The Big 4, Equity, Diversity, and Inclusion: Is it Just Corporate BS?

I am a Big 4 alum and I spent many years in the audit profession before I transitioned to academia. I teach accounting in the Southeast at a Hispanic-Serving Institution (HSI), which means that at least 25% of the students are Hispanic. I am also Hispanic.

I grew up at Deloitte, the same as Joe Ucuzoglu. Joe is the CEO of Deloitte and we worked together. Months ago, I started noticing Joe posting equity, diversity, and inclusion (EDI) articles on LinkedIn. Joe is one of the smartest CPAs I know.

What I find interesting is that Deloitte, while preaching EDI, has not recruited from our campus in decades. PwC and EY have also not recruited from our campus or maintained a presence on our campus. Our campus is one of the largest HSIs in our state. We have more students of diversity than any other in the state. This spring, partners from the local Deloitte office showed up and ostensibly started to take an interest in our students. I thought that was a great development. But I’m also an auditor and know when I and my fellow faculty members are being glad-handed.

To understand what I am about to say, we have to go back to the mid-to-late 1990s. It was then that the recruiting strategy of the Big 4 (Big 6 at that time) changed. Prior to the 1990s, most Big 6 firms recruited from almost all colleges within their state. They would have alumni of those colleges attend Beta Alpha Psi meetings and get to know and recruit top students. Then in the mid-to-late ’90s, the Big 4 changed their strategy to target top schools like the University of Texas-Austin, University of Southern California, University of Chicago, etc. They largely gave up on local colleges. I know because I recruited from those top schools when I was in the Big 4.

Ask yourself, how can you preach EDI and only recruit from schools where the tuition is over $300,000 for an undergraduate education? The significant majority of students who attend those colleges are from families that do not need EDI programs. Most of those families pay in cash.

The auditor in me started to become skeptical. Is this EDI initiative from Deloitte and the other Big 4 firms real or is it just corporate bullshit that they have to do to check a box mandated from the leadership of their firms to appear competitive among the Big 4? I believe it is the latter.

I sent résumés of my top students to the partners from the local Big 4 offices and I started hearing from students that they were being “ghosted.” I am old enough not to know what the hell that meant, so after I looked it up, my suspicions were confirmed. I believe that the Big 4 are seeking out HSIs to glad-hand and appear to be good corporate citizens while in reality, they are making offers to students at the same top accounting institutions and ghosting students at HSIs.

My favorite example is that when Deloitte did not follow up with one of my students, who I personally recommended, I complained to the audit partner, and that same day, the recruiter reached out to my student and made excuses that did not pan out. In other words, they lied to me.

So, for students who are at HSIs, here are questions to ask recruiters and partners of the Big 4 who interview you:

  • What have you done personally to support EDI apart from your job as a CPA, apart from your role in the firm?
  • Can you give examples of EDI initiatives your firm engaged in before it became in vogue?
  • Are your firm’s EDI initiatives done for corporate purposes or are they socially motivated? Ask them from the perspective of professional skepticism as though you were already an auditor. In other words, ask for sufficient appropriate evidence for what they say.
  • Ask for specific articulable examples of their EDI achievements and Google when they began talking about EDI. Was it when their competitors started talking about EDI? If it does not add up, walk away. Find local and regional firms.

Finally, I will say to my former colleague, Mr. Ucuzoglu, and the CEOs of the other Big 4 firms, either have your partners and recruiters be sincere in EDI initiatives or leave my students the hell alone and stop fucking glad-handing me and my fellow faculty just to check a box off on fulfilling EDI goals for your annual evaluations. Otherwise, to quote the Bard, “Thou art the son and heir of a mongrel bitch.”

Anonymous university accounting professor

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13 Comments

  1. This post is terrible.

    “Then in the mid-to-late ’90s, the Big 4 changed their strategy to target top schools like the University of Texas-Austin, University of Southern California, University of Chicago, etc…Ask yourself, how can you preach EDI and only recruit from schools where the tuition is over $300,000 for an undergraduate education?”

