Accounting Giant Ernst & Young Seeks To Attract More Minority Hires

A partner from Ernst & Young’s Chicago office was in a unique position Thursday as she pitched the perks of working for an accounting behemoth to a room full of minority college students.

While touting the virtues of the accounting life, Dorothy Proux animatedly told her success story to more than 100 sophomores and juniors from 58 colleges and took questions from the crowd at the Discover Tax conference. Hoping to lure more minority and women graduates into accounting, specifically tax work, Ernst & Young has created the all-expenses-paid event five years ago. This year, it took place Jan. 5-7 at the Hilton Hotel in New York City.

“There really is a limited number of highly qualified underrepresented minorities that are majoring in accounting,” says Megan Goeltz, a recruiting leader for the company.

Goeltz says there isn’t enough information about the profession out there for underrepresented groups, and in turn there is stiff competition for the limited supply of minority accounting graduates. In 2009, the CPA Journal estimated that minorities represent about 8 percent of professionals in certified public accounting.

Ernst & Young currently actively recruits at about 200 universities nationwide and partners with the National Association of Black Accountants and other groups to extend its outreach. Since the company started hosting the Discover Tax conference in 2007, minority campus hires have increased from 11 percent to 16 percent. Minority partners and staff now represent about 30 percent of U.S.-based employees of Ernst & Young LLP, more than double the number a decade ago, according to company officials.

Ken Bouyer, director of inclusiveness recruiting at the Big Four firm, says diversity has improved in his 20-year career at the company. Bouyer notes that the company started to prioritize diversity in 1993 and 1994.

“What I’ve seen is that the makeup of the firm has changed,” he says. However, leaders are always looking to do better, Bouyer adds. There is plenty of room to bring new people on board, says Goeltz, noting that the company is looking to increase off-campus hires by 9 percent this year.

Stereotypes about accountants being anti-social nerds who sit in a cubicle crunching numbers all day often keep minority students from considering the profession, says Goeltz.

“There really is a huge awareness challenge that we have,” she says.

Norman Neely, 19, a sophomore at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champagne, says he doesn’t care if his friends think accounting is meticulous and boring. The conference sold him on his future career and employer.

“Now, after coming here I definitely want to be an accountant for sure,” he says.

Neely says he likes that Ernst & Young considers its employees’ personal and family obligations, along with company expectations. Proux elaborated on this, saying that, “yes, you can have it all—a successful career and family life”—in the Thursday morning session “Why Tax?”

In the following session, several Ernst & Young employees participated in a panel titled “A Day in the Life” to expose students to their situations.

“What we try to showcase for them is our learning and mentoring culture, which, I think, is so important for young people to experience,” says Christine Yamamoto, Tax People Leader for Ernst & Young.

Saul Gomez, a senior manager at the Ernst & Young office in Los Angeles, was key in getting Nancy De Leon acclimated in the office after she graduated from the University of Southern California. The 24-year-old says attending the Discover Tax conference in 2008 helped her get an internship at the company and then a job.

All conference attendees are eligible to interview for an internship with the firm, and to date more than 70 percent of participants have been offered internships.

“I think a lot of it had to do with the relationships that I built early on,” says De Leon.