TEI Roundtable No. 26: Diversity & Inclusion
It’s essential in the corporate tax space

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We’ve been conducting roundtables and conference sessions on diversity and inclusion for several years now—and for good reason. Simply put, the subject should be top of mind and a key agenda item for our members and their organizations. To check out what’s happening as we approach 2020, we convened a roundtable of three practitioners: Tasheaya Warren Ellison, associate director, global tax operations, for Procter & Gamble; Renee Gonzalez, assistant general tax counsel for Exxon Mobil Corporation; and Kristen Bauer Proschold, director and managing tax counsel for Intuitive Surgical. Michael Levin-Epstein, Tax Executive’s senior editor, moderated the discussion.

Michael Levin-Epstein: Why are diversity and inclusion important elements of a successful tax department?

Tasheaya Warren Ellison: Diversity and inclusion are important elements of a successful tax department, because you need diversity of ideas in order to get to the best resolution for any tax matter. Having people with different perspectives and different experiences adds to the richness of the conversation, and with a variety of inputs you can better strategize on how to get to a best answer.

Renee Gonzalez: I believe that we work in an incredibly technical area, and there’s not one answer to every puzzle that we’re asked to solve. Having a diverse and inclusive tax department allows us to bring many different ideas to the table and identify the solution that leads to the best result for the company.

Kristen Bauer Proschold: I also echo Tasheaya and Renee on this. Diversity is important, of course, but “inclusion” is also creating that environment such that those great ideas and those different backgrounds and points of view are heard and visible in a collaborative space. Having both of those elements when evaluating any sort of tax question, or business question, goes to what Tasheaya just said about the richness of the conversation and what Renee just said about getting to the best result for the company.

Increasing Diversity & Inclusion

Levin-Epstein: What are your companies doing to increase diversity and pave the way for inclusion?

Ellison: It’s my perspective that P&G has been very out in front of diversity, not just publicly with advertising campaigns and community programs but also internally by making sure that there are networks and other inclusion opportunities such as programming and awareness sessions related to gender, racial, LGBT+, and disability diversity, so that all staff members feel supported and welcome at P&G.

Gonzalez: At ExxonMobil, I feel as if some of the same things are true. I’ve been with the company for thirty-two years, so I’ve seen substantial growth in this area. Earlier in my career there was a real emphasis on diversity, but we have come to understand that diversity without inclusion will not lead to the success that we’re hoping for. We’ve had exponential growth in the employee resource groups, such as Asian Connection for Excellence, Black Employee Success Team, Global Organization for the Advancement of Latinos, PRIDE, Women’s Interest Network, and Veterans Advocacy and Support Team. These employee resource groups allow people to come together to voice their ideas and concerns, and to learn together. What I’ve been really excited about over the past couple of years is that there has been an incredible amount of interaction between those groups. We no longer have these groups operating on their own. We are making sure that the entire employee population can benefit from the programs and the mentoring opportunities that these groups provide. That’s inclusion—no longer is the Women’s Interest Network only available to women; we’re welcoming men into the discussion. I think that has really taken us to a higher level of engagement, and we’re seeing some really good results from the interaction among our employee resource groups.

Proschold: Silicon Valley has seen a spotlight focused on diversity and inclusion issues. The tech sector has grown quickly, with many new and young companies rapidly gaining visibility, and many have seen challenges with addressing inclusion and diversity in trying to obtain and retain talent. Intuitive has made positive strides in focusing more on diversity, and even more on inclusion. All companies should continue to be mindful in how to focus on the needs in this area, continue to move the conversation forward, and take intentional action to improve inclusion and diversity at all levels. What “inclusion” means, and how to create an inclusive space for diverse cultures and perspectives, has gained momentum in recent years, such that allies and other interested parties also can be part of the conversation.

Gonzalez: Just to add on to that, I know that at ExxonMobil we also are very focused on inclusion and diversity as we consider vendors and suppliers. For example, diversity is important when we consider the law firms that we are going to engage. Diversity and inclusion are not only important within the company’s walls. We want to make sure that those with whom we do business also see the benefits of having a diverse and inclusive work environment. The data is so clear that when you have a diverse and inclusive work environment, the performance is so much higher. Of course, why wouldn’t we want to work with companies that feel the same way that we do about that area?

Evaluating the Process

Levin-Epstein: How do you evaluate whether the process involving diversity and inclusion is working at your companies?

