A stereotype is a fixed over generalized belief about a particular group or class of people (Cardwell, 1996).
Take a minute to imagine an accountant. What would his personality and appearance be like? Fit-looking or out of shape? Young or old? Boring or lively? Did you even picture a woman? You probably thought of an out-of-shape, prematurely aging, bald, boring, unenterprising man. Why did you not think of a woman? Such perceptions are largely held by many persons not exposed to the profession. Perhaps society sees the profession as stuck in the 1980s, when the above might have been true…with regards to a minute percentage of accounting professionals.
It is not unusual to think that accountants are specialized mathematicians or math fanatics. However, there are many accountants with diverse educational backgrounds in subjects like Political Science, Languages, Archeology, Pharmacy, etc. and totally hate high school level math. Truth be told, only few of us are math freaks. Many are good with numbers but are not seasoned number crunchers like it is perceived because the profession has moved from counting the value created by businesses to being part of the value creation process.
It is quite funny people actually think accountants constantly budget and perform endless calculations prior to spending money. Who does not deliberate before making financial decisions? Or calculate inflation rates and opportunity cost before purchase? I am sure we are all guilty at one point in time of the former. It makes prudent sense to be cautious with your spending and make smart choices like accountants do daily with companies’ entrusted resources. It would not be bad to apply the same principles to your personal lifestyle and reap the benefits thereof.
- “Accountants are boring.” Eyes fixed on a screen and hands glued to a calculator, battling with financial endeavors all day and night. How “exciting”!
Anyone with such a perception would be disappointed to discover that most accountants spend their day finding solutions to financial and operational issues, and their night being just as social as anyone else. It would be unfair to box all accountants into one personality trait. We constantly work in and with teams to analyze and solve problems, interact with clients and ordinary folks on a daily basis; and surprisingly, we travel a lot. We enjoy our social life just like people in other professions.
- “Poor Fashion Taste.” If you are that attractive a female accountant, you must not be that good of an accountant. This has nothing (or a little) to do with reality. We may not be typically fashion conscious but image and fashion are as important to accountants and their firms as to anyone else. The difference is; we dress for comfort rather than style but we try as much to look presentable. We may not appear so stylish during working hours but catch us outside and you would be surprised.
3. “All Accountants are Thieves.” Apparent fear and mistrust of accountants reach back as far as biblical times when the money changers were referred to as robbers when Jesus overturned their tables and drove them out of the temple (Zacchaeus and Judas).
In recent times, the scandals of Enron, WorldCom, Toshiba and Olympus as well as the failure of Arthur Anderson, the accounting firm, have all tarnished the image of the accountancy profession and has done little to dispel the level of distrust some people have in accountants. In events of fraud or mismanagement in corporations, accountants or auditors are usually the ones to blame: “Where are the auditors when the government squanders billions in corruption?”
However, these cannot be used to generally perceive the profession is well represented in its code of ethics. Ethical principles such as integrity, honesty, professional behavior and due care, etc. are embedded within the accountancy profession, an advantage we have over other professions. We are guardians of the accounting system and advisors of business systems. Without our beneficiaries’ trust, our work is pointless. The minority of accountants failing to uphold these principles should not be a good representative sample. Accountants save companies from collapsing on a daily basis. In fact, many of the changes in a country’s economic growth are brought about by accountants.
In the face of negative public opinions, Lois Etherington and Ron Davidson of Simon Fraser University offer a more appropriate image of the accountant today; “Accountants [have] above-average intelligence…and are more dominant, abstract, enthusiastic, experimental than the population in general.” The fact remains that, majority of the general public and the business community mistrust, dislike, fear, or are intimidated by accountants, hence some of the stereotypes show no sign of going away anytime soon. These factors contribute to the problems faced by modern-day accountants. We are all guilty of forming stereotypes about others. Most of our perceptions are plain wrong…especially about accountants.
Written by: Eugenia Owusu Siaw
Intermediate Assurance Associate
BAKER TILLY ANDAH+ANDAH Chartered Accountants
Source: Glitz Africa Magazine Issue 18