    This is simply disconnected from reality. How much of a Chicago Big 4 office is staffed by Northwestern and Chicago grads compared to kids from state schools like University of Illinois, IU Kelley, Purdue, UMich, or Wisconsin? Probably not much, since neither of those schools even has an undergrad accounting program. For the same reason, Rice does not dominate the Houston market at the expense of UT (a state school, ridiculous to have on your list), University of Houston, and A&M alumni.

    “I sent résumés of my top students to the partners from the local Big 4 offices and I started hearing from students that they were being “ghosted.” I believe that the Big 4 are seeking out HSIs to glad-hand and appear to be good corporate citizens while in reality, they are making offers to students at the same top accounting institutions and ghosting students at HSIs.”

    That’s because they believe the students from the “top accounting institutions” are going to make better associates. Your school is not entitled to have the Big 4 aggressively recruit there just because your students are “diverse.” Admission to a more selective school is seen as an indicator of future professional success.

    “So, for students who are at HSIs, here are questions to ask recruiters and partners of the Big 4 who interview you”

    Good call. Make sure to really drill the overworked senior conducting the interview on how socially-motivated his 65 charge hours from last week were. Tell the students to make sure the firms know they’re special and expect employers to claw over each other for them because they’re “diverse”.

    Nearly all posts about diversity are stupid, this one outsucks the rest.

    1. The point of the article is calling out the B.S that is the big 4 preaching for diversity but not actually practicing it.

      At the end of the day the big 4 can hire whoever the fuck they want, but this article is saying to stop being a hypocrite and to stop gland-handing his students to save face.

  2. Great article. It’s great reading from a person who genuinely cares about their community. Unfortunately “equity, diversity, equity” is just corporate B.S

  3. I work for a big4 and involved in campus recruiting. I can say firsthand there is an emphasis out on EDI. I will also day that we typically on recruit from larger, well-known schools.

  4. What is “student of diversity”? Imagine having every institution give you boost ahead of others, but still demand more racial preferences for your skin.

    Try visit a country with actual repressive regime, and see how spoiled you are here.

  5. When attending a large accounting firm’s annual partner’s meeting where there are hundreds in a large ball – room (thousands at Big 4 ) and you can count the the number of black partners on two hands, you know something is wrong. The real issues are determining whether it’s a societal, industry or company issue or all all of the above and how to fix it. Less than 1% of CPA’s in the United States are black. We have a problem. Let’s fix it.

  6. Kelly Greer at EY attended St Mary’s in notre Dame, IN. That’s not a powerhouse school of any kind. So, this letter to the editor sounds like it has merit in its arguments.

  7. I think the problem exists in universities too.

    A couple years ago at an alumni event for a very highly-ranked accounting program (particularly noted for its aWFully high CPA pass rate), I told an administrator that I while I appreciated their efforts to diversify the graduate school, I didn’t feel they went far enough.

    My fifth-year MSA class (which had been about eight years before this event) had a handful of Black and Asian students (5-10% each), but only one or two Hispanic students, and no one (that I’m aware of) that would fit in any other category. What was worse to me, I felt that there was little to no diversity in socioeconomic status amongst our class. The vast majority came from either upper-middle or upper class families. In other words, while there was a little diversity of skin color, there was just about none of any other kind.

    I summed it up by telling the administrator that I feared the extent of the school’s diversity effort essentially consisted of taking a bunch of students from top-tier schools who happened to have different skin colors and then kicking their feet up and congratulating themselves for diversifying the profession. And then I asked him point-blank if he thought that was the best we could do. He sort of mumbled an agreement, but his demeanor suggested it was time for me to get another beer and perhaps choose another time to harangue people with this opinion of mine.

    Anyway, yes, the accounting profession is sad and pathetic when it comes to diversity and I’m really happy to see articles like this one

  8. How about a market-based approach? Encourage all black millionaires in the U.S.A., including LeBron and Kapernic, to demand blacks serve as their accountants. To increase demand they could offer to pay twice the prevailing rate. Why limit it to accountants? Include doctors, lawyers, dentists, bankers and all other professional services.

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