Ellison: For me, the way I assess progress is, as has already been said around this virtual table, the inclusiveness part of it, whether people with diverse backgrounds and perspectives are being sought out to provide their unique viewpoints. Do they feel welcome? Is it a safe space where everyone feels that their opinion can be heard and matters? For me, it’s really not just the number of people that you see in the environment of a particular gender, racial, or cultural background, but whether everyone is made to feel welcome and included.

Gonzalez: I work for a company that enjoys data and numbers, and we are always looking for metrics. But I also feel like the results are evident when you see the creative solutions that are being developed by our business teams. I participated in many meetings in which everyone has had the opportunity to share their expertise and ideas, and have been so impressed with the diverse views and the collaboration. The solutions are much better because each voice is heard and valued. I appreciate that, and it’s one of the many reasons that I have spent thirty-two years with this company. So, I assess our success by seeing the business results that are made possible because of the complex and successful solutions that we develop when we’re working together in an inclusive way.

Proschold: From my view, and of course both have echoed this already, assessing progress in inclusion and diversity can take many forms. First, one can view process through qualitative analysis—the metrics that Renee just mentioned. The data tells part of the story. We do know that in the tax space there is an increase of women and people of color coming into the industry, which is moving [in] a positive direction. The next step, in reviewing the metrics, is how to obtain representation and inclusion of underrepresented groups at all levels of the tax organization. The metrics tell us that we still need growth and improvement at the director and executive levels. On the qualitative side, a key issue for my colleagues and me is the tone from the top of the organization and management’s investments—both personal and, of course, business resources—in inclusion and diversity. Historically, in my experience, these initiatives tend to have gained footing from the lower levels of organizations and bubbled up, as seen by whether newer talent would join an organization when they looked up the chain and saw what opportunities may have existed for them. Now, we are seeing a lot more investment, both personal and professional, in these initiatives by executives and management flowing down through and shaping company culture from that level. That, again, shows that everyone values it and it’s not just a statement, but it’s “We’re living it. And we’re doing it.”

Seeking Top-Level Support

Levin-Epstein: How do you get the support of the CFO and the CEO in a real, meaningful way?

Ellison: I’ve been at P&G about six months, but I’ve been working in corporate settings for over thirteen-plus years. And very much to the point that was already stated, the tone is really set at the top of the organization, and then it tends to trickle down. But the way, I think, to make sure that it’s sustainable and that it stays at the forefront of leadership’s mind is by everyone (at all levels of the organization) taking personal accountability to foster an environment where diverse perspectives are welcome and supported. Also, you must bring your authentic self to the table. As we talked about, it’s the inclusive part—being seen, being heard, and not just on diversity and inclusion issues. It’s taking your seat at the table as someone with a different perspective and being willing to put yourself out there and share that perspective with others. Bringing your authentic self to the table and welcoming others to share their unique perspectives in an authentic way are the types of things that can trickle up to leadership and bring meaning to the messaging of inclusiveness that leadership seeks to promote throughout the organization.

Gonzalez: I would agree that you need to have the top of your organization living it and modeling what inclusive behavior looks like. As leaders we also need to hold the people who report to us accountable. We need to ensure that we have the programs and training in place to equip our leaders to foster an inclusive environment in which each person believes that he or she is valued and respected. When we all work together, share our expertise and express our ideas, we’re going to get to much, much better business solutions.

Proschold: I think broadly, on this question of how to motivate and drive change in this area, we have to take stock of where we are in the journey. In some cases, we have to start at the beginning with raising awareness. Even those with the best of intentions are unaware as to the opportunities that can be gained and improved upon by having a more inclusive working environment, and that there are additional opportunities within the organization to create a more inclusive culture. In some cases, it is having a direct, constructive conversation when the opportunity arises. This can be discussing the issue with management directly, raising consciousness in affinity or peer groups, or other avenues. Once there is awareness, there should be alignment on the importance of creating and maintaining an inclusive culture. Companies are focused on it; shareholders are focused on it. Governments are also focused on it—for example, California has mandated minimum representation by women on boards of directors of California companies. You see a convergence. More importantly, we need to bring action to creating or furthering that change. It’s bringing all of those things together and then saying, “OK, how do we create a more inclusive environment? What are the recommendations?” I don’t think any of us on the call here would ever go to a CEO or a CFO and just say “there’s a problem” without bringing a solution, right? Or at least bringing recommendations for solutions, right? [laughter]

Ellison: Exactly.

Gonzalez: That’s correct.

Proschold: Those recommendations, again, forward the discussion. Maybe we don’t solve for it all today, and we probably don’t, but we continue to move together in the right direction and continue to think through the issue and how we foster a much more inclusive and diverse environment.

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