EY Global D&I Chief: Push for Advancement

June 30, 2015 12:24 pm
Karyn Twaronite, EY


The year Karyn Twaronite, EY’s Global Diversity & Inclusiveness Officer and a Partner, made partner wasn’t easy.

“I invested so much in the goal, personally and professionally,” she recalled. “I was working harder than ever as part of a dual-career family with a toddler at home. My husband was also working around the clock, to follow his own dreams, as well as to support mine.”

When she walked into her sponsor’s office to learn if she would make partner, the news was disappointing.

“I was told they potentially wanted for me to wait another year,” she said. Instead of retreating, however, she decided not to take no for an answer.

“I confidently explained why my contributions to the firm earned me my partnership now, not down the road. My sponsor respected my approach, gathered further factual information to build the business case and used his capital to go to bat for me,” she said, adding that, “I made partner that year.”

It’s an approach Twaronite, a self-described outside to EU when she came on board more than 20 years ago, that’s served her well.

Here’s a Q&A with the executive:

Were you identified as a high potential early in your career and, if so, how did that change your career trajectory?

When I started at EY more than 20 years ago, I felt very much like an outsider. This might sound surprising coming from someone in my type of role, but my colleagues all had a head start with advanced degrees and great internships. This motivated me to work even harder from the outset, and my skills quickly earned me sponsorship from the senior managers who hired me.  Their support helped me learn the proverbial ropes, gain access to great accounts and receive key guidance along the way. Many of them remain good friends.    As to high potential, ultimately I was listed as such, but it did take me a few years as a consistently high performing professional to be considered.

Were there female role models and mentors available to you early in your career?

Absolutely, even 25 years ago there were female and male role models that made a huge impact on me and shaped what I wanted to become as a senior professional. Being at EY enabled me to develop close relationships with some of the most inspirational, trailblazing female executives in our industry. Together, the women of EY are a mosaic of success stories and serve as role models to me and the broader EY community (men and women). Today, I am deeply inspired by our next generation of women leaders. The talent they bring to the marketplace is astounding, and I am energized as I watch their careers soar.

Tell us about the two most effective mentors you had (male or female) and what they taught you.

I was very fortunate and I have had a few amazing brilliant and challenging male and female sponsors and advocates over the years.  They gave me positive feedback and constructive criticism, even when I may not have wanted it.  The best thing that they taught me was to build on my work experiences and knowledge, so that I could perform, building my portfolio, business acumen and ultimately my confidence.  Outside of work, I frequently discuss the importance of an “A” Team – surrounding yourself with people who give you strength, who rally around you during the tough times and make you feel like you can accomplish anything. My parents have always been on my “A” team and when I reflect back on various crossroads in my career, there always seems to be that “call home” to mom and dad. Back when I started at EY, my mother counseled me to approach all of the new people I would meet with an open mind. That advice resonates with me today – it is the reason I am surrounded by a highly-talented group of people who bring diverse perspectives to all of our work.

How have you balanced personal responsibilities with your career needs?

Some advice that stuck with me came from an EY role model long ago, “You’re working so that you can have a life. Work is not supposed to be your life.” That same mentor gave me an invaluable suggestion to help manage life as an ambitious working mom.  Instead of taking a few long vacations throughout the year, I opted to take Fridays off on a regular basis. Not only did this help me get through some long nights during the week, but it gave me the chance to participate in school activities. Some mothers even planned events on Fridays so that I could join them. It helped me feel engaged in both areas of my life, which is sometimes challenging.

What lessons and advice do you have for young women just starting out?

Our recent Global Generations survey found that women and parents said that managing work-life was more difficult than men and non-parents. When starting your career, seek employers that are modern in their thinking. Invest in a workplace that is progressive and nimble enough to adapt to the rapidly changing dynamics of a global marketplace. Once you’re there, reward their progressive thinking with excellence on the job. Commit to continuous improvement and frequently seek feedback. Perform consistently well, inspire trust and continue to earn new and bigger opportunities.

What keeps you up at night?

As EY’s Global Diversity & Inclusiveness Officer, my job is to make sure that differences matter. We want to harness the power of diversity to build a better world for ourselves, our clients and the broader marketplace. Doing this on a global scale means significant culture change. I often think about how much progress we have made, and how much work we have ahead of us.

On a lighter note, what do you do for fun?

A long, long, long time ago I was a national competitive swimmer-freestyle sprinter. Today, I am more likely to take leisurely bike rides with my family, or go for a run in the park. Taking time to recharge your batteries is very important. My family and I love to take adventurous vacations that help us unwind while learning about other cultures and seeing exciting parts of the world.