Women of colour face significant obstacles working within US
accounting firms, according to new Big Four-backed research.

The study Women of Colour in Accounting found that
African-American, Latino and Asian women have a vastly different
experience in professional services firms from white women, white
men and men of colour.

The report said these firms were characterised by a
client-service focus and firmly entrenched ‘old boys’ networks
where staff of colour felt less included than white employees. Many
of these barriers related to difficulty in feeling comfortable in a
client-based environment and included a lack of similar role
models, stereotyping, a greater level of exclusion from networks,
and problems accessing client-based assignments and business
development opportunities.

Despite the findings, US accounting firms can be positive places
for women of colour to work, according to one female
African-American accountant.

Kenyan-born Millicent Onyango said her experience has been good
despite being the only person of colour at her 110-person firm.
Onyango has been a senior tax associate for the past three years at
Anders Minkler & Diehl (AMD), an 11-partner firm based in St
Louis, Missouri, which is part of the Leading Edge Alliance.

“I have never experienced anything, everyone has treated me with
respect [and] they appreciate what I do. They know I am a hard
worker, they give me credit for that and I got promoted for that,”
she told The Accountant.

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Onyango said not having role models of the same race was not an
issue for her and she is also well involved in client contact.

“At our company we have great women who have been in the company
for 30 years and I look up to them. For me it does not matter that
they are black or white, to me they are just women and I can look
up to them,” she said.

A spokesperson from the National Association of Black
Accountants briefly noted that women of colour were often afraid to
speak out in accounting firms.

New figures released by the American Institute of Certified
Public Accountants last month covering the most recent trends in
the demand for public accounting recruits showed that the largest
firms remained the most racially diverse.

Minorities account for 11 percent of current CPA firm
professionals in the US, with Asians at 6 percent, Hispanic/Latinos
at 3 percent and Black/African-Americans at 2 percent.

The Women of Colour in Accounting report was conducted by
Catalyst, a global non-profit organisation that works to expand
opportunities for women in business, and sponsored by the Big Four.
It involved six interviews with senior leaders, nine focus groups
and a web survey of 1,424 respondents from a sample of employees at
some of the 20 largest revenue earning accounting firms in the

The lead author of the study, Katherine Giscombe, also warned
that diversity programmes at US accounting firms ran the risk of
being characterised by good intentions, imperfect execution and
less than successful results.