Photographs May Undermine Efforts by Accounting Firms to Portray Diversity and Inclusion

Posted by ARC Commitee - Oct 09, 2020
Posted on behalf of Merridee Bujaki
Online recruitment documents can function as a vehicle for organizations to reflect their values and present themselves as inclusive. When it comes to interpreting photographs in online recruitment documents, however, organizations need to be aware multiple interpretations of their photographs may be possible. These interpretations may conflict with efforts to convey diversity and inclusion.
In a study recently published in the European Accounting Review, Sylvain Durocher, François Brouard, Leighann Neilson and I, examined depictions of employees in 1,064 photographs presented in the recruitment websites of Canada’s eight largest public accounting firms. Having previously written several papers on diversity and inclusion, we were particularly interested in how women and non-White individuals were represented in these websites.
Prior research indicates members of underrepresented groups may pay particular attention to the diversity climate depicted by organizations. Thus, a firm’s depiction of diversity and inclusion can affect their ability to attract diverse recruits. For us as researchers and educators, the way accounting firms depict themselves in terms of inclusiveness is especially important because it provides insights into possible career opportunities for our students, who are diverse in terms of gender and race.
We catalogued who was depicted in the photographs, in terms of sex, ethnicity, and other visible elements of diversity and inclusion. While the proportion of women and non-White individuals in the accounting firms’ photographs reflected trends in the Canadian population (approximately half women and one-quarter non-White), other aspects of diversity, such as weight, disabilities, or religion generally were not represented. Furthermore, though the firms appeared to be signalling their openness to women and members of certain communities, particularly Asian and South Asian, we identified relatively few Black employees, and no Indigenous employees in the recruitment documents.
We also interpreted the photographs to explore symbolic portrayals of matters such as gender role stereotyping, gendered or racialized displays of power and authority, and inclusiveness. We do not argue that there is only one – or even one best – interpretation of the photographs in recruitment documents. Rather we argue firms should be aware of various possible interpretations of their photographs, as these interpretations may conflict with the portrayal of diversity and inclusion suggested by the presence of women and non-White individuals in photographs. Though women and non-White individuals were present in the photographs, they were usually not depicted as equally powerful or authoritative as White men. In many photographs women and non-White individuals were presented as ‘others’ or outsiders, suggesting there may be differences in the career advancement opportunities available to them. These portrayals seemed to allude to a hierarchy within public accounting firms that privileges White men, followed by White women, and then non-White individuals. There were also indications some non-White individuals were depicted as more ‘natural’ or less professional in terms of their dress and self-presentation. Thus, we saw evidence in accounting recruitment documents that Whiteness and masculinity continue to be presented as the norm for achieving power and success in the profession.
Recruitment documents help construct the future of an organization. If inclusion is to be achieved, photographic depictions of diversity and inclusion in such documents may need to be deliberately
composed and targeted to appeal to diverse potential recruits. At a minimum we suggest that firms consider having focus groups comprised of diverse individuals preview photographs being considered for recruitment documents to understand the range of interpretations of the photographs that are possible.
Discover more about our study at
To cite this article: Merridee Bujaki, Sylvain Durocher, François Brouard and Leighann Neilson (2020): Conflicting Accounts of Inclusiveness in Accounting Firm Recruitment Website Photographs. European Accounting Review.
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