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Corporate Tax Departments

Diversity, equity & inclusion: How corporate tax teams can turn commitment into action

Natalie Runyon  Director / ESG content & Advisory Services / Thomson Reuters Institute

· 5 minute read

Natalie Runyon  Director / ESG content & Advisory Services / Thomson Reuters Institute

· 5 minute read

Company management needs to leverage operational agility and encourage consistent behaviors to better promote diversity, equity, and inclusion on their corporate tax teams

While there has been an increase in women filling manager-level roles in corporate tax departments, race and gender demographics within high-level roles on corporate tax teams are not representative of the general US population and still skew White (non-Hispanic or Latino) and male.

The youngest generation in the workforce, Generation Z, expect racial diversity and equity at their employers, and diversity, equity & inclusion (DEI) considerations are a factor in their employment decisions. Gen Z candidates regularly ask about policies, communities, and commitments during the interview process. Indeed, they are the most diverse generation in US history, with the second most diverse being right behind them, the Millennial generation.

Herschel Frierson knows this especially well. As a Principal at accounting firm Crowe and Board Chair of the National Association of Black Accountants (NABA), which supports high school and college students as they enter the accounting profession, Frierson interacts with Gen Z students every day. “People want their unique experiences and circumstances to be recognized in the workplace policies that apply to them,” he says, adding that employers who prioritize this will win the best talent of the future.

Recruitment has been the main area of focus for DEI activity within the tax & accounting industry for decades. Now however, employers must also equally focus on forging a workplace culture that values everyone, no matter their background — a process which promotes inclusion and belonging. Today, new hires from underrepresented backgrounds are no longer willing to stick around if they don’t feel comfortable and are not made to feel like they belong over the long term.

Frierson knows the mental hardship of minimizing one’s true self all too well, having done so early in his career. Gen Z professionals are not going to sacrifice their own well-being and overall health in the same way, he says.

Operationalize impactful behaviors

The challenge for companies to drive DEI results then becomes the importance of operationalizing agility and consistent behaviors at all levels of the organization, where authenticity and transparency now are more valued than command and control. These new ways of leading require managers to put people above processes, pivot in the face of new information, and admit that they don’t know everything — attitudes which have run counter to previous decades of institutional leadership.

To embed DEI into the culture of an organization, Cannon-Marie Green, Practice Lead in State Direct Tax at Bloomberg Tax & Accounting, believes first and foremost that it is essential to ensure all voices are heard. “There is power in recognizing that people, particularly people from historically excluded or underrepresented communities, bring a diverse perspective because of their lived experiences — not because of their race or faith traditions or sexual orientation, but because they must navigate a world that makes assumptions about them,” Green explains. “That is their lived experience.”

It is also critical to stop and correct behaviors that work against inclusion and break trust between managers and employees in a nanosecond. These behaviors hinder people from speaking up and bringing out their point of view in a compelling way and instead give way to backchanneling, finger-pointing, and gossiping, which are among the top violators of this trust.

How to model inclusion

Perhaps the most important forum in which to model the behaviors that promote inclusion and belonging is team meetings and group discussions. Katrina Welch, North America Director of Tax at Gordon Food Service, uses three rules for managers and for those who lead meetings:

1. Modulate the talkers and invite the introverts to speak often — For the extroverted members of the team who often speak up, the manager or meeting leaders need to watch the meeting’s power dynamics and perhaps dial down the dominance of these extroverts. Effective ways to do this include mentioning at the beginning of the meeting that you want all members to participate; and, throughout the meeting, inviting the more passive participants to share their thoughts as well. Also, during video meetings, ask people to use the raise the hand function rather than just talking over others. Finally, when the more frequent talkers continue to dominate the conversation, intervene politely and indicate you as the meeting leader want to ensure all members have the opportunity to participate.

2. Listen actively and check in every few minutes to solicit understanding by others —Extroverts will likely signal their engagement with body language, while less extroverted individuals may not give any indication. Managers and meeting leaders should make eye contact with everyone while asking for an indication of understanding.

3. Drive accountability by asking for feedback — Perhaps the best way to establish accountability and keep it is to ask for feedback from your team or meeting participants. Communicate that you have a goal to build your inclusion muscle and would like to proactively invite feedback regularly on what you are doing well and not so well.

Magic questions to drive belonging

Managers plays a pivotal role in the perception of their team members’ employee experience at within a firm. To build their inclusion and belonging credibility, managers — consistently and with authenticity — should ask these three questions of individual employees in one-on-one settings, and then act on the feedback as much as possible:

      • How are you really doing?
      • How can I support you?
      • What can I do to help you feel like you can grow here?

Finally, managers need to cast a positive shadow of leadership as the final ingredient to their leadership success by making sure the tax leaders and peers within the organization are empowered to make change. You will know you are on your way to success when you reach the flywheel effect — the right behaviors and policies will begin creating forward momentum towards a true win-win-win for everyone.

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