Ernst & Young has been holding a conference in New York this week to attract ethnically diverse college students to the tax profession.

The Discover Tax conference attracted 100 sophomores, juniors and seniors from more than 50 college campuses across the U.S. Students participating in the program have an average grade point average of 3.5 or higher, expressed interest in the accounting or tax profession and came recommended by their college professors. Eighty percent of the students are black or Hispanic. Following the conference, all the attendees will be eligible to interview for internships with Ernst & Young.

The firm plans to hire more than 600 full-time college recruits for its U.S. tax practice this year, and more than 3,000 recruits firm-wide throughout all practice areas in the Americas.

This is the second year of the firm's Discover Tax program. In the first year, Ernst & Young was able to increase the number of ethnically diverse interns in its tax practice by 20 percent.

According to Mark Weinberger, Ernst & Young's Americas vice chair of tax services, 65 percent of the participants who attended last year were offered internships, with 95 percent of those students accepting the offer. Of those 95 percent, 99 percent came back for a second internship or were offered a full-time position.

“The biggest business imperative is attracting the best people, and if you exclude a portion of the students, you can’t get the best people,” Weinberger said.

Christine Yamamoto, people leader for Americas Tax Practice, said the diverse population is out there but it is a matter of reaching out and offering them opportunites. For many college students, she noted, tax is one of the last courses they take, so one way to attract more students is to engage them earlier in the benefits of working in the tax profession.

“I think it’s really a question of focus and targeting,” Yamamoto said. “Sometimes it’s saying, we’ve got some great opportunities. It’s finding and identifying the individuals, and then when they come in, being sensitive to any transitional needs they might have. It doesn’t have to be an extravaganza.”

The conference agenda included a tax panel discussion, a leadership development session, a photo scavenger hunt in Grand Central Station, dinner with leaders from Ernst & Young's tax practice and a tour of the firm's Times Square headquarters. Participants also received an overview of EYU, the firm’s structured approach to learning and development. During a panel discussion focusing on career opportunities in tax, six young professionals from various ethnic backgrounds gave advice and shared experiences from their career decision-making process.

“Be passionate,” said Carolin Wibmer, a senior manager in Charlotte, N.C. “Put your heart into it and you’ll be wildly successful. And as you are rising up, pull someone up with you.”

For Glenn Carrington, national tax director for client services, who came up with the idea for the conference, creating this event was his way of “giving back.”

“We think that a lot of us stumbled into tax,” he said. “We have to make sure they get into it early on.”

Carrington said many clients are asking for more diverse professionals during engagements and is encouraged by the boost in diversity within the area since the conference kicked off last year. He said the No. 1 issue among minority youth is connectivity and common ground. As a result, a Facebook account will be created for conference participants so they can remain in touch and easily communicate.

Carrington said Ernst & Young had been supportive. “Management was very receptive to it,” he said. “Where there’s a will, there’s a way.”

At the conclusion of the conference, Ernst & Young will award book scholarships to all attendees and offer signing bonuses to those participants who join the firm's tax practice full time.

“I definitely think it’s been an eye-opening experience,” said Nancy De Leon, a junior at the University of Southern California. “The Discover Tax title itself interested me. You hear a lot about audit, but we’re not exposed to tax at all. There’s a lot of opportunity out there that I definitely think we should be taking advantage of.” 

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