All About Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion.

In this Ask the Experts column, we're taking a slightly different approach. Instead of asking our experts to answer one question, we posed several questions on the crucial topic of diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI). We covered this subject at our Annual Conference in October, and we wanted to continue the discussion with two participants in that session: Katrina Welch, North American director of tax for Gordon Food Service, and Wayne Hamilton, vice president of tax at Walmart Inc. Michael Epstein-Levin, Tax Executives senior editor, moderated the discussion in late October 2021.

Michael Levin-Epstein: What are the key issues and problems that you think should be addressed and hopefully solved when it comes to DEI?

Katrina Welch: I think "DEI" is a popular buzzword of the moment, but there's a lot of meaning behind that. Business studies have shown, and I've experienced personally, as I'm sure others have, that having a diverse team, an environment made up of diverse individuals, does provide for greater diversity of thought, greater and richer discussion, more creative ideas, and really just a more interesting and enjoyable workplace. So, how do you achieve that diversity of thought and different perspectives? I think often it's people that have different backgrounds and different experiences, whether it's that they're different genders, they have different racial backgrounds, different ethnic backgrounds. And I feel like that's still lacking a lot in the tax profession, including in the in-house tax profession. When we feel like we make strides, it's difficult to attract the key candidates that we want to attract, and it's difficult to retain them.

Wayne Hamilton: I would add to Katrina's answer, Michael, that as tax professionals, we are looking for tax solutions for complex business problems. And to solve these problems, we need to have diverse teams, which we could describe as a broad representation of people, which would include ethnicity and gender. As Katrina pointed out, diverse teams tend to end up with better solutions to problems that we have to solve. The industry has recognized that there is a lack of representation of certain groups--gender and ethnicity being the two primary areas. Over the years, the industry has been searching for ways to change that representation. Said differently, the tax industry has said, "We need to fix this problem," and, as a recent study by Bloomberg indicated, the problem still persists except for a slight increase in the number of women in the industry.

Levin-Epstein: What are your suggestions to corporate tax professionals at TEI to bring about this kind of diverse team?

Hamilton: The changes we need cannot be fixed long-term with putting in place a "policy." To solve the issue of representation, we have to, one, accept that lack of representation is something we need to change and, two, be deliberate about the plans we put in place to address the lack of representation, as this problem is not going to solve itself by us doing nothing. Said differently, we have to decide what is it that we're going to do and what are...

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