TEI Roundtable No. 16: Diversity and Inclusion in the Tax Industry
A growing commitment to a policy with clear-cut business benefits

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Workforce diversity is a concern in every industry, and tax is no exception. But what issues are currently relevant, and is there a business rationale for increasing diversity? To explore this topic further, Tax Executive convened a roundtable discussion group composed of diversity leaders in the industry, including Margie Dhunjishah, U.S. tax diversity leader at PwC; Pamela Downs, partner and chief inclusion officer at Deloitte Tax LLP; Lisa Fitzpatrick, vice president and general manager at Bloomberg Tax; and Kim Goings, national tax talent leader at Ernst & Young. Tax Executive Senior Editor Michael Levin-Epstein moderated the discussion.

Levin-Epstein: Why is diversity and inclusion an important issue?

Dhunjishah: In today’s business world, it’s a complex environment. At PwC, we believe that to address complex issues and solve important problems, the best solutions and the best ideas come from diverse points of view. People with different experiences, people with different backgrounds will contribute to a greater variety of solutions; we understand that non-diverse groups may not reach the same conclusions. If we’re going to solve the world’s most important problems in a complex environment, diversity of ideas will help us achieve that aim. Within organizations, our populations in the United States are becoming more diverse, necessitating an organizational culture where a wide variety of people can grow and succeed. We aim to create an environment where diversity and inclusion can grow and flourish, so the best and brightest that the country has to offer can be contributing members of our firms.

Goings: I would echo that exactly. It clearly is a business imperative. We see that our overall engagement scores increase when there is a focus on D&I [diversity and inclusion], which ultimately increases our overall revenue. So, clearly it does become a business imperative, especially as our world changes; we’re more complex, we’re more global. The changing workforce is reshaping business, so if we’re not really laser-focused and walking the talk on D&I, not only are we going to lose a large population of people who are in the workforce or soon to be in the workforce, it also will have an impact on our ability to work with clients and ultimately increase revenue.

Fitzpatrick: For us at Bloomberg Tax and the greater Bloomberg organization, it’s also a business imperative. We have found that the more diverse our staff is, the stronger the results are. Diverse staff bring different perspectives to solving problems, different experiences from their backgrounds, and that just makes us stronger as an information provider. I also think having a diverse staff is key, because we’re a global organization, and as we increase our footprint globally, it’s important that the makeup of our staff and our talent is also representative of our clients and their different backgrounds.

Downs: At Deloitte, we know that inclusion unleashes the power of our diversity. Our business is built on providing clients our professionals’ knowledge and unique perspectives. Inclusion is critical: it enables us to leverage all that makes us who we are—talents, beliefs, experiences, and backgrounds—which helps us deliver valuable perspectives for our clients and engaging experiences for our colleagues. Additionally, we know that an inclusive culture is an essential component for attracting and retaining talent for our organization and for our clients as well. From our recent pulse survey, we discovered that eighty percent of respondents said inclusion was an important factor in choosing an employer. Seventy-two percent of respondents would leave or may consider leaving an organization for a more inclusive one. In fact, twenty-three percent of respondents surveyed said they have already left a job for a more inclusive culture at another organization. These findings demonstrate the incredible value today’s talent pool places on the presence of an inclusive culture in their organizations.

Levin-Epstein: How is the tax industry doing on the diversity issue, say, compared to ten years ago?

Dhunjishah: We’re making progress. I don’t think there’s any organization out there that has all the answers. But I do think that the trend is that many more companies are recognizing the value diversity and inclusion can bring to their organizations. There’s been a refocusing and redoubling of efforts; companies are taking concrete steps to make sure that their organizations are places where people with a wide variety of backgrounds and experiences can come, contribute, and succeed. They recognize there’s a true value, inherently, in diverse points of view and diverse experiences. So, whether it’s revenue, coming up with better solutions, coming up with more creative ideas, broadening the pool of candidates that you can choose from to fill important roles within your organization, I believe that diversity and inclusion is a place where most organizations recognize it’s a critical “have-to-have.” It’s not a “nice-to-have”; if you want an organization that’s going to succeed in the future, it needs to be an organization where diversity and inclusion thrives.

Goings: I love your comment around “not a ‘nice-to-have,’” because that’s absolutely right. And I do think there’s been a ton of progress in the last ten years. I agree—no one is perfect, because there is no perfect world—that’s something we’re constantly having to work through. But we’ve come a long way because firms such as EY are beginning to broaden the definition of D&I. While we need to continuously have that laser focus on ensuring gender and ethnic minorities are in the workplace, developing and moving into leadership positions, sometimes it helps also to consider D&I in a broader sense. This perspective sometimes enables people to get their arms around it so that we’re thinking about the spectrum of diversity which extends beyond gender and ethnicity. For example, at EY we’re now exploring neurodiversity and how this aspect of D&I will help us build a better working world. This is progress, and in order to keep progressing, we have to keep the focus where we know it needs to be, but we also need to broaden that definition so that our leaders can leverage the spectrum of difference to drive business results.

