“In our firm, we use the term ‘negotiable,’ and diversity is non-negotiable,” said Deloitte LLP CEO Barry Salzberg, at a keynote address at Ascend’s national convention in New York.

Salzberg told attendees at the pan-Asian accounting leadership conference that 20 percent of the workforce at the firm is Asian. However, about 30 percent of the new recruits annually are Asian. He believes that many Asian recruits leave because they don’t find themselves advancing into leadership positions. Only about 6 percent are partners or directors at the firm. He said that could be due to them being reticent and not speaking up more aggressively.

“What we’re seeing in terms of result is similar to what we saw about 15 years ago with respect to women,” he said. “We had zero issues in hiring women then, and we saw that there were no women to speak of in numbers in leadership roles.”

He said the firm wondered why this was happening and whether Asians were leaving the profession altogether, or just Deloitte.  The problem was not unique to Deloitte, however.

“We think there is a cultural issue there with Asians typically being less aggressive, a little bit more reticent to speak up, and when they move to the manager and senior manager ranks, which happen very clearly within the organization, it then appears that their leadership skills are not being demonstrated in the minds of those that are evaluating them,” he said.

Salzberg advised attendees at the pan-Asian accounting conference to seek out leadership-training opportunities at their firms. He recounted how he overcame his own shyness about public speaking by taking public speaking courses and watching videotapes of himself speaking. He still relies on a leadership coach at the firm to act as a mentor. Meanwhile, Salzberg said he tries to provide mentoring to younger employees at the firm, including non-partners.

Salzberg was interviewed at the conference by Alice Young, a partner at Kaye Scholer LLP. She too said that she had needed to force herself to become more outspoken. Before doing any public speaking, she would have to reassure herself, “OK, Alice, you can do this.”

Michael Fung, a senior vice president of finance at Wal-Mart, recounted how he too found it was helpful to practice his public speaking and overcome his shyness with the help of organizations such as Toastmasters and Dale Carnegie Training.

Deloitte still plans to do aggressive hiring of Asian employees, including in Asia, where Salzberg said the firm was doing more offshore outsourcing of accounting work, especially at a center in Hyderabad, India. The firm also plans to ramp up its recruitment of African American and Latino employees.

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