Getting in and getting ahead: career trajectories and experiences of social mobility in the UK accountancy profession

Flanagan, Christopher Andrew (2020) Getting in and getting ahead: career trajectories and experiences of social mobility in the UK accountancy profession. PhD thesis, University of Glasgow.

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Over the last decade, increasing attention has been placed on the role of the professions in facilitating social mobility. Accountancy firms and professional bodies have engaged with initiatives which aim to widen access to the profession for individuals from diverse socio-economic backgrounds. Utilising interviews with accountants working in practice at Big Four and medium-sized professional service firms in the UK, this study goes beyond an existing focus on access to consider the effects of social background on chances within the accountancy profession. Specifically, the study investigates: how accountants make sense of and articulate their social backgrounds and mobility trajectories; how experiences of social mobility inform career choices and progression; and how issues of social mobility and diversity within the accountancy profession are perceived by accountants. A theoretical framework is developed, drawing on the work of Bourdieu (1990a), Archer (2003, 2007, 2012), and others, to understand the interplay between dispositions and reflexivity (structure and agency) in informing social mobility and career trajectories.

It is found that upwardly mobile accountants experience a lack of fit within their organisations, particularly during the early stages of their careers. Accountants disguise and mobilise aspects of their social backgrounds in a complex process of assimilation to and subversion of the expectations of the field (Archer, 2007). This integration of personal competencies, dispositions, and identities with existing understandings of professionalism represents the incremental development of secondary habitus as a result of moments of reflexivity (Bourdieu and Wacquant, 1992). Markers of class are polished away through professional socialisation, with reference to discourses of commercial professionalism. At the same time, some upwardly-mobile accountants are able to successfully mobilise the skills and competencies developed as a result of their social trajectory in order to advance their careers. Whilst accountants can be reflexive with regards to their career plans and choices, they frame the issues of career progression and social mobility in relation to individual merit, reproducing discourses of meritocracy. Accountants tend to see social mobility as an issue of access only, reflecting the current approach taken by their firms.

Item Type: Thesis (PhD)
Qualification Level: Doctoral
Additional Information: This work was supported by the Economic and Social Research Council [grant number 1538719].
Keywords: social mobility, accountancy profession, accountancy firms, diversity and inclusion.
Subjects: H Social Sciences > HF Commerce > HF5601 Accounting
Colleges/Schools: College of Social Sciences > Adam Smith Business School > Accounting and Finance
Supervisor's Name: Paisey, Professor Catriona
Date of Award: 2020
Embargo Date: 20 February 2023
Depositing User: Mr Christopher Flanagan
Unique ID: glathesis:2020-79046
Copyright: Copyright of this thesis is held by the author.
Date Deposited: 20 Feb 2020 16:31
Last Modified: 28 Feb 2022 15:59

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