Meet the Indigenous Australians leading the way in accounting
Indigenous Accountants Australia is helping young Indigenous accountants break into the industry. Here’s the 411 on this awesome initiative.
It’s no secret that Indigenous Australians face significant barriers and disadvantages when it comes to health, finances, employment and other aspects of day-to-day life. However, the last 10 years have seen some genuine, positive change: the Close the Gap campaign, the apology to the Stolen Generations in 2008, and the rise to prominence of a new generation of Indigenous role models like Adam Goodes and Jessica Mauboy.
These, as well as other shifts occurring on a national level, are mirrored by efforts within specific industries to improve the representation of, and support networks provided for, Indigenous Australians. Indigenous Accountants Australia (IAA) is a prime example. It seeks to empower Indigenous business and accounting students by providing them with the contacts and confidence they need to succeed in the field.
Initiatives like IAA aim to address the numerous challenges that Indigenous students face. The impact that these challenges can have is reflected in statistics. In 2014, for example, Indigenous students made up less than one per cent of all acceptances by Australian students to study Management & Commerce. Retention has also been a sticking point historically, with less than half of all Indigenous students who enrolled in a Bachelor’s course in 2005 completing it by 2013. The underrepresentation of students in tertiary and professional contexts holds true in the accounting field, with only 31 of the 176,000 CPA Australia and Chartered Accountants Australia & New Zealand members in Australia identifying as Indigenous.
It definitely opens yours eyes to the profession itself, and helps you add to the skills that you’ve already got.
The reasons for significant uni dropout rates and poor representation are numerous, of course. Neville Rankine is one accountant who’s benefited from IAA, and is currently completing his CPA. He finished up his Bachelor of Commerce at the University of South Australia in 2011, and says that stereotyping and racism can put prospective professionals off during their studies. A Westernised curriculum and teaching methods, a lack of role models, cultural differences and situational factors also contribute to this.
Rankine says that IAA aims to address many of these factors, empowering young Indigenous people by situating them in “an environment that’s going to allow them to find future employment opportunities”. The initiative also seeks to improve the ability of Indigenous students to gain professional exposure and hands-on learning. Rankine says that one of the biggest advantages offered by IAA is “just having that opportunity to be able to walk into a firm and start to build [your] reputation”.
As with any professional representative body, the initiative exposes its benefactors to the variety of professional paths they could pursue. Accountants-in-training meet and network with their student peers, but also have the opportunity to gain expertise from working accountants from a variety of workplaces, ranging from independent firms to huge consultancies like PwC. “It definitely opens yours eyes to the profession itself, and helps you add to the skills that you’ve already got,” says Rankine.
One of the things I’ve learned over the couple of years that I’ve been with the initiative is that you’ve actually got a sense of feeling that everyone else is in the same situation.
Of course, being around supportive and likeminded people who are experiencing similar things to you is also highly comforting. “One of the things I’ve learned over the couple of years that I’ve been with the initiative,” says Rankine, “is that you’ve actually got a sense of feeling that everyone else is in the same situation.”
This support often extends to mentorship, formal or otherwise. Speaking of the professional accountants who spend time with their Indigenous counterparts, Rankine is clearly appreciate of “their support and their knowledge of directions of where your career could go”.
This breadth of possibility is one of the key outcomes of IAA. It aims to facilitate the self-management of Indigenous organisations, improve Indigenous financial literacy and encourage greater self-determination. This translates to long-term impact, as Indigenous accountants function as role models, employing the next generation of Indigenous graduates and perpetuating positive change. With approximately 700 Indigenous students currently studying accounting, finance or economics in Australia, initiatives like IAA will continue to play a key role in making this positive change a reality.
John Rowley studies a Bachelor of Arts (Media & Communications) at the University of Sydney. Between eating pistachios, writing and tweeting from @JohnLRowley, he doesn't have time for much else.