A new study has found that women of color are encountering obstacles at many accounting firms and that efforts at encouraging diversity often do not work.

People of color, including African-Americans, Asians and Latinas, feel less included in the accounting firm work environment than do whites, according to a survey by Catalyst Research of 1,424 respondents. They are more likely to perceive low expectations from their managers and double standards regarding performance evaluation.

Women of color in particular are more likely than either white women or men of color to experience lack of high-visibility assignments and lack of professional development opportunities. Women of color are also least likely of all groups to be satisfied with business development opportunities and access to clients and client service engagements.

“Women of color are more disadvantaged than either men of color or white women,” said Katherine Giscombe, vice president of women-of-color research at Catalyst. “They are twice removed from the traditional demographic group that is advantaged.”

The diversity and inclusion efforts at many accounting firms oftentimes fall short. “While well-intentioned, they may be overlooking women of color,” said Giscombe. “You cannot just design diversity and inclusion practices for people of color and expect women of color to benefit.”

The report includes comments from some of the women surveyed. “They had a diversity training for [senior managers],” said one African-American woman who was interviewed for the study. “Candidly speaking? That was the biggest waste of my time ever … . I think the firm meant well … . I was only one of two or three black women in the whole huge big conference room … which is a comment on the progression through the firm, that you can only get two or three black women in a room full of managers.”

Giscombe suggested that firms reassess their current diversity practices and examine whether there is a disparity in the rates at which women of color are resigning. She also encouraged firms to expand their recruitment from traditionally minority colleges and avoid taking a “one size fits all” approach in their diversity programs.

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