BAME 2020: Vincent Egunlae, associate, Grant Thornton

In the first of a series, Accountancy Daily speaks with those fighting to improve BAME representation within the accountancy profession. Vincent Egunlae, founder of Grant Thornton’s Ethnicity Group, highlights barriers to the profession, the importance of inclusion and the need for frank discussions

‘My story is important, as it underlines the issues facing BAME people,’ says Vincent Egunlae, an associate in Grant Thornton’s audit practice. ‘I studied at Nottingham University, completed a Masters degree and then, with no money, needed a job. My knowledge of the accountancy profession was limited, but I had looked at what the common traits were of chief executives in the FTSE 100 and saw that 25% of them were accountants.

‘I was called to an interview at Grant Thornton. It was the first time I had been to the City, it was an impressive, professional building. I tried to take everything in. I saw a copy of the Financial Times on the table and people arriving with brief cases and thought: ‘This is it! This is the big time, it doesn’t get any bigger, you have to get this job!”.

Fortunately, I did get the job, but it has only been since I started work that I realise just how limited my knowledge was of the options I had available. This is why I truly belief there are bigger barriers to social mobility than just education, particularly if you are a first- or second-generation migrant without the right network of people who can introduce you to the professional world at an early age.

‘I started the Ethnicity Network at Grant Thornton to improve representation of BAME individuals throughout the firm, which has carried out a lot of fantastic work in reaching out to schools to highlight the opportunities. We have brought young adults into the firm to give them the opportunity to meet us and introduce them to accountancy, from associate all the way through to partner level.

‘I have also been involved with the Chartered Accountancy Students Society for London (CASSL) as a diversity champion. One of the problems we face is a lack of role models, so I brought in professionals from a range of companies and practices at different stages in their career so the students could ask them questions.

‘My heritage is African Nigerian. I am a second-generation migrant and the first generation in my family to go to university. I went to secondary school in Enfield and college in Finchley, London, then studied politics at university, gaining an MA in international business.

‘One of the most significant barriers is that, if you are from a low socio-economic group, or a first- or second-generation migrant, you simply don’t have the network to introduce you to the professional world at the critical, early stages of your development. It can feel that there is a big gap between state schools and private schools, which are far more career orientated. This can serve as a filter, as can the university you go to.

‘But Grant Thornton has made a fantastic effort to ensure that we target universities outside the Russell group.

Vincent Egunlae

‘Another barrier is way that a number of companies will recruit their staff – if extra-curricular activities and work experience carry significant weight then this disadvantages people from lower socio-economic group, and who are more likely to be BAME. Blind recruitment processes, such as that operated at Grant Thornton, can address this. Situational judgment tests are a much fairer way of assessing candidates.

‘In order to maintain diversity, every firm should make sure BAME people are included. Diversity means that everyone is invited to the party, inclusion means that everyone gets to hear the music.

‘The groundswell of support for the Black Lives Matter movement shows that white people really want to help, but often they do not know what to say. Through our Let’s Talk about Race sessions, we are ensuring that this discussion is always on the agenda – partners are taking responsibility for this and driving these very frank and open discussions.

‘But there is a fear that momentum behind BLM could dissipate, which is why firms must produce action plans, setting out what they want to achieve so that they can be held to account.’

 

Further reading:

Click here for Accountancy Daily’s - BAME firm survey 2020 - which analyses ethnic diversity within the UK’s top accountancy firms, data reveal partners and staff remain overwhelmingly white while Black Lives Matter movement forces concrete action.

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