An investigation into accounting stereotypes

Richardson, P 2015, An investigation into accounting stereotypes, Doctor of Philosophy (PhD), Accounting, RMIT University.

Document type: Thesis
Collection: Theses

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Title An investigation into accounting stereotypes
Author(s) Richardson, P
Year 2015
Abstract The stereotypical image of the profession is poor with accountants appearing in popular media as either the object of satire or the criminally inclined expert who deceives the public for self-gain. Extant research on the portrayal of the stereotypic accountant is limited in that it assumes a unitary concept by inferring a dominant image when the accountant stereotype is multifaceted. It is unclear from existing research whether the dominant image results from perceived character traits or the duties undertaken by accountants. Research on accounting stereotypes has focused on external stereotypical perceptions of the profession as represented in the popular media and overlooks members’ self-perceptions and meta-stereotypes which, together with stereotypes, are part of a member’s social identity. Furthermore, there has been little research identifying the dimensions that underpin these stereotypical perceptions.

The thesis explores accountant stereotypes and identities by reference to two research questions: What are the dimensions that underlie the accountant stereotypes? and, What are the dominant perceptions of accountant stereotypes among members of the profession, students and the public? The research questions are addressed in two broad stages. The first stage is the development of a conceptual framework of accountant stereotypes from an examination of extant academic research literature on the external stereotypical image of accountants. The second stage empirically tests the conceptual framework through an online survey of commerce students and professional accountants who were asked to provide their self-perceptions and their perceptions of public perceptions (meta-stereotypes) of accountants and accounting.

In addressing the research questions the thesis makes a number of contributions to research into accountant stereotypes. The first contribution is the identification of the dimensions that underlie the accountant stereotype. Secondly the identification of accountant subtypes based on different profiles of the underlying dimensions. The third contribution relates to the analysis of self-perceptions and meta-stereotypes to establish accountant identities rather than just accountant stereotypes. The final contribution refers to the development of a research instrument. The findings of the thesis indicate four accountant subtypes distinguished by different profiles of six dimensions with each dimension linked to either the Warmth or Competence scale identified by Fiske et al. (2002).

The increasing negativity of accountant stereotypes is attributed in part to recent accounting scandals and corporate collapses where accountants were linked to scandalous behavior when they failed to detect or report fraudulent activities. The framework provided in the thesis shows how the profession could focus its attention in improving its public image. The findings suggest that the dimensions underlying the accountant stereotype have moved forward along the Competence scale but not along the Warmth scale. Ultimately, the ability of the profession to shift the prototypical image and enhance its self-portrayed image will depend on the strength of evidence that espouses ethics and challenges the notion of the unethical accountant. Attempts to improve the image of accountants should address dimensions on the Warmth scale but a focus on dimensions on the Competence scale are likely to be unsuccessful.
Degree Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)
Institution RMIT University
School, Department or Centre Accounting
Keyword(s) accountant
social identity
accountant identity
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Created: Tue, 24 Nov 2015, 11:54:09 EST by Denise Paciocco
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