Diversity and professionalism in the Big Four firms: expectation, celebration and weapon in the battle for talent

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Edgley, Carla Rhianon ; Sharma, Nina ; Anderson-Gough, Fiona (2016)

The Big Four accounting firms play a crucial role in the social construction of professional identity. This study focuses on their response to the diversity agenda. We analyse the image of the new, contemporary diverse accountant that is emerging in social media spaces in the UK, US and Canada. Adopting an institutional logics approach, we examine the interplay between multiple logics, with different loci of responsibility that frame public messages about diversity, equality and inclusivity. A traditional favouring of homogeneity is giving way to heterogeneity as integral to professional success. The value of diversity, and its celebration, is growing visibly. However, the containment of diversity discourses to the language of productivity, as a branding opportunity, a client expectation, a battle for diverse talent, and successful networking raises queries about the extent of any deep change in professional logics. Rather, diversity has been institutionalised through its attachment to traditional, commercial, professional discourses and motifs. These discourses do little to indicate a rupture in the power of firm hegemony. Explicit messages strategically position diversity as an economic good and an aspect of a commercially relevant professional excellence. Implicit messages point to ambiguities and certain conditions that are attached to the new image of the diverse accountant. Public interest logics presenting diversity as a social good, prompting self-reflection by firms about behaviours, are less prominent. The findings of this study contribute to understandings of how diversity is perceived and enacted in professional settings.
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