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Study Finds Black Accountants Face Job Discrimination


NEW YORK – An African American accountant was stunned when a white senior partner at a [then]Big Six accounting firm said that minorities at the firm should take a remedial accounting course upon arrival, according to a study co-authored by a Fordham University professor. Experiences like this one are common for black accountants who say they feel their employers unfairly question their abilities, pass them over for raises and promotions, and make them feel isolated because of their race, according to Professor Patricia A. Williams. “People had certain stereotypes about what African Americans were like. Instead of getting to know them as people, they are treated according to those stereotypes,” Williams said. “Even partners, who were by any definition successful, felt that both clients and colleagues thought they were not as qualified.” One respondent, who received excellent performance reviews, said he consistently received the least challenging audits. Although he requested publicly held clients, he was assigned to audit a historically black university after three white accountants refused to work on it. Another accountant said working for one of the prestigious Big Six firm was “the most degrading and humiliating experience in my life,” according to the study. Many of the accountants reported feeling like they were “used as tokens,” according to Williams. Even respondents who said they were “satisfied” with their jobs added that they had experienced some discomfort or perceived discrimination at the start of their careers, according to the study, which appears in the latest issue of Accounting Horizons, a quarterly publication of the American Accounting Association. Prior to the Civil Rights Movement of the 1960s, accounting firms would not hire blacks. Today, blacks make up 12 percent of the U.S. population, but only about 4 percent of accounting professionals. A majority of the 213 black accountants surveyed – 56.8 percent – reported feeling “moderately satisfied” at work. But in the face of perceived discrimination, retaining blacks is difficult, Williams said. The participating accountants all graduated from a historically black university and work in government, public and corporate accounting. In addition to collecting questionnaires from the participants, the study’s authors interviewed eight black partners in the then Big Six accounting firms and four human resource representatives. Williams is an assistant professor in Fordham’s Schools of Business. She co-authored the study with Glen D. Moyes, an associate professor at New Hampshire College, and Behnaz Z. Quigley, an associate professor at Prince George College.


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