Fitzpatrick: Our D&I study of the accounting firm and the corporate tax departments really proved out that it’s important to many of our respondents. Seventy-three percent of our accounting firm respondents said that diversity and inclusion was really important to their organization, while we had sixty-one percent of the corporate tax and accounting respondents who said that it was very important to their department. And, in general, when we asked them about the need for D&I, the majority of respondents agreed that it was definitely the right thing to do. In fact, “doing the right thing” is a top driver for diversity and inclusion initiatives in their organizations.

Downs: The workforce needs and expectations continue to evolve and so too have our approach and priorities. Today, our vision is to promote a brand that enables us to connect with world-class talent, foster a culture of inclusion where all of our people can feel like they belong, and provide opportunities for our people to grow personally and professionally. The progress that we’ve made over the last ten years is to recognize that every person contributes to and benefits from our inclusive culture. We know that each of us is multidimensional, with unique needs and expectations that emerge at different points in our personal and professional lives. We are continuing to create opportunities where all our people can be authentic and celebrate differences. Inclusion at Deloitte isn’t an add-on or an initiative, but is embedded throughout daily experiences and interactions with one another.

Promoting Diversity and Inclusion

Levin-Epstein: How is your organization promoting diversity and inclusion?

Dhunjishah: For PwC, we take a pretty broad approach. We have inclusive employee resource groups that come together and have a safe space to discuss their shared experiences. But even within those employee resource groups, we’re always inviting everyone to participate—it’s not exclusive. Anyone who wants to learn about a culture, learn about a topic, are free to be involved in any employee resource group. We also have signature programming at various levels that focuses on leadership development, embracing and taking advantage of cultural differences, giving and receiving feedback and other professional developmental skills. All of our people participate in blind spots training so we understand how the mind works and the potential for unconscious bias. Through these blind spots training courses, they become aware that, one, we all have blind spots, and they exist, and then, two, how do you intentionally build—we call them speed bumps—into your mind’s automatic processing cycles so it helps reduce potential unconscious bias and make us all more aware of our behaviors. With this perspective, because it’s a multiphased approach, everyone participates in some type of diversity and inclusive experience, whether it’s through an ERG [employee resource group], or a specific signature program, or it’s the blind spots training, because we want everyone to understand [how] diversity and inclusion impacts all of us.

“Diversity and inclusion is a place where most organizations recognize it’s a critical ‘have-to-have.’ It’s not a ‘nice-to-have.’”
—Margie Dhunjishah

Goings: At EY we also have a broad approach to our D&I efforts. Professional networks have been an integral part of our people culture for over twenty years, and all employees are welcome to join any network. As grassroots organizations formed around a shared set of interests, experiences and perspectives, our professional networks provide opportunities for our people to expand their personal networks, exchange information, and develop professional skills, all while connecting with leadership, peers, our communities and clients. It’s critical that we engage all who are interested, so that people are more comfortable adding their voices to insightful discussions about challenging topics. This enhances our leadership capacity. We also have an Americas Inclusiveness Center of Excellence that sets our D&I strategy and collaborates with regions and services lines to implement the strategy locally through their inclusiveness steering committees. I love the point about unconscious bias, because we all have it, and the more that we can recognize that it’s normal, it helps facilitate a better conversation. We have utilized formal and informal listening sessions to raise awareness about unconscious bias and to understand the work experiences of our people. EY Unplugged, one of our formal programs, allows professionals early in their careers to have those open, honest discussions with senior leadership. What I really enjoy the most is that we have a lot of things that are at the big-firm level that get deployed down. You are also seeing much more grassroots involvement, and people in their own offices thinking through “What makes sense to help my particular team, or my particular office?” It’s the top-down, bottom-up approach that gets the message out and helps to ensure everyone understands and sees the impact of D&I.

