Why diversity adds up

UHY Hacker Young's multi-racial mix of accountants has boosted business
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The Independent Online

Accountancy group UHY Hacker Young is leading the way in the profession's diversity race, according to a survey by Accountancy Age magazine. With 24 per cent of its partners from ethnic minorities, the company is the only top-30 firm in the UK to even reach double percentage figures.

Ladislav Hornan, the London office managing partner and chairman of the UHY international network, is understandably proud of the survey's results but is quick to explain that the firm's motivation is not just ethical. "The business logic of having a multi-racial mix of partners and staff runs parallel to the ethical argument," he says.

Indeed, he points to the "very real advantages" of achieving an ethnic composition that almost matches that of the UK business community as a whole. "The benefits reaped from our ethos have propelled the firm to the forefront of today's diverse market," he says. "Just having partners and staff from so many different backgrounds, we believe, gives us a better understanding of the business communities which themselves comprise such diverse backgrounds. We have been able to make our services available to a larger market by acknowledging these needs."

Ethnic diversity, according to Hornan, is not just about recruiting, retaining and progressing more black and Asian people. "True diversity is about having people from all kinds of backgrounds," he says.

Hornan provides an example. "One of our largest clients is the German dairy firm Muller. They changed their accountants post-Enron and because our German counterparts in our international network were already their auditors in Germany, Muller asked if the network could provide a quote. We got the work, not least because one of our team was a native German speaker. It was important to them that we had staff who really understand their language and culture."

Some of UHY Hacker Young's developments in terms of diversity include the introduction of an Asian Business Community Division, a partner achieving presidency of the Malaysian Business Forum and plans to introduce a China Business Desk. But surprisingly, perhaps, the firm does not have any individual member of staff committed to diversity. Rather, says Hornan, the journey to becoming so diverse has been more "organic".

"UHY Hacker Young began life nearly 80 years ago as a firm of Jewish partners, providing insolvency and accounting services primarily to Jewish clients," he explains. "Over the years, the practice developed and in the Sixties took a new direction under the leadership of senior partner, Stuart Young. It was his forward thinking and advanced outlook that initially motivated the firm's business diversity."

Although Young himself was of Jewish ethnicity, he could see the restraints placed on the practice by operating solely as a firm for Jewish clients. He felt that the success of the business would be enhanced by utilising the skills of a range of partners from a number of religious and cultural backgrounds. "It became a conscious decision by the partners at the time to look to a range of ethnic groups when recruiting future colleagues, thus ensuring representation from a range of diverse cultures and communities," says Hornan.

Some 40 years on, the London office alone now employs personnel from Greek, Malaysian, Indian, Israeli, Australian, Chinese, Afro-Caribbean, Russian, Irish, Spanish and Portuguese backgrounds, just to name a few. Hornan himself is Czech born.

"Built into our employee handbook and code of practice are pages devoted to the importance of the continuation of this initiative," says Hornan. But, he adds, the firm is quite clear about separating equal opportunities and diversity. "Equal opportunities is the area that the law prescribes on in order to protect people from unfair treatment. Diversity is a step beyond this. It is something far more cultural and wide-reaching and is something that depends on real commitment if it is to work."

Hornan's advice to other organisations wishing to become more diverse is not to confuse these two issues and to embrace diversity as something with huge potential rewards.