In an effort to increase dialogue on the changing role of diversity and inclusion in the business world, professionals from a variety of accounting and financial services firms came together for the annual “Diversity Panel” on Tuesday evening in Old Union Hall.

Hosted by Binghamton University’s chapter of Ascend, a professional association for enhancing the presence and influence of Asian and Pacific Islander leaders in business, the Bert Mitchell Minority Management Organization (BMMMO) and the Association of Latino Professionals for America, the event invited professionals from firms such as EY, KPMG, Grant Thornton and Deloitte to discuss the state of diversity in their respective firms.

Madeleine Zhang, vice president of internal affairs for Ascend and a sophomore double-majoring in accounting and psychology, said the event intended to showcase diversity in a variety of ways.

“It’s not only limited to race or ethnic background — we also aim to include discussions involving the LGBTQ community, gender — so it goes beyond race,” Zhang said. “By hearing employees’ perspectives and their experiences of dealing with diversity in the workplace, we want students to be able to see themselves in the workforce even if they are in the minority.”

During the panel, professionals described diversity as an aspect the business world is continuously working to emphasize. Professionals emphasized the push in firms for diversity so employees recognize the value of all different cultures of their colleagues.

Laura Aversano, ‘17, an assurance experienced associate at PricewaterhouseCoopers LLP (PwC), discussed the progress toward diversity in the workforce.

“A lot of people are really valuing diversity, more so than they ever have — this generation is a lot more inclusive and accepting of different ways and organizations than ever before,” Aversano said. “I see that the incoming generation is going to be the one leading that change, but I think that it’s really hard to change someone’s opinion and I don’t entirely believe that all these issues will be solved just by instituting policies about diversity.”

Many of the representatives explained the different actions their firms have taken to promote diversity. Fredmary Vargas, ‘17, an international tax associate at KPMG, said her company’s CEO recently signed a new pledge to increase more diversity and inclusion at the firm.

“This is something I’m excited to see, especially as someone of color,” Vargas said. “I’d like to see more people who look like me.”

Kandace Keating, a tax intern at PwC and a first-year graduate student majoring in accounting, also described the steps that her firm is taking to promote diversity.

“There’s a huge emphasis on diversity at PwC,” Keating said. “We have inclusion networks so that people can feel more welcome and hear about similar experiences to each other while seeing people in such high positions. When I went to these, the fact that I saw so many people who were women, who were people of color, it made me think that I can be that one day.”

Keating also gave students advice about challenges they may encounter.

“There are still some people who aren’t as educated in different topics, so just being aware of that, and remembering that some people grew up in a different time, so they might not think the same way,” Keating said. “But if you can, try to educate them and not take something minor, like a microaggression, to heart.”

Following the panel, students were given the opportunity to ask questions and network with the professionals.

Steven Lewison, educational coordinator of the Bert Mitchell Minority Management Organization (BMMMO) and a junior majoring in economics, said although he originally came to the event to support the BMMMO, he also learned a lot about diversity by the end of the program.

“I expected a few professionals just talking about their everyday experiences, but I got so much more than that because I was able to hear different stories and different outlooks,” Lewison said. “The different diversity committees and groups the firms have really stood out to me. The only way these firms could improve would be by doing more outreach to not just colleges, but also high schools and other areas that don’t have representation of all of these types of people so that even younger students can see all the opportunities there are.”

Ninci Mathew, a sophomore majoring in business administration, said she attended the panel to hear about the different opportunities available to minorities in the business world.

“I liked hearing about real-life examples and real-life issues that people who are a minority actually have to go through and I feel like not a lot of people really talk about it,” Mathew said. “The panel showed me a new perspective on letting people know about a problem instead of just getting offended by it.”