant and achieve the BFP and ACA qualifications.
What types of benefits does diversity bring to the workplace?
Diversity and inclusion go hand in hand. Diversity means having individuals from different backgrounds working at a company. However, inclusion means bringing them together and promoting a sense of belonging, which is the best way of creating high performing teams.
We are all shaped by our previous experience and accountancy is a career that requires strong problem solving skills.
“Teams that include people with a varied mindset most often come up with innovative solutions.”
This is very important in accountancy where clients send various requests to chartered accountants and expect to receive a practical solution in a short timeframe.
Having greater diversity also means that there are role models from different backgrounds who junior staff can more closely relate to. This instils confidence in junior staff and helps them to realise that there should be no barriers to succeed. Creating a level playing field is important to ensure that everyone has the same access to the accountancy profession and equal opportunities once they join a company.
Is diversity at the top of ICAEW’s agenda?
Yes, it definitely is. For example, the ICAEW has published a report about diversity in the accountancy profession. They interviewed 50 individuals from accountancy firms of all sizes across the UK, all of whom were at different stages of their career or who had left practice, as well as professional bodies and NGOs. Studies like this are very important since progress can only be made by directly hearing the views of people from a range of different backgrounds and organisations.
Also, the ICAEW has a Diversity Champions network, which is involved in promoting diversity and the champions attend a number of a careers events. It is valuable to both school and university students to hear from people who had been in their shoes only a few years ago.
Why should students from all backgrounds consider accountancy?
Although embarking on a training programme with the ICAEW may be a daunting prospect, there is no need to worry as there is a considerable amount of support available.
Your training programme will last between three to five years, depending on whether you join a school leaver or graduate scheme. You will have time allocated to study at college and also have a variety of people to ask questions and gain advice from. For example, you may wish to find out how to maintain a good work life balance or how to prepare effectively for exams and the experience of senior colleagues is very useful for this. Also, it is worthwhile hearing about career opportunities, as once you have qualified, you may wish to stay and progress within an accountancy firm or move into industry in a financial or strategic role.
CABA is a charity that supports the wellbeing of the chartered accountant community globally. It provides support to past and present ICAEW members, ACA students, past and present ICAEW staff and their close family members. There are a range of free services available such as counselling, career support, personal and professional coaching, financial assistance, legal advice and online self-help tools and resources.
What has been my experience of diversity initiatives?
Since working at Ernst & Young (EY) in London, I have been involved in a video series where I explained the opportunities and challenges for BAME employees. Also, I have been involved in careers fairs and networking events, where I have had the chance to speak to students wishing to pursue a career in accountancy.
EY has a Smart Futures programme to widen access to the profession and I have enjoyed being a mentor and sharing my experience with students. Making a positive difference to people in my role as a Counselling Manager has been rewarding. I have provided guidance to trainees on both the school leaver and graduate training schemes. I have also understood the importance of being a diversity ally.
“We can always be supportive and assist with initiatives held by different diversity groups since we are all working towards a common goal.”
How much progress has been made so far?
In February 2020, a new Parker Review report was published by Sir John Parker, EY and the Department of Business, Energy & Industrial Strategy (BEIS), which showed that 37% of FTSE 100 companies surveyed do not have any ethnic minority representation on their boards. The conclusion was that ethnic diversity needs to be given the same level of focus in the board room that led to increasing female representation on boards, which has seen real progress recently.
Although there is still more to do, it is an exciting time to work in the accountancy profession. Hopefully once you join an organisation, you will have the opportunity to create some change and shape the careers of others in the future.
Arnab Datta works as an Assurance Manager at EY in London and is an ICAEW Chartered Accountant.