How can organizations diversify their workforces and ensure a continuous pipeline of top-performing employees? Ernst & Young, No. 6 in The 2012 DiversityInc Top 50 Companies for Diversity, takes a proactive approach and reaches out to students before they even choose a college or a major.
The Big Four professional-services firm, which must aggressively compete for new talent in its industry, opened the doors of its New York City headquarters this summer to 100 rising high-school juniors from New Brunswick and Piscataway, N.J. For two days, the students were able to discover firsthand what it's like to be an accountant at Ernst & Young and the opportunities the profession can provide.
The students are members of the Rutgers Future Scholars (RFS) Class of 2017. The program's mission is to increase the number of academically ambitious high-school graduates who come from low-income backgrounds by helping them meet college-admittance standards. RFS also provides scholarships to those who attend Rutgers. Students are accepted into the program in seventh grade from Newark, Camden, New Brunswick and Piscataway, N.J. Currently, there are about 800 scholars in grades 8–11.
Luke Visconti, DiversityInc CEO and co-chair of the fundraising committee for Rutgers Future Scholars, attended the event at Ernst & Young. He is also on the Rutgers board of trustees.
Scholars listened as Ernst & Young employees discussed their high-school and college experiences. The students talked to partners about what a career in accounting can offer—including potential salaries, clients and travel opportunities—and had interactive sessions that taught the students best practices in general business communication styles, leadership and goal setting. Ernst & Young even highlighted potential opportunities available to accounting majors at Rutgers University.
Most students, such as Jamira Riddick, were unfamiliar with the accounting industry before the event. Riddick loves math but didn't want anything to do with it as a career. "I always thought accounting would be boring," she says. "I didn't even have knowledge about what accounting really was."
The exposure worked on Riddick. "They made me think of accounting as something that could be fun; you just have to make it fun," she says. If she becomes an accountant, Riddick would like to work at Ernst & Young.
Diversity in Accounting
The event was part of the firm's efforts to diversify its pipeline of talent for future recruits and to diversify the ranks of accounting professionals overall. "We work with a lot of universities around diversity and inclusiveness. It's really important to the firm," says Gioia Pisano, inclusiveness recruiting leader at Ernst & Young.
Latinos comprise only 3 percent of the CPA profession, and Blacks account for only 1 percent, according to the American Institute of CPAs. Of new CPA hires, 4 percent were Latino, 4 percent were Black and just 1 percent were American Indian.
Aggregate data submitted by the Big Four accounting firms for The DiversityInc Top 50 Companies for Diversity survey shows a similar lack of racial diversity in new hires, except for Asian Americans. The data shows 6.4 percent are Black, 5.2 percent are Latino and just 0.6 percent are American Indian. Asian Americans, in contrast, account for 21.1 percent of new hires at the Big Four. The Big Four are PricewaterhouseCoopers, Ernst & Young, Deloitte and KPMG, Nos. 1, 6, 8 and 22 on the DiversityInc Top 50 list, respectively.
"These young people are being exposed to organizations and corporations like Ernst & Young, interacting with professionals, engaging in conversations with them, which allows them to envision themselves in places just like this," says Aramis Gutierrez, director of Rutgers Future Scholars.
Benefits to Students, Ernst & Young
The firm left an impression on all the students. "I think it's wonderful that they're giving high-school students like myself the opportunity to experience what goes on in the actual building," says Zaire Gorrell, a junior at New Brunswick High School. "They're actually giving us an opportunity to come here and learn, hands on, what you can do at Ernst & Young."
Masiel Torres, a junior at New Brunswick Health Sciences Technology High School, was trying to decide between a marketing or accounting career, and she may choose accounting. "It seems like a very interesting job, something you grow in and where I can challenge myself every day," she says.
Pisano says that, long term, Rutgers Future Scholars does more than just serve a good cause. It can help the firm deliver results to global clients. "Our clients are asking for diverse teams, and they know that diverse teams bring great solutions," Pisano says. "It's imperative that we go out and make sure that everyone is aware of the opportunities within accounting so that we can serve our global clients." Pisano hopes that some of these students will eventually work for Ernst & Young.
Gutierrez agrees. "Ernst & Young benefits from just simply having the opportunity to be exposed to 800 individuals that we have in our program; it's a pipeline of untapped talent that not many other organizations or corporations have access to," he says.
The 2011 summer visit to Ernst & Young was a first-time event for the firm. Ernst & Young has been a partner of Rutgers Future Scholars for two years, providing financial support for the program's SAT-prep courses. In anticipation of the two-day event, Ernst & Young reps visited the scholars on campus to give a general overview about the company's philosophy and mission. Scholars from Newark and Camden will visit Ernst & Young's New York headquarters at a later date.
The Rutgers Future Scholars program selects talented seventh-graders from Newark, Camden, New Brunswick and Piscataway, N.J., providing college preparation and mentoring, as well as scholarships if admitted to Rutgers University. Currently, there are almost 800 scholars in grades 8–11. Individual and corporate contributions provide vital support for these worthwhile young scholars. For more information, contact firstname.lastname@example.org.