EY’s Karyn Twaronite: ‘Differences Make All the Difference’

January 25, 2016 4:56 pm

By Sheryl Estrada

Karyn Twaronite

Karyn Twaronite

“My current role with global diversity and inclusiveness is really the ultimate intersection of my experiences and passions over the years,” said EY’s Global Diversity & Inclusiveness Officer Karyn Twaronite.

A partner at Ernst & Young LLP, Twaronite has worked at EY (No. 4 on the 2017 DiversityInc Top 50 Companies for Diversity) for more than 20 years. And, for the past year, she has been traveling the globe to enhance the company’s inclusive culture and maximize the diversity of its professionals.

“I do listening sessions around the world,” Twaronite said. “Recently I’ve been to India, Japan, Mexico, also cities including Milan, London, Buenos Aires, Sao Paulo. And many cities in the U.S. such as Milwaukee, San Antonio, San Jose and others.”

Twaronite has served as Americas Inclusiveness Officer at EY since 2011, touring many of the company’s offices in the U.S. and South America and speaking with thousands of employees about their experiences with diversity.

She is a member of the U.S. Executive Committee and sits on the Global Practice Group, the Americas Operating Executive Sub-Committee and the Global and Americas Talent Executives. She also chairs the Inclusiveness Advisory Council.

However, when Twaronite began her career as a tax professional at EY, she didn’t know her talents and abilities would extend into human resources and, ultimately, diversity and inclusiveness.

Professional Journey to D&I

“For the first half of my career at EY, I was a tax professional. I am a CPA and I serviced clients full time,” said Twaronite, who earned a bachelor’s degree in accounting from Miami University. “Then one of our managing partners at the time asked me to do a rotation for him in talent organization. At first I was thinking, ‘What is a tax person going to be able to offer to talent? Would I be able to really add value in that space as I had in the accounting world?’

“But I really was able to pivot and it not only opened doors for me, but it also was helpful to the organization to be able to take client service skills and experience and apply that to building programs to further enhance talent in that space.”

The firm then requested Twaronite make a career in talent at EY. To provide the same level of acumen to human resources that she had applied to the tax world, she continued her education and earned a master’s degree in taxation from Fordham University and a certificate in Strategic Human Resource Management from Harvard Business School.

Over time, Twaronite became the northeast regional human resource leader for EY, eventually leading human resources for the U.S. and Canadian practices.

“Because diversity and inclusiveness was a key piece of my talent platform over the many years,” explained Twaronite, “I was involved in launching a professional women’s network, and I was actually the co-chair of the network from 2000 through 2011.

“I also helped to sponsor many of our professional networks, including our Unity Network [the firm’s lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and ally network]; Black Professional Network; Pan Asian Professional Network; Veterans Network; and Latino Professional Network, which I am very proud of. Eventually our CEO came knocking on my door to see if I wanted to lead diversity and inclusiveness.”

Twaronite said although she had a passion for diversity and inclusiveness and was pleased about being approached for the position, she had to decide whether the career direction would be right for her — and for the firm. Along with consulting with professional sponsors, Twaronite also sought advice from the people who have known her longest: her parents.

“I was at a fork in the road of whether I was going to do this or something else also very exciting for EY,” she said. “I called my parents. They are retired business people.”

When she called them, they were driving in their car on vacation in the Niagara Falls area, so they put her on speakerphone, she said.

“It was kind of a modern topic and progressive topic, and I didn’t know what type of reaction people who are retired might have,” Twaronite explained.

But her dad told her to go for it.

“My father said, ‘Wow, how often do personal and professional passions that you have align with a company’s business goals and business objectives. So the ability to marry those two up is so unique. Are you leaning toward that? Because I think you should absolutely go for it.’

“And, he’s been absolutely right. It has been a fantastic opportunity.”

She mentioned that throughout her career journey, sponsorship was a critical factor. “And not just in positivity, meaning in advancement,” she said, “but it’s also benefitted me greatly in people sponsoring me enough to give me constructive criticism, redirection, telling me what I’m good at, what I’m less good at and helping me to focus on strengths and opportunities.”

Twaronite said she worked hard to be considered for sponsorship; it wasn’t handed to her. She said that women tend to be over mentored and under sponsored, but equitable sponsorship is something EY encourages.

“[At EY] we wanted to make it clear that we expected all of our leaders to sponsor people who look like them, and people that don’t look like them,” Twaronite said. “We’re also very explicit about what we want people to do to earn sponsorship, to be good protégés so that people want to advocate for them, give them the criticism and positive feed back and then also help them advance.”

EY’s Vision and Global Trends

Diversity and inclusiveness is a key component of EY’s Vision 2020 plan.

“I’m thrilled to be leading that effort,” Twaronite said. “For us, the business value of D&I has been proven in the organization. It generates more revenue, and valuing D&I retains high performers.

“One problem that organizations tend to have with D&I is that it’s off to the side or only embedded in one to two key processes. As part of our Vision 2020 program, [D&I] will be embedded in all key processes, talent and market and client assignments, quality service and operations — all decision-making components. And one way that we did this is by creating a road map for success called the D&I Culture Change Continuum, which all of our partners around the world and our leaders are asked to follow.”

The four stages of EY’s cultural continuum include valuing differences and cascading awareness, identifying meaningful changes in things that actually work, recognizing and rewarding inclusive teammates and role models that make progress and enabling cultural change within the work environment.

“Differences make all the difference,” said Twaronite. “If we can create a work environment where people feel they can be accepted for who they are, we know it will ultimately lead to better results for our clients, and better experiences for our people.”

In her travels, she has learned what’s important to EY employees, as well as hot topics and global trends that are shifting the work environment.

“A very hot issue in the United States tends to be ethnic minorities and dealing with matters around race, but we see it in other countries as well; gender equality and women in leadership; parental leave, particularly in the U.S., but we’re also seeing it across all markets around the world; and a global generational shift and need for flexibility, something you see in every country,” she said.

Flexibility and Millennials

Twaronite noted people typically tend to think the need to for flexibility at work is primarily a U.S. or U.K. phenomenon, but it’s actually a global phenomenon.

“I’ve seen that myself based on listening sessions,” she said. “We did do a survey this past year, which validated the fact that flexibility is the new norm across many countries around the world and the need for that in order to sustain business.”

“We found that flexibility is important to all generations, more so millennials. Three of the six reasons millennials say why they would quit their job is based on flexibility issues. They’re either working too many hours or they don’t have a manager or team that allows them to flex.”

The ability to flex time is pretty significant for 20-somethings as it’s right up there with pay and advancement. Twaronite also said that in addition to millennials moving into management positions, they are one-and-a-half times more likely than baby boomers to be a part of dual career partnerships and families.

“Seventy-eight percent of the millennials in our survey are part of dual career,” said Twaronite. “That’s a big shift and a big stress on the system. And if you work for a baby boomer, or a boomer organization that has boomer-type policies, you can easily see where there would be a potential empathy gap.

“And when we’re talking about dual career, we’re not talking about one person working part time and one person working full time. We’re talking about two people working full time. That’s a dynamic shift when almost 80 percent of your work place has that need; companies really need to stay on top of these things. And what does that mean? Does that mean that people need to work less?”

Twaronite said they discovered at EY most of the flexibility needs involve employees wanting to have a little predictability and control at times; for example, the need to be able to commute slightly differently.

“Something like a 15-30 minute change is all that a team member or colleague might need,” she said. “Now that’s relatively inexpensive fix, right? But that’s huge to a family to be able to accommodate that.

“The other reason why this is really important as a global trend is that many companies that are multinational; whether they’re U.S. headquartered or in the U.K., many national companies are working hard like us to operate seamlessly, globally.”

In regards to performing in a global environment, employees and managers, millennials included, are being asked to work across multiple time zones, manage teams that work across multiple time zones and handle customer matters at all hours of the day. Twaronite said that although that might sound like a burden, it’s also very exciting. However, there has to be some give back from a company to make that sustainable.

“So, that might mean you take off at 3 o’clock to go to a child’s game,” Twaronite explained. “Or you want to attend a yoga class at 5 o’clock. This is something that might have been unheard of 10 years ago. But now it’s a way to sustain holistic wellness in order to sustain work in a global environment.”

Balancing Work and Home Life

Twaronite said that EY is a life-enhancing place where employees can be their authentic selves, and it’s actually encouraged.

“One of the most important engagement questions that we ask all of our 215,000 people every year, and we measure our leaders upon, is, ‘Do I feel free to be myself at work everyday?’” she said. “That’s a very important question for diversity and inclusiveness and for authenticity and transparency.

“I’ve worked here a long time. I’ve worked here through making partner and having children. I have a full-time working spouse in financial services as well, and we have a busy life.”

Twaronite said work-life balance for her included picking the right partner and having parents willing to lend a hand.

“My husband and I have both been very fortunate in both fronts,” she said. “We have parents who help us with our family and with our work obligations.”

Twaronite also said basic things she and her husband do that enable them to make personal and professional choices include staying organized, relying on technology, being responsive and managing expectations.

“We divvy up responsibilities,” she said, “whether it be attending a basketball game, helping with studying or making dinner, as well as really fun things we choose to do.”

Twaronite also said that, because of EY’s encouragement of authenticity and transparency, in a sense “EY has always been a part of my family, and my family has always been a part of EY.”

She explained, “When my son was a baby, he used to travel with me and my work colleagues at times, so they got to know each other. My home life was very transparent. And I was still was able to accomplish a significant amount. Many of my work colleagues are my closest friends. [Many colleagues visit] my home and have been for many years, including bosses and team members. That’s also been very important in my son’s comfort level.

“There’s something very appealing to a child to also have seen the transparency and authenticity to know that EY is a part of my life and that my EY colleagues and teammates are also my friends,” she said. “That transparency has helped a lot.”