Several months ago, we decided to honor some of today's outstanding women in tax. We asked Tax Notes readers and other Tax Analysts stakeholders to nominate women from the public and private sectors who have had a significant impact on tax practice and policy.
We expected dozens of nominations; we received more than 300.
We should have expected such a large response. There are many noteworthy women in the tax world. We're fortunate to be working closely with some of them, including Tax Notes contributing editor Lee A. Sheppard and Tax Analysts board members Pamela Olson and Deborah Schenck (all of whom were nominated multiple times but who were ineligible because of their affiliation with Tax Analysts).
Selecting only 10 out of such a distinguished list was a daunting task. So we assembled a committee of editors, reporters, and executives who reviewed and carefully examined each of the more than 300 nominees before coming to the difficult decision.
This year's honorees include government trailblazers, rising stars, and women who have been the distinguished standard-bearers in the tax field for years. Those being recognized include the leader of a key congressional tax committee, a distinguished jurist, an IRS official, scholars from around the world, and accomplished partners in major accounting and law firms.
Individually and collectively they influence tax administration and policy globally every day. They inspire, educate, and empower people in their areas of tax.
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Barbara Angus, House Ways and Means Committee
Taking a position as chief tax counsel on the Hill isn't a move someone at the peak of her career usually makes, but Angus's intellectual curiosity got the best of her. Having someone of Angus's caliber join the frustrating effort to reform the tax code is a major score. Her work is viewed as outstanding, she's up-to-speed on all the latest cross-border transactions, and she's seen as a formidable negotiator.
But Angus faces significant hurdles in trying to draft compromise proposals that will attract broad support. She knew what she was getting into after having served as business tax counsel for the Joint Committee on Taxation in the mid-1990s. Before returning to work for Congress, she was at two of the Big Four accounting firms, including spending 11 years heading up EY's international tax policy services group.
From 2001 to 2005 Angus served as Treasury international tax counsel where she spearheaded critical reports on inversions and earnings stripping and negotiated a number of key treaties that significantly reduced barriers to cross-border capital flows and strengthened the limitation on benefits provisions. After her time at Treasury, Angus established the lobbying firm Angus & Nickerson LLC (now the Washington Tax & Public Policy Group). She began her tax career as a partner with Kirkland & Ellis LLP in Chicago.
Rita de la Feria, University of Leeds
Rita de la Feria has been inspiring students to pursue careers in tax for almost a decade. She joined the Durham University Law School in October 2012 as chair in tax law and left at the end of 2015 to establish a tax program at the University of Leeds, where she is chair in tax law. She has also been an international research fellow at the Oxford University Centre for Business Taxation since 2012, and has been visiting professor at the University of Lisbon since 2010.
De la Feria is profoundly influencing the shape of international taxation through work that is often multidisciplinary, incorporating economics and social policy. Her work on VAT issues and the principle of prohibition of abuse of law is regularly cited by European courts. But it is the international network she has developed through teaching, speaking, and writing that has enabled her to influence the work of legislators, tax administrators, and judiciaries all over the world.
Diane Hay, PwC
As special adviser on international tax issues at PwC, Diane Hay brings a wealth of experience to the table. She joined PwC in 2009 after spending more than 30 years working with Inland Revenue/HM Revenue & Customs, largely in international tax, and eventually heading its transfer pricing program. Hay has been involved with the OECD for over 20 years, serving as the first president of the working group that eventually produced the 1995 transfer pricing guidelines.
Hay has always been willing to accept varied challenges, moving between the public and private sectors, taking on different roles, and examining different areas of tax. In her current role, she provides assistance to PwC's tax transfer pricing and international structuring teams as they navigate the dispute resolution process.
Helen Hecht, Multistate Tax Commission
Helen Hecht, general counsel for the Multistate Tax Commission, has held a variety of state and local tax positions, using her qualifications as both a CPA and an attorney to make an impact. Although she has worked in state government, firms, and associations, Hecht describes her current position as the highlight of her career.
Although Hecht believes that women have been relatively well represented during her career, the recent discovery of photos from the early days of the MTC in which not a single woman was represented left her "shocked that was ever the case."
Hecht has been described as a no-nonsense professional who has "seen it all, done it all, and is unflappable." She is a true role model for other women in tax.
Hon. L. Paige Marvel, U.S. Tax Court
Described as a natural leader, U.S. Tax Court Judge L. Paige Marvel was a foremost member of the tax defense bar when she was appointed by President Clinton in 1998 to serve as a Tax Court judge. In December 2014 she was reappointed by President Obama to serve a second, 15-year term, and in February of this year she was elected to serve a two-year term as chief judge beginning in June.
Before her time on the bench, Marvel was an accomplished partner at Venable, Baetjer & Howard LLP (and before that was a shareholder in the tax firm Garbis, Marvel & Junghans PA) and was on track to possibly become the first female chair of the American Bar Association Section of Taxation. She has devoted extensive time throughout her career to efforts designed to improve the profession and tax system more broadly, including serving as a fellow and regent of the American College of Tax Counsel.
