Implicit bias, defined as “attitudes or stereotypes that affect understanding, actions, or decisions in an unconscious manner,” is a pervasive social phenomenon. It is relevant in accounting education because of accounting’s stewardship role. According to FASB’s Conceptual Framework, a primary function of financial accounting is to help external stakeholders determine “how efficiently and effectively the entity’s management and governing board have discharged their responsibilities to use the entities resources”. The danger is that unconscious bias could result in nonwhite or female leaders being evaluated differently than their white male counterparts, even when the underlying financial performance is the same.
In the context of the evaluation of CEO performance, this ever-present bias is particularly salient. Specifically, it is the tendency to allow the assessment of one specific trait possessed by an individual to be influenced by that individual’s other traits. One body of research suggests that gender plays a role in how CEOs are assessed. For example, a recent study found that female CEOs face more threats from activist investors than male CEOs. We can infer that implicit bias also comes into play when nonwhite CEOs are assessed.
Implicit Bias May Affect the Understanding of Accounting Information
The naïve view of financial reporting regards accounting as objective, hard data with little room for subjectivity. But savvy financial statement users know that considerable judgment is required to interpret accounting information meaningfully. Recently, the City University of New York’s Baruch College published a study for incoming MBA students. Students assume the role of external stakeholders evaluating the tenure of McDonald’s first Black CEO. The case study is based on financial data as well as other information from the public record. Let students debate whether aspects of the firm’s financial performance, reflected in net income, are attributable to the CEO’s efforts or outside his control. To help students understand how implicit bias can affect their judgement on accounting information.
幼稚的财务报告观点会认为会计是客观的、硬数据，主观性空间很小。但精明的财务报表使用者知道，正确地解释会计信息需要相当的判断力。近，纽约城市大学巴鲁克学院（City University of New York's Baruch College）发表了一份针对即将入学的MBA学生的研究报告。学生们扮演着外部利益相关者的角色，去评估麦当劳首位黑人首席执行官的任期。该案例研究是基于财务数据以及来自公共记录的其他信息。让学生们讨论公司反映在净收入上的财务表现的各个方面，是由于首席执行官的努力还是在他的控制之外。以帮助学生了解隐性偏见如何影响他们对会计信息的判断。
Reducing the Impact of Implicit Bias in the Interpretation of Financial Information
First, care should be taken to avoid selecting course and training materials that inadvertently perpetuate harmful societal biases. The economics profession has found itself under scrutiny for providing too few examples of female leaders in economic textbooks. The accounting profession should examine this as well. Business educators have a responsibility to present diverse examples.
Second, students and practitioners should be made aware of the potential for implicit bias. External research shows that awareness of unconscious bias can lead to reversals in biased outcomes. Even a brief mention of the possibility of unconscious bias in an accounting course might be effective in prompting students to reflect on the possibility that they harbor biases. Incidents of implicit bias occur in contexts to which students can relate. For example, an empirical study found that female lecturers received lower ratings from business students than their male counterparts. Students can be asked to consider if it is likely that, after graduation, the same biases will remain in play when evaluating female managers.
A profession concerned with stewardship has a responsibility to combat racial and gender stereotypes. Such a proposal is not revolutionary—rather, it is a natural extension of the work the profession has traditionally done to address heuristic biases. Done skillfully, it will build critical thinking abilities that enhance accounting knowledge and improve its application.