Addressing Gender Issues Through the Management of Tax Talent

Matthew Sorola, Dionysios Karavidas, Martin Laheen


Like most areas of financial services, the tax field has traditionally had a predominantly masculinist outlook. In lieu of increased female participation within the field and a rapidly changing operational landscape, these gendered hierarchies persist. At the same time, gender diversity has come to be celebrated as an expression of equality within organisations, and has gained widespread acceptance as part of a larger effort to manage “talent” across the tax field. In this paper, we problematise the fundamental underpinnings of these efforts and question their ability to challenge the pervasive and deeply entrenched gendered hierarchies within the tax field. Using practitioner literature focussed on providing guidance to new and existing tax experts, we begin by describing the changing tax field. Here, we highlight the roles that globalisation and digitisation play in the push to manage tax talent, emphasising the way in which issues of gender are assimilated into and, ultimately, constrained by this narrative. Next, we review prior literature for insights into the fundamental inability of such an approach to meaningfully challenge gendered hierarchies. Drawing insights from these critiques, we discuss the conceptual limits of a language of production and focus on clients’ needs, as well as the complexities that are overlooked or ignored by the over-simplicity of a business case rationale. In short, we argue that the prevailing approach to manage tax talent is fundamentally incapable of addressing gender issues in the tax field and warn against prevailing attempts that claim otherwise. Central to our argument are the conceptual constraints imposed by a focus on clients’ needs. Here, to help to illustrate the impact of these constraints, we also present preliminary empirical data from an international questionnaire on tax experts’ priorities in their day-to-day work. While our findings identify a range of differences that align with prior literature on decision-making, they also illustrate a homogenisation of gender differences when servicing both clients’ and organisational needs. To conclude, we discuss how these findings illustrate the conceptual grip of clients’ needs over tax experts’ own priorities, recall the centrality of those needs within the prevailing approach to addressing gender issues via the management of tax talent, and articulate the continued need to challenge gendered hierarchies in the tax field.

Keywords: Tax Experts, Gender, Talent Management, Diversity Management, Business Case, Clients’ Needs.

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