Diversity management provided Karyn Twaronite a unique opportunity managing people that she couldn't pass up. She had a choice: take on a major revenue-generating role at Ernst & Young or become the firm's next Americas inclusiveness officer, the term it uses for its chief diversity officer.
Starting in Diversity Management
What made her take the position in diversity management? The realization that her influence in this job on the firm's sustainable business results would be greater than in virtually any other position. She calls it a "unique opportunity to have the whole organization committed to something I am so passionate about."
She took over as Americas inclusiveness officer in October last year, succeeding Billie Williamson, who has retired. Williamson recently spoke at a DiversityInc event on the importance of CEO commitment in diversity management, as seen in the video below. Both women have been client-serving partners in the firm, No. 6 on The 2012 DiversityInc Top 50 Companies for Diversity list.
Twaronite has worked for Ernst & Young for 22 years—the first 10 as a line executive, servicing clients in the media and financial-services industries. In the last decade, she's had major roles in HR, tying in the recruitment, retention and development of talent to her knowledge of how the firm connects with its clients to make money.
"My experience in a client-serving role was very valuable in HR," she says, noting that she evaluated and helped talent that could drive revenue by understanding clients better.
She made partner while in the HR role. "In our environment, that is a very big deal," she says. Before taking over the diversity-management role, she was the HR lead for the Northeast and the U.S./Canada field practices.
The Early Influences
She knew she wanted to become a businesswoman from an early age, inspired by her dual-career family that moved as her father took on positions as national sales manager for IBM, Xerox and SHARP Electronics. She lived in Connecticut, Florida and New Jersey before heading off to Miami University in Ohio for her undergraduate degree.
Her mother, a teacher who also owned an art gallery and framing business, was also a role model for her. "I knew that I wanted to be a professional woman and go into business," she says. "When I was at college, I had to declare a major, so I talked to my father. Miami of Ohio was rated high for accounting, so Dad's recommendation was to learn accounting because it would give me so many business options. It was very sound advice."
She started her career with Ernst & Young as a tax professional. Twaronite attended Fordham University at night, obtaining a master's degree in taxation and becoming a CPA in New York state. After moving into HR, she received strategic human-resources certifications from Cornell University and the Harvard Business School.
She recognized the intersection of diversity management and business early on. While working in the firm's client-service side, she cofounded the New York and Tri-State Professional Women's Networks in 1998 and has co-chaired them since that time. Twaronite also helped establish other employee groups, including groups for people with disabilities, veterans, working parents, LGBT people and Black, Latino and Asian professionals.
The Power of Diversity Management
In her new role in diversity management, she is a member of the firm's Americas Operations Group and serves on E&Y's Americas People Executive Council. She already has specific ideas on how to take Ernst & Young, a recognized diversity leader, to the next level through diversity management.
"I want to broaden the definition of inclusion," she says. "It's not just gender and ethnicity; it's differences in culture, style, technical knowledge, age, home countries, etc. All of our teams need to value these differences for what they bring to the table. If individuals can be themselves at work, they can provide the best possible cross-cultural and global services to our clients, which will lead to more business."
Ernst & Young will be recognized for its excellence in diversity management at the 2012 DiversityInc Special Award for Global Cultural Competence at our Oct. 11-12 event. Visit DiversityInc.com/events for more information and to register.
Twaronite believes strongly in helping her community through diversity management. As a long-time New York City resident, she's proud of her involvement as a member of the board of directors of the United Way of New York City and co-chair of the Corporate Advisory Council for The White House Project to advance women's leadership.
She also mentors younger people, including women, coming up in the organization. "Mentors provided me with constructive feedback, even if it was feedback that I didn't really want to hear," she says. "I asked for it on a regular basis. I tell people that if you open yourself up for feedback, you're going to get it. Have a stiff upper lip and a thick skin."
What's the best lesson she learned?
"Senior women taught me how important it is to build networks and really expand yourself outside of your comfort zone," Twaronite says. "I encourage as many people to do that as young as they can. Relationships are powerful and you can use them as currency in your career."