A Cross-Cultural Analysis of Student Perceptions of Gender Diversity, Family Status and Hiring Practices in Spain and the United States

Article excerpt

ABSTRACT

International public accounting firms have expended significant effort on gender diversity and "family-friendly" initiatives in recent years. While research in the U.S. has begun to examine the effects of these initiatives, less is known about other countries or how prospective new employees perceive the impact of gender and family status on hiring and career success. This paper reports the results of an experiment examining the perceptions of Spanish business students regarding gender and family status biases in public accounting, benchmarked against the perceptions of a comparable group of American students. Results indicate both groups of students believe such biases do exist. However, differences were found with respect to the likelihood of voluntary turnover expected of female employees. These findings are discussed in light of the dramatic changes in the socio-economic environment in Spain. Also discussed are the implications these findings have for other emerging countries. The results have great relevance for accounting firms both inside and outside of the U.S. with respect to the recruitment and retention of female employees.

Key words: Cross cultural, Spain, public accounting, gender, hiring

Data availability: Data are available upon request from the first author

INTRODUCTION

Over the past decade, international public accounting firms have increasingly recognized the need to adopt gender diversity and "family-friendly" policies in order to attract and 1 retain the professionals necessary for long-term firm profitability (Baldiga, 2005). While academic literature has examined various issues related to gender diversity, family status and the hiring practices of public accounting firms in the U.S. (e.g., Almer et al., 1998; Johnson et al., 1996), existing research is limited by failing to examine how students perceive the impact of gender and family status on hiring and expected career success. Further, while research on hiring and gender in accounting has been conducted in other countries such as Ireland (Twomey et al., 2002), New Zealand (Whiting and Wright, 2001) and China (McKeen and Bu, 1998), many other countries have yet to be examined. Given the significant results of this research, additional work is necessary because additional country-specific information is needed.

The current study focuses on how Spanish students perceive the influence of gender and family status on hiring and career success in public accounting firms in Spain, as benchmarked against perceptions of American students in the U.S. Our choice to include Spain in this comparative analysis is largely a function of the cultural, social, and political changes that occurred in Spain in the post-Franco era (1975 to present). Since no other western European country experienced similar changes over the last two and a half decades (Garcia-Ramon and Ortiz, 2000), the Spanish business community presents a unique social laboratory (Lancaster, 1989) and is somewhat anomalous when compared to the remainder of the European Union because of their relative youth in a capitalist environment. This fact, combined with a paucity of English language literature examining Spanish hiring practices in public accounting (one exception being Carrera et al., 2001), suggests that the results reported herein are likely to make a substantive contribution to the diversity and hiring literature, in particular as they relate to Spanish interests.

In addition, this paper focuses on the responses of university business students who will likely make career decisions, in part, based on how they perceive gender and family status to play out in the current public accounting environment. While women in the U.S. still are a small minority of partners in large accounting firms, over 50% of all new hires are now women (AICPA, 2004). As public accounting firms vie for top students, firms have increasingly reported they believe gender and family friendly initiatives are important for recruiting purposes as well as to change firm culture (AICPA, 2004). …