PurposeThe purpose of this paper is to consider how Big Four and mid-tier accountancy firms in the UK are responding to political concerns about social mobility and Fair Access to the accountancy profession.Design/methodology/approachInterviews were undertaken with 18 public accountancy firms, ranked in the Top 30 by fee income, operating in the UK to identify how they are recruiting staff in the light of the Fair Access to the Professions’ agenda. Bourdieusian sociology is used to inform the findings.FindingsThe Big Four firms employ a discourse of hiring “the brightest and the best” to satisfy perceived client demand, where symbolic capital is instantiated by reputational capital, reflecting prestige and specialisation, supported by a workforce with elite credentials. For mid-tier firms, reputational capital is interpreted as the need for individuals to service a diverse client portfolio. In general, most interviewees demonstrated relatively limited awareness of the issues surrounding the Fair Access agenda.Research limitations/implicationsThe interviews with accountancy firms are both exploratory and cross-sectional. Furthermore, the study was undertaken at an embryonic point (2010) in the emerging Fair Access discourse. Future work considering the accountancy profession could usefully examine if, and how, matters have progressed.Social implicationsThe investigation finds that accountancy firms remain relatively socially exclusive, largely due to the requirement for high educational entry standards, and interviewees’ responses generally indicate only limited attempts at engagement with political agendas of promoting Fair Access to the profession.Originality/valueThis paper is the first to empirically evaluate how the accountancy profession is responding to the Fair Access agenda; documents changing patterns of recruitment in accountancy employment, including the hiring of non-graduates to undertake professional work; and augments the literature considering social class and accounting.
Accounting, Auditing & Accountability Journal – Emerald Publishing
Published: Jun 19, 2017