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How to Get More Blacks and Latinos in Accounting

Ernst & Young's Discover Tax program aims to bring more Blacks, Latinos and American Indians into the tax profession. How are they doing it?

Professional choices for Black, Latino and American Indian college students can seem limited; the students are often more interested in popular or high-status occupations or professions they know well through their parents, family and friends.


Accounting continues to lack significant racial/ethnic diversity, which is a real challenge for accounting firms as they try to relate to increasingly diverse clients. Latinos comprise only 3 percent of the CPA profession and Blacks account for only 1 percent, according to the American Institute of CPAs. Data about new hires that were CPAs shows 4 percent were Latino, 4 percent were Black, and just 1 percent were American Indians.

Aggregate data submitted by the Big Four accounting firms for The 2010 DiversityInc Top 50 Companies for Diversity survey show a similar lack of racial diversity in management positions, except for Asians. The data shows 3.9 percent are Black, 3.5 percent are Latino and just 0.22 percent are American Indian. Asians, in contrast, account for 15.7 percent of management positions at the Big Four. The Big Four are PricewaterhouseCoopersErnst & Young,   Deloitte and KPMG Nos. 3, 5, 8 and 29 on The 2011 DiversityInc Top 50 list, respectively.

Ernst & Young wants to attract those students interested in finance and accounting to one particular area: tax. Ernst & Young formalized its Discover Tax program in 2007 to attract more Blacks, Latinos and American Indians to the tax profession.

This month, Ernst & Young held its fifth-annual, all-expenses-paid Discover Tax event in New York City, hosting more than 100 Black, Latino, American Indian and Asian students from 58 U.S. colleges and universities. The students are recommended by the faculty of more than 200 schools where Ernst & Young actively recruits.

Raising awareness of tax professions is the challenge. "Tax gets a bad rap," says Chris Yamamoto, Americas tax people leader for Ernst & Young. "But, increasingly, company chiefs are finding that tax is such a big line-item cost that they have to pay attention to it. Whatever they do in a business context is going to have tax implications. There's a unique advisory role that tax professionals can fill."

Exposure to the profession makes a difference. Ken Bouyer, Americas director of inclusiveness and recruiting, who is Black, wanted to be an accountant because his mother was an accountant.

Many times, Blacks, Latinos and American Indians want to go into professions they believe will have a positive impact on their communities, and professions in education, medicine and law are often the first to come to mind, Bouyer says. Thus, it can be difficult to get your profession to be top-of-mind for those students, even though it also provides opportunities to give back. "Here is an opportunity to have the financial wherewithal to contribute to the community," he says. "Being able to give a scholarship to a kid in your community, buy books for a school or being able to talk about what you do and expand a young person's horizons [is] valuable."

Cristina Lapa is a first-generation American, and English is her second language. Now a 19-year-old sophomore at Penn State University, she wanted to be a tax accountant because her Cuban-born mother was so passionate about her work in tax. She brought Lapa to work and talked often of the work she did. "Tax is so rewarding," Lapa says. "You're helping clients save money."

Lapa now aspires to make partner in a public accounting firm. Accounting could benefit from her experience. "Every culture has its own ideas and its way of raising people. Working with different types of people helps expand your understanding and expertise," Lapa says.

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