Like many leading accountancy firms, haysmacintyre’s diversity and inclusion (D&I) initiatives have been an important part of their growth plans. But as the industry continues to tackle the underrepresentation of employees from a BAME background and women, more needs to be done at a faster pace of change.
According to Accountancy Age’s Top 50+50 firm survey published in October 2020, just under five percent of partners came from a BAME background with seven being the median number. And while there are a total of 7,393 partners on the list, only 329 are classed as BAME.
The report also revealed that while heads of firms are still predominantly men, the percentage has dropped from 87 percent in 2019 to 76 percent in 2020. A slight improvement.
In a bid to promote D&I, 24 percent of UK firms now employ a dedicated diversity director to oversee operations. Today, Anna Bennett, head of operations and finance and partner at haysmacintyre outlines what her firm is doing to close the inequality gap and make the organisation a more diverse and inclusive place for staff, trainees, and future employees.
What are some of the key issues haysmacintyre and the industry faces?
Currently the industry is not as diverse as it could be in terms of gender and ethnicity, and this is certainly the case historically.
If you look at the Top 50+50 accountancy firms, only 13 percent of leaders are women and a staggering 19 percent revealed they have no women partners. At haysmacintyre, we have 38 partners, ten of which are women – that is 26 percent, which is better than the industry standard. In addition, 33 percent of the management board and 50 percent of sector heads are female.
Turning to ethnicity, of our 38 partners, three are from an ethnic minority – that is seven percent. Although again better than the industry standard, we need to do more to be more diverse.
We are in the process of gathering data from our staff to measure the whole firm’s diversity, and to help meet our target of voluntarily publishing our ethnicity pay gap next year. While we have had a good response from staff to our questionnaire on diversity, understandably not everyone has wanted to share information on their ethnicity – so we are looking at alternative ways to measure this.
What steps did you take to improve the situation?
We started working with the recruitment firm Wiser three years ago. Wiser explored our apprenticeship recruitment process and challenged us to be bold in our decisions and take the steps to align our processes with the firm’s D&I values.
One of the things we changed as a result, was to lower our minimum entry requirements, so trainees no longer require a minimum 2:1 degree to join the firm. We are looking for someone who is going to succeed at haysmacintyre, rather than those who have a particular degree. In our entry requirements, we emphasise a need to show commitment to our values and assess candidates holistically during the recruitment process. I think we are one of the few mid-tier firms that has lowered minimum entry requirements.
Wiser also encouraged us to understand any barriers in our process that could affect how candidates from different socio-economic backgrounds present themselves at the interview stage.
Around 35 trainees join our apprenticeship scheme every year. Apprentices are either graduates or school leavers who join the firm to study for a qualification. We recognise that they are a hugely important part of the firm – more than 20 of our current 38 partners joined us as trainees, and so our hope is that our apprentices will continue to stay and grow with the firm, which has been the case in the past. This is a big part of our D&I initiative as we consider socio-economic background when recruiting trainees.
We commissioned an external review into our recruitment from the Bridge Group, a non-profit consultancy that uses research to promote social equality, diversity, and inclusion within accountancy firms. The review looked at haysmacintyre’s apprenticeship recruitment initiative to see if we were attracting a diverse range of candidates and ensuring that throughout our recruitment process, candidates were given the best chance of succeeding.
The Bridge Group also analysed our recruitment practices, policies, marketing material, approach, and assessment centres in huge depth, benchmarking us against other firms. The consultancy helped identify areas in our normal recruitment process where we gave advantage to certain groups without meaning to. For example, someone might be better trained and equipped for certain types of interviews on account of their schooling.
What were some of the key reasons and strategies behind your decisions?
We know it is a strength to the firm if our staff are from a diverse range of backgrounds and experiences. Our clients interact with our apprentices a great deal, and we also recognise it is a strength in client relationships, because our clients are from diverse backgrounds too.
This is also an area which is driven by our staff. During 2020, we set up a D&I committee chaired by a member of our management board to make sure decisions can be made at a high level and that we are taking the views of our staff on D&I seriously. The Committee comprises 14 members, 10 of which are women and five from an ethnic minority. We asked committee members to connect with their departments, colleagues, and friends to find out what the committee’s priority ought to be for the year. This helped us identify three areas of focus: recruitment, improving data and information, and training and development.
The results of this focus group led us to change how we attract and recruit a diverse range of candidates and led to us starting a training and development programme across the firm, which has included unconscious bias training for everyone.
Did you achieve your goals?
The Bridge Group’s review was positive in terms of the socio-economic D&I in our recruitment. For example, our applicant pool for apprenticeships has 27 percent more applicants eligible for free school vouchers than the average pool for an accountancy practice. We have a clear set of recommendations from this work to help us improve further.
The firm’s D&I committee has recommended we measure our work on diversity, but we do not have any data or targets yet. We need to measure success based on that data if we want to be able to say we are a diverse firm, representing the communities and clients we work with.
It is difficult to measure the success of our initiatives as success is a long-term goal. We need to wait to understand the full extent of our D&I training and initiatives. It is only the beginning for us.