Mechanisms of exclusion and discrimination in the accounting profession: An ethnicity-focused study
This study addresses mechanisms of exclusion and discrimination in the accounting profession. It illustrates how people are potentially discriminated against, based on their ethnicities, when entering the accounting profession; and strategies they have used to overcome such potential discrimination. In investigating these issues, Bourdieu’s practice theory is used as the directing theory. The sample used in this study comprises 45 accounting graduates who have wished to enter the accounting profession via the accountant employment market in New Zealand. They are of 20 different ethnic backgrounds. Their experiences and perceptions are collected through interview analysis, such interviews undertaken with semi-structured questioning. In data analysis, the researcher first identifies the different positions taken by different ethnic groups relative to each other, and then examines ethnic minorities’ forms of capital (accessible resources) relative to their position. After confirming their positions and forms of capital, the researcher further examines their strategies. The study found that Pakeha (New Zealanders mostly British descent) take the most advantageous positions; migrants from China and East Asia take the most disadvantageous positions; sitting between them, are ethnic minorities who grew up in New Zealand, and migrants from the Indian subcontinent and South Asia. Ethnic minorities are potentially discriminated against on eight subtle factors including English proficiency (oral proficiency in particular), understanding of local New Zealand culture, accounting work experience in New Zealand, personality traits (appearances and manners in particular), their New Zealand accounting degree, country of origin (and associated accent and surname), cultural stereotype (work ethic in particular), and any weakness in their social networks with local New Zealanders. To overcome such potential discrimination, ethnic minorities have been observed to use seven strategies; including adopting an English surname, meeting the employer face-to-face, cutting down the CV (removing overseas accounting qualifications and experiences), accepting an undesirable job offer, seeking a niche in the accountant job market, “knitting the web” (building up social networks with New Zealanders), and transforming the self (changing their habitus and adapting to New Zealand norms). This study shows that discrimination is suffered not only by Chinese and Indians (as identified in previous accounting research), but also by many other ethnicities. It supports the view that accounting is not just a recording technique; it is also a tool which is used to produce and reproduce economic and cultural domination in the society. Some seemingly meritocratic attributes, such as accounting knowledge, skills and personality traits, are in fact perceived to be inherently connected to an accountant’s social and cultural background.