As accounting firms continue to address the incoming Millennial workforce and, therefore, the future of their business, diversity is becoming an issue ranking just as high as compensation issues or technology trends.

Big Four firm EY’s “Discover EY” program, now in its tenth year, addresses diversity head-on, by inviting minority accounting students from all over the country to a three-day program in Manhattan to not only show them what their futures can be at the firm, but inside the profession overall.

 

AN ESSENTIAL PROGRAM

Ken Bouyer, the director of inclusiveness recruiting for EY Americas, knows firsthand the power of a program like “Discover.” He initially joined the firm’s assurance practice in 1990, and previously served as Americas director in the advisory services practice. He is also a member of the National Association of Black Accountants, and has been a pioneer in bringing diversity leadership to the firm.

“This has been a signature program for us,” said Bouyer, in an interview following his keynote at this year’s event, which was held early last month. “We have 170 or so people in the program now, where in 2006 it was maybe 50 or so. It’s evolved.”

Through a hands-on approach that features professionals interacting directly with prospects, students can get a good grip on what the profession can offer them after leaving college. “They get a chance to see role models and people who have been in this profession for so long,” continued Bouyer, “to show them this is a great profession, to come to EY, and have a tremendous career. If you look at the number of underrepresented minorities thinking about and coming to accounting, it’s still low. We have to continue to invest in programs like this.”

It’s a process that looks to utilize the pipeline approach that the American Institute of CPAs has started to embrace, as laid out in its 2015 report, Trends in the Supply of Accounting Graduates and the Demand for Public Accounting Recruits: to start awareness of the profession in junior high, before moving to high school and realistically exploring the opportunities minority students can expect to studying accounting in college.

“To introduce a kid who’s interested in studying engineering [to] think about professional services — that’s why this program is so powerful, that’s why it does build a pipeline,” Bouyer said. “A majority of those students will come intern with us and ultimately become professionals. We’re building a pipeline.”

 

A STUDENT’S PERSPECTIVE

During the tenth year of the “Discover” program, student interest in EY is growing, as the personal quality of the recruiting the firm employs is winning many undergrads over.

Erika Vargas, a junior studying accounting at Auburn University, got her first impression of the firm from attending its Diversity Leadership Conference in Charlotte, N.C., and “knew it was where I wanted to be.” This summer, she’ll be interning in EY’s Atlanta office, and the difference-maker, she said, has been the way EY as a firm sought to stay in touch.

“A lot of the people who reach out to you want to help you,” she said. “I can see a lot of mentors in the long run. After I went to Charlotte, I still talk to people there. [With] recruiting events on campus, you meet all these different people from offices that even though you won’t be working with them, you’ll still have connections to them.”

The approach seems to be working: 77 percent of students accept internships based off the Discover program, according to Bouyer. “If we don’t give underrepresented students an early internship opportunity, another company will certainly try to hire them. So for us, this investment of two to three years in their growth … we have to do this early.”

“I knew a little about the firm, but just a bit more locally,” said Vargas. “Now I think [‘Discover’] really opened up my eyes about how big the firm is and how many people from different backgrounds work here as well.”

 

THE ADVANTAGE OF DIVERSITY

Some may say that an emphasis on diversity can be secondary — a nice, but not mandatory, feature. Bouyer, however, said that it’s more necessary than that.

“First, I would just say diversity [is a response to] the shifting demographics of this country and the globe,” he said. “We need to be a firm that represents those demographics. Second, when you think about serving global clients — something we do every single day —we bring a diverse thought and perspective to our clients. When we’re solving their problems, we have a fresh perspective and view that makes sense for them, that helps us as a firm continue to grow.”

Bouyer said that 36 percent of EY’s present campus hires are from minorities. In contrast, the same figure hovered around 10 percent back in 1994. “On campus, we’re hiring over 10,000 people a year — full-time and intern — so every year, our underrepresented and minority numbers continue to increase. These investments pay off,” he said. “It’s a long road, it takes a lot of peoples’ efforts, but we’re committed and we’re seeing great results.”

Another initiative geared toward minority students, dubbed “EY Unplugged,” flies in underrepresented new hires to New York for two days of open, honest conversation, with firm leaders discussing their journey within the firm and giving early-career advice to their juniors. “For me, to be the first person to have a professional job in my family, I didn’t have that guidance and advice on how to navigate and become successful,” said Bouyer. “So we pull them in and have that conversation their first year and it’s so powerful.”

 

THE FUTURE INCLUSION

With a focus on the changing racial demographics in the U.S. and abroad, Bouyer said that EY is already planning for the next decade of diversity and inclusion. “In the early 1990s, it was probably more focused on ethnic minority talent and women,” he said. “Now, we’re focused on veterans, people with disabilities, people within the LGBT community. As this program continues to grow, it will become more diverse. As the world around us changes, so will this program.”

And that will draw in talent to take the reins in the future. “I think coming here has emphasized the opinion that I had [of the firm] in a positive way,” said Vargas. “I’ve met a lot of people that don’t have the same background as I do, and it makes you want to learn more about them, why they’re here, and how they made it here. Now I know [that], I’m more excited to do my internship, stay in the long-run, and hopefully be one of the [people] speaking [on stage] in 25 years.” 

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