“Seventy-three percent of our accounting firm respondents said that diversity and inclusion was really important to their organization, while we had sixty-one percent of the corporate tax and accounting respondents who said that it was very important to their department.”
—Lisa Fitzpatrick

Fitzpatrick: At Bloomberg Tax, similar to what Margie and Kim were talking about, we have employee resource groups, including ACHIEVE for women, OPEN for LGBT, and REACH for millennials or young professionals. These initiatives help us engage employees, including ones who have been with us for a while as well as newer employees. It’s a way to also get to know others outside of your immediate group. We also have a pretty comprehensive leadership development program, and something that I love is that within our Bloomberg Tax team, we have a mentorship program. It’s a very structured approach where both mentees and mentors have a formalized method to communicate their objectives—what they hope to achieve. Another facet that I really like about our efforts in mentorship is our program to give back to the community. For example, we have extended the mentorship initiative to work with organizations like the Close Up Foundation, where we work with youth of diverse backgrounds to share our experiences and also learn from them. I think that’s another way that we really broaden our efforts in D&I—not just internally but externally as well. And I can’t say enough about unconscious bias training. It’s just an incredibly important effort, and something that we have to continually provide. It gives staff and management opportunities to talk through challenges and drive greater awareness of challenges that we may not even know are there. I think that’s really critical to our success.

Downs: At Deloitte, we continue to push ourselves to innovate our approach to fostering an inclusive culture. We are committed to key focus areas throughout the talent lifecycle where we still want to move the needle. We know it’s critical to encourage interest early on in our profession. That’s why we are funding scholarships for Girls Who Code campus classrooms for new summer programs to teach more girls to code. Developing leaders and building a diverse leadership pipeline is another priority for us. We support a culture of sponsorship where individuals can form relationships with leaders that can provide guidance and actively advocate for them throughout their careers. But, beyond this, we are also striving for all of our people to experience our inclusive culture on a daily basis. We have identified six tenets of our inclusive culture that we encourage everyone to embed into their interactions so they can contribute to and benefit from our inclusive culture. These tenets are: purpose, strengths, community, authenticity, courage, and well-being. Our inclusive tenets have empowered our people with actionable steps on how they can personalize, identify, model, and advance inclusion in our organization.

Attracting and Retaining Millennials

Levin-Epstein: What is your organization doing to attract and retain millennials?

Dhunjishah: As far as attracting and retaining millennials, our focus is really on attracting and retaining candidates with diverse backgrounds and experiences in total. So, millennials are just a part of it. Part of attracting diverse candidates is making sure that you don’t have a one-size-fits-all programming, so within our firm, one of the items that we’re focused on is “be well, work well.” Within our “be well, work well” programming, there are multiple components of energy in your life. There’s emotional energy, mental energy, spiritual energy, and there’s physical energy; we recognize that all dimensions of energy are part of your working life. Energy management has to take place for you to be happy, successful, and high-performing in both your work and personal life. I think as part of attracting and retaining a diverse workforce, it’s recognizing that you bring your whole self to work, and as part of having a long career with a firm and being able to retain these people through the various chapters of their life, some of it is beyond just work-life balance its energy management. “Be well, work well” is a component part of your life, offering a tremendous amount of flexibility strategies so you can balance all of the different aspects that make for a complete and satisfying life. So, “be well, work well” is one of the items that we’re promoting among all of our people and our recruits—both campus and experienced. PwC is a place where we want you to have a long and successful career, and we’re offering you strategies to manage all aspects of your evolving life. Using the “be well, work well” energy management strategies is a way for you to have a long and successful career with us, or wherever your career may take you.

Goings: I would agree with that. Think about it now—the workforce has several generations in it. Several of our organizations aren’t just focusing on that millennial population because it’s a part of the overall workforce. But I do think we have to be flexible and think about this whole work-life balance a little bit differently with certain populations, millennials being one of them. To the point about feeling free to be yourself, that’s absolutely critical. I think that’s what we hear from our millennials—they want to be heard, they want to be able to be in an organization where it’s not a problem to talk to any levels in the firm. They want to make sure they have those open conversations. The focus on wellness and mindfulness is particularly important, I would say, not just to the millennials but to everyone else as well. We are definitely spending more time thinking through that overall wellness and how to incorporate that into your overall being. Because work is just a part of your overall life; it’s a big part of it, but you have to look at it holistically. I agree that when focusing on wellness, mindfulness, flexibility, and diversity of experiences, then one-size-fits-all doesn’t quite work. We definitely see with millennials, they don’t necessarily know they want to go directly into a certain part of tax, for example, so ensuring they get that diversity of experiences goes a long way in terms of retaining them.

