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January 26, 2021

ACCA research: Accountancy and finance profession ‘broadly inclusive’ but more needs to be done

By Joe Pickard

The Association of Chartered Certified Accountants’ (ACCA) report Leading Inclusion has shown a positive opinion on diversity within the profession, with 78% of respondents feeling the profession is open to all.

Through research questions and roundtable discussions, the global report gathered opinions from 10,000 ACCA members and future members on a range of issues relating to diversity and inclusion.

While nearly two thirds saw a link between diversity and inclusion policies and organisational success, nearly two-thirds still thought the profession has or might have an issue to deal with when it comes to diversity and inclusion and over half (54%) felt they did not know what to do about this or were uncertain about next steps.

The report concluded that there is no room for complacency, as 68% of respondents believe the profession should do more to promote diversity and inclusion amongst its membership.

ACCA CEO Helen Brand said: “The foundation of ACCA in 1904 was to create a professional body for accountancy professionals that was open to all. We take pride in being the first body to admit women members as early as 1909, and to being a pioneer for other notable milestones in the profession’s evolution. The value of inclusion remains at the core of everything that we do. ACCA’s commitment in December 2020 to the UN Sustainable Development Goals is one aspect of this. Goals 5 and 10 particularly speak to aspects of diversity and inclusion and how we need to work together to address some of the fundamental issues we face.

“Fundamentally we need to appreciate that the diversity agenda embraces a wide range of facets of our society. To focus on one is to ignore the importance of the rest. It is a time for the collective of ACCA members and future members, as well as those who may join the profession in the future, to consider whether we truly embrace diversity and inclusion and are equitable in our treatment of others and in providing equal opportunities for all.

“The power of story and advocacy, in leading by example as a profession amongst all the professions, should not be lost on us. Collectively, and individually, we can improve social justice and build a better world. We must seize the opportunity.”

Other findings from the report found:

  • 41% of respondents believe there are diversity issues to be addressed, and a further 22% considered that there might be an issue.
  • 43% per cent of respondents aged 18 – 35 believe there are issues to be addressed, compared with 31% aged 56 and over.
  • 81% of respondents in Africa believe the profession is inclusive, compared with 67% in Western Europe, 67% in the Caribbean and 69% in Central and Eastern Europe.
  • Results for Asia Pacific reveal contrasts between places: 81% of Vietnamese respondents confirmed that there was a diversity issue to be addressed, 76% in mainland China and 68% in the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region of China in contrast to 51% in Malaysia and 50% in Singapore. For many in the region the issue has been focused on several areas, such as the role of women.
  • 50% said having a variety of different perspectives was the biggest benefit of a diverse and inclusive workforce, followed by better decision making and better employee engagement.
  • 41% of respondents said the organisation that they work for makes it easy for people from diverse backgrounds to be accepted.
  • 52% said everyone in their organisation has equal opportunity to succeed.

Author of the report and ACCA senior insight manager Clive Webb said: “The pandemic is impacting our society in many ways. The impact on social justice is starting to be felt in many ways too, and our report argues, this is something in which accountants must play a fundamental role. As accountancy and finance professionals, it’s important that we apply our robust and ethical lens to the challenges of the diversity agenda. By focusing on the symptoms of the issues rather than the causes we run the risk of not making substantive and lasting change when it is very necessary. I truly hope this report places these important issues centre stage so we can take the dialogue and engagement further.

“Accountancy and finance professionals must be a force for good in the organisations that we work in and for. Our ethical lens and the trust in the profession means that we cannot but fail to embrace the diversity and inclusion agenda. It is too important to be left to one side, it is about the fabric and future of the organisations that we are involved in.  It is not just the responsibility of the human resources team, but something that everybody in the organisation needs to embrace.”

The research for the report was conducted in October 2020, including 20 virtual roundtables across 11 regions. The majority of survey respondents were located in Western Europe, Africa, Asia-Pacific, and South Asia.

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