One of the most persistent challenges facing the accounting field in recent years has been recruiting a more diverse profession. While the demand for new talent is at an all-time high, the number of diverse candidates entering the field remains stagnant by all measures. And while some firms or professionals simply accept this as the way things are, some, like PwC's Sara Mijares, have taken it upon themselves to offer a direct link to more diverse candidates.

A senior manager at the Big Four firm, Mijares currently works and resides in the Los Angeles area, her work focusing mainly on higher education and healthcare clients. As a direct result of diversity outreach in the profession, Mijares now considers it her mission to help individuals like herself explore the possibilities that the accounting profession can offer young students.

Initially enrolled as a communications major at Loyola Marymount University, Mijares originally had intentions of going into sports broadcasting post-academia. She later switched her major to accounting, however, when she felt that sports broadcasting didn't guarantee "a great-paying job straight out of college."

"The more I got into the [accounting] curriculum [and] the more I learned about the opportunities that firms - especially the Big Four - had, the more I realized that this is what I wanted to do," she says. Following a senior-year internship with PwC, she was hired straight out of college to work in the firm's Los Angeles office.

"The logic made sense: You get a job out of college, they’re huge companies, and once you get your CPA and work in the Big Four, you can do whatever you wanted," she says, adding that she noticed a lot of women at firms as well, "which was a little different from what I was seeing in the other industries at the time."

Her entry into the profession may have come as a pleasant surprise to her family.

"My dad sat me down with his accountant when I was 15 or so and it was explained to me that this guy did really good work. He was seeing the world, makes good money, and I should check it out. And I still wasn’t very impressed at the time," she laughs. "I told him, 'Over my dead body will I become an accountant.' So needless to say he laughed quite heartily at my graduation."

Having found herself a successful career, Mijares now believes in educating minority students about the profession before they complete their collegiate career. She believes that many students, like her younger self, don't consider the accounting profession a fulfilling career option, or may not even be aware of the opportunities the field can provide.

"As a Latina, we don’t really talk about accounting as a field to go into. Everybody knows doctors, attorneys, and engineers, but the success, the financial stability, and opportunities that come from accounting are all very new to Latinos in general," she says. "So I know that’s one of the things we recognize; we've got to get to them a little bit earlier. The tricky part, I think, is getting them to understand the importance of accounting before they get into college."

To help spread the word, Mijares sits on a panel at Loyola Marymount that hand-picks potential accountants from its student body "who would really benefit from the profession and would really grow from being presented with that opportunity." The panel - consisting of Mijares, local firm partners and alumni - seek to educate students on what a career in accounting could do for them, offering internships and career advice to help them find a way into the field.

Additionally, Mijares also serves as a Board Member on the University's Latino Alumni Association and Accounting Advisory Board to raise funds for scholarships and strengthen the relationship between accounting alumni and students.

"I’d say in the last round of interviews we’ve had, people are ... teaching their children about these types of opportunities," she says. "We’ve started to see more second or third-generation accountants coming through and they realize they can do a lot and learn a lot, just like they’re parents did."

In Mijares's experience, the recruiting process still isn't attracting many people of African-American and Native American backgrounds. On the flip side, she says that she's been seeing a significant increase in veteran students, as well as those going back to school and seeking a Master’s in accounting. The latter, she feels, "show up with a tremendous amount of life experience and expertise, so when you add that to the accounting curriculum, it makes them a great accounting [professional]." 

Ultimately, Mijares has found that communication is a great tool for attracting a more diverse field of future professionals. When students are sat down and shown the possibilities of a career they themselves might not have ever considered - especially from someone who has been through a similar process - there's a real chance to attract untapped talent.

"I think what’s helped a lot is that as our firm has changed and as we started to represent various ethnicities and backgrounds, [students] now see a place where they can go, strive, and be successful," she says. "So it’s a very different conversation when you go out and you’ve got women partners and senior managers from different backgrounds talking to students about these opportunities because you can really put your money where your mouth is, and they'll say, 'You know what? I can do it if she can do it.'"

Sara Mijares is just one entry in our ongoing series on intriguing accounting professionals. If you have a submission that we should know about, email sean.mccabe@sourcemedia.com.

Other entries include: