Diversity and Inclusion in the Tax Space: A panel offers compelling perspectives on this important issue.

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There's no doubt that diversion and inclusion are major topics of discussion in the tax industry. Although the industry has shown some significant progress, the work is far from complete. We convened a panel of tax practitioners and diversity and inclusion experts to discuss this issue, including Cassandra Calvert, senior manager, global tax planning/mergers and acquisitions at Fortive; Wayne Hamilton, senior director, global tax controversy, at Walmart; Yvonne Metcalfe, partner, Ernst & Young LLP, and member of EY's Americas Inclusiveness Advisory Council; Don Rath, vice president, corporate tax, Synopsys Inc.; and Jacqueline Welch, senior vice president of human resources, diversity and inclusion, and chief diversity officer at Freddie Mac. Michael Levin-Epstein, Tax Executive's senior editor, moderated the discussion.

Michael Levin-Epstein: How do you think the tax community is doing on the issue of diversity and inclusion?

Jacqueline Welch: I'll start, only because I'll have the least to say, not actually being in the industry. I do have an observation that, to the extent you can extrapolate, when I look at the diversity representation of our tax team internal to Freddie Mac, its not as diverse as I would like, even though our tax team has made some good strides in bringing in diverse talent over the last few years. This leads me to the assumption that perhaps the industry isn't as diverse as it could be, just assuming the logical feeder pool relationship.

Don Rath: I'll chime in. I think, first of all, the diversity and inclusiveness of the tax profession is definitely a work in process and evolving. I think there is growing recognition that, similar to other professions, diversity and inclusion adds a lot of value to organizations, because it ultimately results in diversity of thought. That improves decisions and outcomes. But I think as a profession we really need to be candid with ourselves. As an example, in TEI, women are underrepresented in leadership roles, even though they are well represented in membership. In the profession as a whole, there is what I view as a startling absence of black and brown people in professional services and industry. I think that as a profession and in our organizations, we continue to limit the contributions of LGBT individuals because we are often not motivated to bring our authentic selves into the workplace. So, we have many challenges ahead of us in order to improve diversity and inclusiveness within the profession.

Yvonne Metcalfe: My perspective is from the standpoint of a Big Four professional services firm. Our demographics are different from the corporate environment, because tax is one of our four service lines, meaning that we have a significant number of tax professionals spread across multiple locations in the Americas and globally. When I look at how that translates, through our diversity and inclusiveness (D&I) programs and culture, into the success of women and underrepresented minorities at EY, I am proud of how far we have come. For example, in 2017 women represented thirty percent of our newly promoted Americas partners, principals, and executive directors. Our outgoing Americas vice chair of tax is female, and her successor is also a woman. That's not to say that we cannot continue to raise the bar, but our focus in recent years has shifted towards inclusion of our diverse population in the workplace and expands beyond gender.

Wayne Hamilton: I would say there is a heightened recognition in the tax profession--companies, accounting firms, law firms, etc.--that there is a visible absence of diversity at all levels throughout the enterprise. The question for me is whether the profession has acknowledged that the absence of diversity is an issue. Until there is acknowledgment that the absence of diversity is a concern, any efforts to solve it won't be sufficient or effective.

Cassandra Calvert: I certainly think there is room for improvement here. I do believe that there is a lack of awareness about the importance of diversity, and the benefits to an organization if they proactively prioritize cultivating a diverse workforce. Looking at hiring practices is an important first step; however, if people don't feel like they have a voice or are valued, and aren't given an equitable chance to advance within an organization, you're not going to fully realize the benefits of diversity. I think there has been improvement in the first step (hiring diversity), but work needs to be done to encourage diversity in leadership roles.

Levin-Epstein: Please talk about your organizations and their initiatives in diversity and inclusion.

Welch: Freddie Mac was chartered by Congress in 1970 to--at its roots--make renting and buying a home more accessible and affordable to a wider, broader swath of the domestic population. The decade prior to Freddie Mac's creation was tumultuous, and coming out of the sixties, the federal government realized that in order to create an economically level playing field, they needed to focus on making housing more broadly accessible. It's important to provide that quick overview of history, because it speaks to the fact that, at its core, Freddie Mac to an extent is built on the idea of diversity. Jump to 2018, and the natural question is, "Are the people who are running the enterprise reflective of the diversity we're saying we're trying to drive in society at large, with home ownership as a proxy to that?" At Freddie Mac, we talk about diversity in three discrete but related buckets. First, there is workforce diversity--driven primarily by our employee resource groups (ERGs). Like many other employee resource groups, our nine ERGs are designed to create an affinity through which employees can positively impact the quality of their work life and have a meaningful impact on the business. Next is supplier diversity, another top priority for the company. In fact, last year Freddie Mac spent a...

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