Fitzpatrick: At Bloomberg Tax, the majority of our staff are tax law editors and CPAs, so our recruiting efforts focus on attracting millennials and target certain schools in trying to increase the diversity of who we’re attracting to our team. One of the most successful initiatives we’ve had on that front is devoted toward our internship program. We’re doing this in parallel with what Bloomberg LP has been doing, and it’s been very, very effective in recruiting new talent. We make the experience for interns well rounded and not just focused on doing, say, administrative tasks. By giving interns a variety of experiences and challenging them with special projects, both they and we can get a sense of whether they would be a good match or a good fit for roles that we have at Bloomberg Tax. That’s been really successful, and I’ve been very impressed with the initiative, innovative approaches, and energy the millennials on our team bring to us. They are a real asset to us.

“I think that’s what we hear from our millennials—they want to be heard, they want to be able to be in an organization where it’s not a problem to talk to any levels in the firm.”
—Kim Goings

Downs: Many in today’s workforce, particularly millennials, do not want to be identified by just one characteristic or lumped in a single group. We want to provide greater opportunities for all of our people, regardless of how they identify, to feel that they can connect, belong, and grow with their colleagues. This is why we have recently rolled out “inclusion councils” to complement and collaborate with our business resource groups and women’s initiative communities. Our inclusion councils help us attract and retain talent by providing all of our people with a holistic way to foster community, build understanding, and find connections in our organization. Inclusion councils host events on topics of interest that everyone can take part in, foster an environment to ask questions, and learn more from others. But, they aren’t taking away from our business resource groups the opportunities to connect and discuss cohort or community-specific issues. They are additive and encourage our people to connect across communities to support one another. In our offices that have piloted inclusion councils, we have seen an increase in attendance and engagement from our people, and multiple offices have continued to raise their hand and asked for an inclusion council to be launched in their city. We are also extending the opportunity to connect with individuals from a variety of backgrounds through our leadership development programs as well. For example, our Ellen Gabriel Fellows Program is open to everyone and brings together people from a variety of backgrounds and attributes, to connect across differences and learn from each other. Many of our people have told us they appreciate the multiple perspectives they can engage with in integrated programs. In addition, we continue to retain some of our cohort programs so people can choose the experience they prefer.

Levin-Epstein: What message do you want to leave TEI members regarding diversity and inclusion?

Dhunjishah: I want to call everyone’s attention to the website CEO Action, www.ceoaction.com. The CEO Action website is a community of CEOs with the aim of rallying the business community to advance diversity and inclusion within the workplace. We realize that it is important to continue to make our workplaces trusting places to have complex and sometimes difficult conversations about diversity and inclusion. If there’s anyone that is interested in promoting a diversity and inclusion focus at their own place of business, this website is a place where many companies have donated content, programming, and video webcasts. These are free resources available on the CEO Action website, because this issue is bigger than all of us, and it transcends business competition. This is where all of us can rally together to address this important topic, leveraging our collective power to offer a wealth of ideas and resources for any of us to go and use.

“We want to provide greater opportunities for all of our people, regardless of how they identify, to feel that they can connect, belong, and grow with their colleagues.”
—Pamela Downs

Goings: Thank you for that; I’m going to check it out! I was just going to say that this is not something that changes overnight, right, or else organizations would have solved this a long time ago. It’s something that evolves. If we can keep saying to ourselves how this is a business imperative and that the world is changing, while really having that courage to lead, that courage to think a little bit differently and broaden the D&I definition, then that helps all of our organizations. We can’t take our eyes off the needle here; we have to continue to work on it, and realize that each improvement, each step that we take, helps the overall big picture.

Fitzpatrick: Two major takeaways from the study that we conducted were that there can be really different perspectives on diversity and inclusion between the highest-level managers, who are decision-makers, and lower-level managers and, I would imagine, staff. So, I think it’s really important that organizations make an effort to engage and listen when it comes to diversity and inclusion to make sure that they are aware and doing as much as they can to retain their talent. The second part is that there is a real demand for building the pipeline for diversity and inclusion in the tax and accounting space, and I think that falls back to all of us to engage students at the high school level to ultimately attract more talent to tax law programs and accounting programs. I think that’s an imperative for all of us, because we saw in the study that both corporate and accounting firm respondents said that a poor pipeline is one of their greatest challenges to diversity and inclusion success.

Downs: It’s critical that leaders lean in and play an active role in advancing inclusion in their organizations. Inclusion is a key competency for effective leadership. At Deloitte, being a leader by definition means being an inclusive leader. Each of us can model inclusive behaviors in our daily interactions. From being an effective leader, an engaged participant, an informed ambassador, or by innovating business policies and practices that invite authentic and active engagement, leaders can set that tone at the top. Accountability is another essential component. To truly emphasize the importance and weight for leaders to model inclusion, organizations should consider including demonstrable inclusive behaviors as part of their inclusion and talent strategy to underscore the importance of advancing an inclusive culture.

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