PricewaterhouseCoopers recently announced PwC’s new leadership team, including Maria Moats, a Latina who has been working as chief diversity officer at the firm and will assume the role of U.S. assurance leader, effective July 1.

As chief diversity officer, Moats was responsible for setting the strategy of PwC’s diversity and inclusion efforts in the U.S. In her new role, she will lead the firm’s assurance practice, where she hopes to continue her efforts.

“I  grew up in a border town in El Paso, Texas, and I started my career in 1994 with PwC, serving clients in retail and consumer industrial products,” she told Accounting Today. “I was admitted [as partner] in 2004. That was when I was still in the Dallas office, before I came east. There’s no question that there were both male partners and female partners that in many ways dreamed bigger for me than I ever could have dreamed, thinking that I should be a partner and really rallying around that.”

Within a few years, her mentors saw a bigger role for her at the firm. “I remember in 2009 as a client service partner having some people come to me saying, ‘We think you could be great coming up to our national office in the New York metro area in a different role,’" she recalled. “When I was in the national office, my role was really to work with partners and engagement teams in evaluating risk for the firm.”

There she helped PwC deal with issues such as client acceptance, engagement acceptance, evaluation of errors, going concern assessments, investigations and materiality. But she also wanted to continue to deal directly with clients.

“When I was at the national office, somebody else said, ‘Wait a minute. We’ve got a great client opportunity here at New York metro in your sector (which is primarily retail and consumer industrial products), and we would like for you to do both,’” Moats recalled. “It was a great opportunity to serve the client in need and continue a national office role. And I did that. This was in 2009 and 2010. Then in 2011, Bob Moritz, our senior partner [and chairman], whom I did not know very well, called and said, ‘We would love for you to do this. Come on to the leadership team.’ You have all these opportunities that open up in terms of leading a business unit doing this, that and the other. And at that time I said to him, ‘OK, I’ll do that, Bob, if I can continue to serve my clients.’ And he said, ‘Yes. We’ll make sure you have the right support system, but you can do that.’ So I then went onto the leadership team.”

The chief diversity officer at PwC is a member of the U.S. Leadership Team and reports directly to the senior partner and chairman, who is currently Moritz, and starting July 1, Tim Ryan.

“The way we look at is we actually bring in and ask a high-performing, high-potential client service partner, either from the assurance line of service, tax line of service, or advisory line of service to come in and really lead the strategy and the execution around diversity and inclusion,” Moats explained. “This also helps you grow as a leader because you’re growing your leadership skills and you’re interacting with the rest of the leadership team. You’re really dealing with all of the opportunities and issues that the leadership team deals with. You do that for a period of time and then you go back into the practice and you lead a business unit, and you lead with clients. I’m the fourth chief diversity officer to do that and now we’ve just appointed a new diversity officer on our new leadership team.” Mike Dillon has recently been named chief diversity and inclusion officer at PwC.

Before long, another opportunity came along for Moats at the firm. “Then I remember when they came to me and said, ‘OK, we’ve got a great opportunity (while I was the chief diversity officer) for you to take on another client opportunity.’ And I said yes, and I went to do that. So now I’m serving two clients and the CDO role on the U.S. LT. Then I’m just going to fast forward to when they came to me and said, ‘Now we want you to lead the east region as the assurance leader, one of our largest regions. When you think about the scope and breadth of the region, you start in Boston, and you go down all the way to Florida. It’s diverse in terms of client base and diverse in terms of partners. It’s all about sponsorship and how somebody always has the vision to dream big for me. And here we are today where Tim Ryan, our senior partner, called and asked me to lead assurance for the firm.”

Moats will be succeeding Vin Colman in leading the assurance practice. She plans to continue Colman’s efforts to develop innovative audit technology. “When you think about the technology that we have today to execute on the audit that we didn’t have when I started with the firm 22 years ago, we’re leading in that area,” she said. “Then when I think about audit innovation, it’s also our people and what our people are now capable of doing. Using more technology, they’re freed up to really spend time in the more complex areas where the judgments are. It’s just a better experience for them and much more exciting. When we recruit talent—I do quite a bit of that—when I start to talk about that story, they get really excited.”

PwC’s new partner class includes 226 new partners and principals, 44 percent of whom are either female or from minority backgrounds such as Latinos, African Americans and Asians.

“We’re all on a journey to continue to diversify the makeup and representation of our organizations,” said Moats. “I personally am very proud about what we have achieved at PwC. If you look back at the last four classes at least, clearly you can see that we’re on a journey there and we’re maintaining these percentages. One of the reasons I took the role as a client service partner to come into the leadership team as the chief diversity officer is because I think that quite frankly, when you take a diverse professional—I’m Hispanic by way of background—and you really surround that person with both sponsorship and opportunity, then you can really change a career trajectory. When I took the role of CDO five years ago, that’s what I said. I know that we can do this, this being further diversification of our leadership team, the partnership, etc., because it’s been done. I’ve experienced that myself.”

Moats intends to continue to promote diversity and inclusion at PwC, particularly within the assurance practice. She recalled a recent PwC session where Moritz interviewed Mellody Hobson, president of Ariel Investments, who advised the attendees to continue on the journey toward diversity and inclusion “by playing in your lane.”

“Now as I lead assurance for the firm, and maintaining quality, innovating the audit, really bringing the right client experience to our clients and then giving our people the right experience, the lane that I have now in terms of diversity and inclusion is for our assurance practice,” said Moats. “That’s my lane now, and that’s where I’m going to play every time I think about who is best to service this important client. Now it’s my turn to dream big for the practice and for our people and to execute on that from my lane.”