Resumes in hand, more than 100 Lehigh students packed into Lamberton Hall recently to hear from the Big Four public accounting firms - Deloitte, EY, KPMG, and PwC - and perhaps make a connection that will lead to a job after graduation.
Recruiting and networking events take place frequently on campus, but this one was different. Presented by a new student-led organization on campus, SQUAB – the Society of Queer and Undergraduate Allies in Business - the event focused on career development and growth in the business world for minorities and other underrepresented groups.
Accounting majors Eryne Boyle ’15 and Liz Pines ’16 were inspired to start SQUAB in fall of 2013 when they learned about other student affinity groups that focus on diversity in the workplace.
“The idea came up organically when I was in my intermediate accounting class and professor Parveen Gupta
asked members of different groups about any upcoming events they might have,” Boyle said. “I thought we should have an organization like this for LGBT students and allies in the business school to discuss our issues specifically as they pertain to the workplace.”
Gupta, chair of the accounting department, and associate professor Jackie Krasas
, director of the women, gender and sexuality studies program, moderated the discussion. They asked the panelists to discuss their personal work experiences as members of underrepresented populations. Panelists also detailed their respective companies’ commitments to diversity and inclusion and offered advice for students entering today’s workplace.
Chris Macies of Deloitte shared how he handles situations where someone may not be accepting of his identity as a gay man. While he emphasized that he feels completely supported at his home office, he interacts with many different clients around the world.
“You have to balance what’s authentic and what’s appropriate in a situation,” he said. “So, for instance, in a place where people may be more conservative, I work to develop a strong relationship first and gauge how much of my authentic self I might share over time. I’ve found that when this happens, my working relationship grows and the outcome is an even stronger tie to the client.”
All of the panelists agreed that their companies believe diversity gives them a competitive advantage, both in terms of attracting quality employees and building their client lists.
“We want our people to be comfortable at work,” Vinnie Perito of PwC said. “We don’t make products. Our people are our products, so we need to make sure we can be who we are. It’s too exhausting to be somebody else for eight to fourteen hours a day.”“Stop apologizing for who you are”
Darwin Jones, a tax manager and member of the African American Network at KPMG, encouraged students to see their identities as an asset. “Don't worry,” he advised. “A lot of people worry 'what are people going to think of me?' It's important that you arrive in the workplace unapologetically yourself. When you make it to the point where you stop apologizing for who you are, others are more comfortable with you as well.”
Freddy Coleman, president of Lehigh’s Class of 2017, was impressed by the commitment the Big Four have to diversity and inclusion. “I learned a lot about how they use diversity in their business and how central it is to them. I found out how it brings them together as individuals in a company and helps them collaborate and connect.”
Pines and Boyle were gratified by the response by the firms, as well as the excellent turnout for SQUAB’s first event, which was also co-sponsored by the National Association of Black Accountants, the Lehigh Accounting Club, and the Rauch Center for Business Communication.
“As we all know, the past couple of months in terms of diversity issues at Lehigh have been a little rocky, so to have employees from firms here representing different types of diversity and placing so much value on inclusion means a tremendous amount to the Lehigh community,” Pines said. “For us, as business and accounting majors, it’s especially important because we want our students coming out of Lehigh with competency and literacy in issues of diversity in addition to their technical skills.”
Dr. Gupta was proud that two accounting majors are leading on diversity and inclusion on campus. “In my mind, this [event] was a huge success,” he said. “I interact with the senior leadership of the Big Four firms all the time and it is amazing the importance they put on this. The firms are pushing hard for it. They are leading the way in that direction.”
Jena Burgess of EY says attending the event benefitted her firm as much as the students. “We focus on Lehigh as a priority school for recruiting into all of our business lines,” she said, “so we want the students to understand what’s important to the firm, and diversity and inclusion are central to our business.”
Gupta hoped the students came away understanding the connection between inclusion and the bottom line. “There is a business case for diversity, and we want the Lehigh student community to be sensitized to its importance in the global workplace.”