US accounting firms can be positive places for women of colour
to work, according to a female African American accountant. This
experience contrasts the findings of new Big Four-backed research,
which noted significant barriers.

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

It 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.

But 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, that 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 said.

Growing up in Kenya and coming to the US as an immigrant has
given Onyango a different perspective from African Americans who
have been raised in the US, she said. “You talk to [African
American] people who are born in America and they tell you their
experience. Sometimes they feel that because they are of colour,
they haven’t gotten the opportunities that they would have gotten
if they were white. That’s their experience, but I haven’t had that
experience,” Onyango explained.

Barriers highlighted in the report relate to difficulties in
feeling comfortable in a client-based environment, a lack of
similar role models, stereotyping, a greater level of exclusion
from networks, and problems accessing client-based assignments and
business development opportunities.

However, 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 doesn’t matter that
they are black or white, to me they are just women and I can look
up to them,” she said.

In explaining the relatively small representation of non-white
employees at AMD, marketing director Donna Erbs said it was
difficult to find women of colour in the profession.

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

The study was compiled from 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 highest revenue earning US
firms.

New figures released by the AICPA this month covering the latest
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
African-Americans at 2 percent.

Nicholas Moody