Gender and tax transformation

As Global Tax Transformation Leader at KPMG International and Partner and National Service Line Leader of Tax Transformation at KPMG in Canada, Susie Cooke is a trailblazer for women looking to embark on a career in tax technology. In her role, Susie is focused on bringing globally integrated connected thinking and resources to tax transformation opportunities around the world.

KPMG recently sat down with Susie to hear more on how she’s moving the dial towards gender equality within tax technology and leading by example for both her teams and clients, as well as contributing to a more sustainable future for all.

It’s great to see a woman take on the role of Global Tax Transformation leader at the firm. Can you tell us about how you got to where you are today in your career?

A short answer to this would be grit, agility and with the support of those around me, including some great role models.

A longer answer would be that my career path has had a few different twists and turns over the years. Starting my career at Deloitte in the UK, I worked in core corporate tax doing traditional provisions, tax returns and advisory. In 2008, I had the opportunity to move to Canada – initially for three years, but 14 years later I am still here. Prior to this, I had no experience in Canadian Tax, so although there was a steep learning curve, I was able to put my strengths in IFRS and processes to work in helping organizations transition from old Canadian GAAP to IFRS through process and technology work.

Susie Cooke Citizenship

Susie Cook receives Canadian citizenship

My interest in technology and tax transformation grew from this point and I started working more and more in the technology space while staying within Deloitte’s Tax practice. In 2017, I decided to take a one-year sabbatical to support my mental health. When I returned to work in 2018, I rejoined the tax transformation team and in 2020, I was given the opportunity to spend some time as part of the Management Consulting practice, looking for opportunities for tax within large transformation projects. This was a very different perspective, which enabled me to learn a lot.

I joined KPMG in 2021 (joining a new firm in the middle of the COVID-19 pandemic was definitely an interesting experience) and took on learning about a new team, bringing my different perspectives and experiences to the table. I constantly strive to bring my authentic self and ideas to each discussion and that, combined with grit and perseverance has, I believe, in some part led to my success since joining KPMG.

I am proud to say that the team I now lead in Canada is more than 75% women, which is great and goes to show that we are heading in the right direction

Susie Cooke

With the technology space historically being male dominated, what are some of the most drastic changes you’ve seen since you started out in tech, specifically related to gender?

In any industry, the shift from being male-dominated to having strong female representation takes time — in some aspect, the tech industry is still a new and growing industry. Looking back at when I started my post-secondary education, social media and smart phones did not exist.

As with a lot of things, those first few technology creations were developed by men, resulting in men being seen as the role models and the face of technology. In general, when women look at male role models, they don’t see themselves and in order to follow in the footsteps of a role model, you need to be able to connect with that person and see yourself in their shoes.

Today, I see that shift happening, with more and more women leading in technology and a dramatic increase in women joining the industry. 

Thankfully, this means an exponential increase in the number of women role models available to look up to. When I started out in the technology space, the teams I worked with, both internal and external, were mostly the same male-dominated teams. I’m proud to say that the team I now lead at KPMG in Canada is more than 75% women, which is great and goes to show that we are heading in the right direction.

Gender equality can lead to a more sustainable future, across professions, industries, and more – how have you seen tax functions adapting to create more gender equality within the profession, specifically when looking at tax transformation?

There are two mindset challenges that women in technology experience. The first is the historic mindset of an industry that has traditionally been male dominated and favors the male perspective. This is a mindset that must be changed. What women bring to the table are different ways of thinking and different perspectives that may not have been welcomed historically in a male-dominated room. Different perspectives are critical to innovation and transformation, and that is what the technology industry is all about.

The second is the mindset of women trying to break the glass ceiling. Here, the minds that need to shift are those of the women actually working in technology. Women need to be confident in our ideas as they often are the ones that drive innovation. Don’t be shy about bringing those ideas to the table and standing by them — you may actually find that you are right!

Recently, I’ve been seeing these mindset changes happen more frequently, with women being more willing to step forward and take on interesting new technology roles and delivering success as the outcome from those roles and transformations. However, in a sense, this would not have been possible if the men leading technology at large organizations were not becoming more open to hearing diverse voices. I believe the ceilings that are being broken are helped from both sides of the coin.

What are some strategies that you think can help women grow within their organization and, in turn, help to create a more sustainable future for all?

If you are interested in trying something, then go for it. You will experience challenges entering this industry, but those challenges are the same in many other industries as well. If you bring yourself, your ideas and your perspectives to the team, you will be in a position to find success.

You have the answers and strength within you to achieve what you want, but having someone to help and guide you is invaluable.

Susie Cooke

The only other advice I have is find yourself a role model, mentor or coach that you can talk to.You have the answers and strength within you to achieve what you want, but having someone to help and guide you is invaluable.

How do you personally balance your work life and personal life?

I see my mental and physical well-being as much a part of success as hard work and grit. It took my sabbatical in 2017 for me to really realize this. Prior to that, taking time for myself was not top of mind — I was focused entirely on looking after my teams, my clients and those around me. While on leave, I realized that in order to ensure I was effectively leading in my work life, I needed to first look after myself. Today, I am now much more focused on my own well-being and some of the things I do to help make time for myself include:

  • Having separate personal and work phones — this enables me to separate life from work and work from life. Many times on weekends you will find my work phone on my dining room table and not in my handbag with my personal phone.
  • Making time every morning for my morning routine — I used to wake up and check my work emails first thing. Now, I make sure the night before that I have cleared anything urgent and know what time I need to start in the morning. When I wake up, I do not go near my laptop or work phone until I have worked out, had a smoothie, got dressed and walked my dog. This really enables me to get ready for my day and prepare myself mentally.
  • Being authentic and open about my needs — I am not shy about being vulnerable to my team and leadership about my need for time and balance. I am also not quiet about the things that I do for myself. If I were to hide away the fact that I do these things, then not only would I not get what I need, but those around me would also be impacted by their observation of what I do. I look to be a role model.

As more and more women pave their way within the tax profession, if you could give one piece advice to the next generation of women within Tax, what would it be?

Every day I am grateful for the leaders and mentors who have guided me, and I am thankful for the amazing teams I have had the honor to support and lead. Without fabulous people around me, I wouldn’t have got where I am today — no woman is an island.

The journey as a woman in technology and transformation is not without its trials, challenges and glass ceilings to break. If you bring your authentic and unique perspectives to the table each day, you can relax knowing that you have done your best and been the best role model you can be for the women looking to you for leadership.

How do you plan to #BreakTheBias in the work you do?

I am specific in my intent to drive diversity, equity, inclusivity and belonging in the teams I lead and those that I work with – both locally and globally. This is not going to be something that happens by accident and I take ownership of what I can do to drive this further in my day-to-day life.

I seek out opportunities to connect with my team and those around me on both a professional and personal basis. All levels in my team, from leadership down to co-op students, have access to me to discuss their thoughts, concerns and initiatives, which provides them the opportunity to showcase their different perspectives and insights, while also enabling me to better understand and help bring those perspectives and insights to the table.

Every day I work to be the role model that I would have liked to have had as my career developed. If you do not see a role model that you associate with and can compare yourself with, it is very difficult to keep the motivation to progress and share a purpose. 

Innovation and transformation will never be possible if we do not bring all the different perspectives available to the table. In order to successfully move towards the future, we need to cultivate, listen for and act on the voices of everyone whether they look like you or not.