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by Derek Loosvelt | January 30, 2013


Although accounting isn’t the first industry you think of when you think of liberal, open, accepting workplaces, it’s now relatively open and accepting of minorities into its ranks, and even more gay-friendly than you might guess. Which doesn’t mean there’s still not a lot of progress to be made when it comes to diversity in the industry, both at the Big 4 (Deloitte, PwC, KPMG, and Ernst & Young) and at the mid-sized accounting firms.

With respect to the current state of diversity in the industry, since the beginning of January, Vault has been conducting its annual Accounting Survey*, which asks accounting professionals across the country to rate their firms in a variety of categories, including compensation, work/life balance, business outlook, as well as diversity. And with respect to diversity, one question in the survey asks accountants to rate their firm’s initiatives with respect to lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender individuals. More specifically, it asks accountants to rate their firm’s LGBT diversity hiring, promoting, and mentoring practices on a scale of 1 to 10, with 1 meaning “needs a lot of improvement” and 10 meaning “receptive and effective.”

To that end, overall, with nearly 7,000 surveys filled out thus far, accountants give their firm’s LGBT diversity efforts an average score of 8.42 out of 10. Which is pretty good. Meanwhile, a subset of these accountants—those who identify themselves as being an LGBT individual—give their firms an average score of 8.16 out of 10. Which is about 3.2 percent lower. (Note that, overall, 2 percent, or 1 in 50, of the accountants who’ve taken the survey identify themselves as an LGBT worker.)

The survey also asks accountants to comment on their firm’s diversity initiatives. And, judging by the comments received so far by LGBT individuals, it seems that although most accounting firms now have affinity groups for LGBT employees and do place some emphasis on diversity hiring, not all LGBT employees feel accepted on the job. Some say their firm’s LGBT presence is “weak.” Others say it “needs improvement.” And some, like this accountant at a mid-sized firm, say their careers might even be harmed by coming out:

Overall, we’re very committed to diversity. Though, there’s one area that I feel could use some more work, and that’s LGBT diversity. We recently created an LGBT affinity network to create an internal network for LGBT workers, but it doesn't seem to be making much progress, if at all. As an LGBT employee myself, I personally don't feel too comfortable coming out at work, in part because there seems to be no support network. While I’m sure my coworkers would have no problem with it, I don’t want to take a chance on it and end up hurting my future prospects with the firm.

And here’s a Big 4 accountant speaking about his experience at his firm:

There’s no initiative to hire LGBT employees, although I wouldn’t say the firm is against hiring LGBT employees either. In fact, there are probably as many LGBT employees as African-Americans. It’s more of a company that respects others but doesn't push to change the culture as much as it lets on. It kind of goes by the adage “if it’s not broke, don't fix it,” as opposed to “it’s working fine, but how can we make it even better.”

According to another Big 4 accountant, the firm’s benefits for LGBT workers are good, but barriers to entry still exist. He explains:

The firm doesn’t actively recruit LGBT employees or target that market. The policies are great once you’re hired, but there’s no active involvement to grow the firm’s presence in this area. And it’s often not mentioned at all, even though we’re ranked very highly by the Human Rights Campaign.

Other accountants who identify as LGBT employees are more pleased with their respective firms’ efforts in this area. Here’s one Big 4 accountant talking about his firm’s diversity efforts:

As a gay man working here, I think the firm's diversity and inclusion strategy is extremely effective and proactive. I feel very supported and included, and I think the firm really does an amazing job at making sure everyone has a ”seat at the table.” The firm has very active networking circles, but also goes a step further by taking other actions that demonstrate the firm’s view that diversity, inclusion, and corporate social responsibility are truly business imperatives.

Another happy insider says:

As a leader for the GLBT group in my office, I’ve seen the many ways the firm supports diversity efforts. There are affinity groups, and the firm and leadership contribute much time and effort to develop and sustain an active presence in diversity communities. I especially enjoy seeing all staff levels and partner involvement. The firm recognizes that diversity is an important aspect to employee retention and client relationships, so they invest heavily.

Other LGBT accountants rave about their firm’s “same-sex and partner benefits, including health insurance and tax equalization benefits.” One Big 4 accountant even says, “As a member of the LGBT community, I can say I’ve never felt more supported and respected than I do here at my firm.”

Speaking of benefits, it’s interesting that, overall, so far, accountants taking the survey give their firm’s benefit offerings an average score of 7.83 out of 10, while LGBT workers give their firm’s offerings a score of 7.67. That is, there’s not much difference between the scores (about 2 percent), which perhaps suggests that firms are offering equal benefits for both non-LGBT and LGBT workers.

In any case, check back in about eight weeks, when we'll reveal all the qualitative and quantitative results of the survey, including which firms rate the highest in diversity and prestige, and which firm is considered the overall best to work for.

*There's still time to take the survey, so if you're an accountant and work for one of the 100 largest firms in the U.S., you can take our survey.

Follow me on Twitter: @vaultfinance.

Read more:
21 Interview Questions the Big 4 Ask
Which Big 4 Firm is Most Prestigious?
Take the 2013 Accounting Survey