Examining the career progression of Black public accountants: A social identity approach and redesigned system of exclusion in the US



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Since the end of the Civil Rights Movement, the US public accounting profession has experienced a shift from a state of almost complete racial exclusion to racial stratification within the profession. To provide insight into this persistent lack of representation in leadership levels, I performed semi-structured interviews with current or former Black public accounting professionals regarding perceived inhibitors or facilitators to their career success. With the adoption of a Social Identity Approach, I find that Black public accountants experience out-group status from the beginning of their careers due to a historically racialized in-group prototype. In an attempt to transverse these boundaries and socially engage with other members of the profession to build relationships necessary for career success, codeswitching practices were employed in an attempt to minimize their racial identity and enhance their professional identity. I find that this assimilationist strategy backfired, however, resulting in short-lived assimilation for the majority of my informants due to sub-group distinctiveness threat and giving rise to the first impetus for choosing to not progress a public accounting career. Beyond these early-career socialization practices, I also find that ultimate in-group status in the form of sponsorship from an existing professional leader is necessary for any member to achieve long-term career success and ultimate partner-level promotion. These sponsorship practices, however, were rarely provided by majority members leading to the formation of secondary networks that were supportive but not as influential. This lack of career support led the Black public accounting professionals I spoke with to wait for promotion, move firms or offices to find this support, or leave professional practice. Ultimately, these findings suggest that the exclusionary mechanism that Black public accounting professionals were subject to in the twentieth century, the experience requirement, has been redesigned to operate as a stratification mechanism within the profession. These findings contribute to our understanding of what it takes to make partner by including the perspectives of racialized individuals. My findings also provide practical implications for the profession to influence more meaningful change in terms of diversity.



Race, Career Progression, Assimilation, Sponsorship, Public Accounting