Counting on a More Diverse Workforce: With a New Corporate Recruitment Program in Place, Auditing Firm Deloitte & Touche Reaches out to Minority Students with the Lure of Scholarships, Training and Mentoring

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Big Four auditing firm Deloitte & Touche LLP USA may have found a way to address two of the top challenges for public accounting firms of the decade: finding and retaining qualified staff and recruiting new leadership.

Deloitte is going to campuses across the United States in search of its next generation of talented accounting professionals with a recruitment and retention program designed to finance the education of selected scholars, get their feet in the door at the company and set them on the path to a successful career.

The Future Leaders Apprentice Program (FLAP) began a year ago under the efforts of Kaplan Mobray, Deloitte's U.S. diversity recruiting leader. Last year, Deloitte began going to colleges within the company's seven regions, including 25 schools the New York-based auditor has designated as sources for finding talented African-American, American Indian, Asian and Hispanic accounting majors, in search of FLAP recruits.

Deloitte is seeking scholars with good grades, leadership potential and demonstrated commitment to their communities. The company has recruited 52 FLAP scholars (including participants in FLAP junior scholars), with 35 now working at Deloitte offices across the United States, Mobray says.

FLAP has three components: Upon accepting a $5,000 scholarship for use toward undergraduate educational expenses or the fifth-year of study required to become a CPA, recruits agree to take a job with Deloitte. Once hired, the scholars participate in a two-year leadership development curriculum that features seminars and opportunities to meet top executives. They also are matched with Deloitte mid- and senior-level managers who serve as their mentors and sponsors.

The leadership component is "designed to help new accounting professionals gain those esoteric skills outside of their regular job functions that lead to success," Mobray says. The curriculum will help recruits develop the skills to serve Deloitte's clients, bring value to the company, work in a team environment and become leaders, he adds.

With auditing executives retiring and recent legislation that requires U.S. companies to submit more reports on financial transactions, Deloitte and the other "Big Four" auditors--Ernst & Young LLP, KPMG LLP and PricewaterhouseCoopers LLP--are all understaffed and in search of their firm's next leaders.

"I think all the firms are starting to address this (lack of mentors for minority associates). They (firms) are also finding ways to encourage minorities to sit for the [CPA] exam," says Frank Ross, a retired certified public accountant and visiting professor of accounting at Howard University who heads up its business school's Center for Accounting Education. Historically, diversity has been a challenge for the accounting industry, Ross and other experts say.

Opening Doors

In 2004, African-Americans, American Indians, Asians and Hispanics made up about 8 percent of professionals at public accounting firms, according to the most recent statistics compiled by the American Institute of Certified Public Accountants. Turnover at accounting firms in 2004 was higher among minority professionals, according to AICPA.

"There are probably people at Deloitte that recognize retention is still the big issue," says Dr. Theresa A. Hammond, associate professor of accounting and Ernst & Young Research Fellow in diversity studies at Boston College's Wallace E. Carroll School of Management.

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Learning how to successfully navigate a company's corporate culture is important to succeeding at public accounting firms, which tend to have a hierarchal structure in which recruits come straight out of college, and successful employees get promoted every few years on a regular schedule to senior, then to manager, then to partner, Hammond says.

Historically, African-American employees have had to exceed expectations in order to be given a chance at promotions early in their careers. …