Smashing the accountant stereotype to pieces

From the very beginning accountants have had a hard deal with stereotypes and literary attacks. They have been painted as crooks, thieves, liars, greedy money hoarders, boring stiff collard nerds, and humour less droids. Ouch!

But, don’t take my word for it, have a look at how they have been captured in text and slated in recorded opinions through the centuries. From philosopher through to writer and actor everyone has a strong opinion about accountants.

The first example comes by way of the bible:

Jesus entered the temple area [of Jerusalem] and drove out all who

were buying and selling there. He overturned the tables of the

money changers [the accountants of their day] and the benches of

those selling doves. ”It is written, ” he said to them, “‘My house will

be called a house of prayer, ‘ but you are making it a ‘den of

robbers.’ (Matthew 21: 12-13)

It is also interesting to find that tax collectors have had an equally bad press:

While Jesus was having dinner at Levi’s house [the home of a tax

collector], many tax collectors and “sinners” were eating with him

and his disciples, for there were many who followed him. When the

teachers of the law who were Pharisees saw him eating with the

“sinners” and tax collectors, they asked his disciples: “Why does he

eat with tax collectors and “sinners?” (Mark 2: 15-16)

Elbert Hubbard, the American writer, publisher, artist and philosopher is credited with this quote:

‘The typical accountant is a man, past middle age, spare, wrinkled, intelligent, cold, passive, non-committal, with eyes like a cod-fish; polite in contact but at the same time unresponsive, calm and damnably composed as a concrete post or a plaster of Paris cast; a petrification with a heart of feldspar and without charm of the friendly germ, minus bowels, passion or sense of humour. Happily they never reproduce and all of them finally go to Hell’ Attributed to Elbert Hubbard – sourced here

The psychologist Abraham Maslow once characterised accountants as obsessive, exacting, and uncreative. He saw them as only concerned only with order and control.

Let’s have a look at one literary depiction among many from modern times. The accountant in Joseph Conrad’s ‘Heart of Darkness’ is a fine example of literature mocking a stereotype:

‘I met a white man, in such an unexpected elegance of get-up that in the first moment I took him for a sort of vision. I saw a high starched collar, white cuffs, a light alpaca jacket, snowy trousers, a clean necktie, and varnished boots. No hat. Hair parted, brushed, oiled, under a green-lined parasol held in a big white hand. He was amazing, and had a penholder behind his ear.’ (1.42)

Marlow is stunned by the man’s appearance. He is constantly immersed in his books upholding extreme due diligence. Conrad portrays the accountant and the company he represents and embodies as impenetrable – machine like. He is the slick shinny example of the ideal and perhaps how we like to view accountants. The backdrop of black native African workers make him look quite ridiculous.

So, it might be time the vicious stereotypes were laid to rest. These reasons are a good starting point in the case of the accountant verses the stereotype:

  • there are plenty of women in accounting these days including 10 in the ABC Accounting Services offices
  • Accountants are responsible for tax refunds – HMRC are highly unlikely to initiate those of their own accord
  • There are much less stressful ways to make money – accountants earn their wage. More than eight out of ten suffer from stress related problems
  • Accountants have embraced social media and technological advancements which have put serious distance between them and their tweed, abacus image
  • Accountants have personality and like to laugh just as much as the next person

Hopefully, that is the end of that debate once and for all. It is time to start writing nice things about accountants’ people!

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