Marvel has written hundreds of opinions over her career, including the unanimous reviewed opinion in Altera Corp. v. Commissioner, 145 T.C. No. 3 (2015), which has the potential to change how Treasury regulations are reviewed and promulgated. She's the ideal tax arbiter: a sharp technician with real-world tax controversy experience whose considered opinions are both respectful of views vastly different from her own and framed with a strong sense of right and wrong.
Nina Olson, Internal Revenue Service
National Taxpayer Advocate Nina Olson has been the voice of the average taxpayer within the IRS for over 15 years, a job that she's tackled with an earnestness and dedication that's won her support from many policymakers and practitioners. While the IRS might wish she were a bit less powerful, those outside the agency see her as a model ombudsperson with enough authority and independence to make a real difference.
Olson's commitment to the public grew out of the decades she spent representing taxpayers while leading her own tax planning and return preparation firm and heading up the first independent low-income taxpayer clinic, which she founded in 1992. Her efforts to establish and protect the rights of taxpayers are widely viewed as essential to improving voluntary compliance, an overriding objective of tax administration.
Among her major accomplishments are persuading the IRS to adopt a Taxpayer Bill of Rights in 2014. In her 2015 report to Congress, Olson made what may turn out to be one of her most important contributions to tax administration yet: blowing a whistle on the IRS's future state plans, which she believes may create a pay-to-play tax system, abandoning the most vulnerable taxpayers and leaving them to fend for themselves. Her censure of the IRS's vision may be the kind of strong medicine the agency needs in order to take steps to regain the trust of the American public.
Carley Roberts, Sutherland Asbill & Brennan LLP
Carley Roberts, a partner with Sutherland Asbill & Brennan, has made significant contributions to the California and national state tax communities for the past 17 years. Roberts is described by one colleague as having "the ability to connect with the client" while maintaining a collaborative relationship with opposing counsel. When reflecting on the highlights of her career, Roberts says she is proudest of being a leader in reinvigorating the California Tax Policy Conference in 2007 after a five-year hiatus.
She is inspired by what a fellow practitioner told her early in her career: "Women don't sponsor each other enough." Roberts has tried to remedy that by recognizing other female colleagues who are doing good work. "It's been a very solid approach," she says.
Marlies de Ruiter, Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development
Over the course of her distinguished career, Marlies de Ruiter has had a profound impact on the development of international tax law and policy. In her 15 years at the Dutch Ministry of Finance, she worked in the fields of direct taxation and international tax, first as an expert and then as the deputy director of the OECD's International Tax Policy and Legislation Directorate.
On February 1, 2012, de Ruiter was appointed head of the Tax Treaty, Transfer Pricing and Financial Transactions Division of the OECD Centre for Tax Policy and Administration. She recently announced that she would step down in May and return to the Netherlands. But she leaves behind an impressive four years, leading her division through, among other things, completion of major parts of the OECD's base erosion and profit shifting project.
In her years of tax experience, de Ruiter noted that while there are plenty of good women in tax out there, and the gender mix is getting better, there's still some room for improvement. "What I found very encouraging is the younger women we're getting at the OECD, early-career and mid-career women. The next generation is going to see a lot more women getting to leadership positions, which will be very good."
De Ruiter said that very impressive tax women from emerging countries have been active in the Bureau Plus, which is the Committee on Fiscal Affairs' steering committee, "so that's also good," she said. "It gives another dynamic, and that's very positive."
Karen Gilbreath Sowell, EY
Karen Gilbreath Sowell, co-director of mergers and acquisitions at EY, rose in the world of tax M&As the old-fashioned way -- with a lot of hard work. While her entire private sector career has been spent climbing the ladder at EY, she's served two stints at Treasury, where most recently she was deputy assistant secretary for tax policy from 2007 to 2009. From 1997 to 2001, she was attorney-adviser and later associate tax legislative counsel in the Treasury Office of Tax Legislative Counsel.
Having held many of the highest positions in tax, Sowell is a sought-after speaker at federal tax conferences. Her skilled, charismatic style facilitates a substantive discussion of the issues in a way that's at once ingratiating and hard-hitting.
As leader of one of the largest tax groups in EY's national office, Sowell's strategic decisions in knowledge sharing and demographic planning have cemented the group's future success. She's in line to become the first member of a Big Four accounting firm to chair the New York State Bar Association Tax Section, and she has spent countless hours writing and commenting on dozens of technical bar reports.
Marilyn Wethekam, Horwood Marcus & Beck Chtd.
Maryilyn Wethekam, a partner with Horwood Marcus & Berk Chtd. and co-chair of the firm's multistate state and local tax practice, has been a pioneer for women in tax. The first female chair of the Council On State Taxation, Wethekam cites that opportunity, as well as the expertise she has achieved in the area of oil and gas taxation, as her proudest professional achievements.
A 30-year-plus veteran in state and local tax practice, Wethekam notes that although she has found SALT "a pretty level playing field" between men and women, she is grateful for mentors who saw the desirability of promoting women at a time when there were few female full-time practitioners.
She is highly regarded as a supporter of honest dealings between taxpayers and tax administrators and an advocate for fair and independent tax tribunals.
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