Using legitimacy theory this paper contrasts the values portrayed by public accounting firms via their recruitment practices and society's expectations of the responsibilities of a professional accountant. Society confers on organisations legitimacy when the value system of the organisation is congruent with the value system of the larger social system (Deegan, 2006). It is argued that there is increasing incongruence between the value system of public accounting firms (that employ accounting graduates) and society's value system that includes an expectation of accountants to act in the public interest. This study draws on evidence from recent corporate collapses, to question whether the attributes/skills displayed by accountants have reduced their capacity to act in the public interest. Interviews with employers show that preferences for employment are given to graduates who 'fit the culture' of the organisation and have the ability to 'market' the firm to clients. Attributes that define the professional accountant appear to be less highly valued. It is concluded that the attributes valued in the workplace today have the potential to increase the risk of 'severing the social contract' between the accounting profession and society.
Field of Research
150199 Accounting, Auditing and Accountability not elsewhere classified