Words of Wisdom from Women in SALT

Words carry weight. The right mantra, piece of advice from a mentor, sentence in a book, or universal saying can be relied upon time and time again to encourage and motivate you.

Meaningful words encountered at a pivotal time or place in your career can give you the confidence to reach out of your comfort zone to take on more responsibility or even take your career in a new direction.

In honor of Women’s History Month, we asked an accomplished group of women in state and local tax (SALT) to share the words of wisdom that has guided their careers. We celebrate their unique perspectives and take stock of the power of their words.

How to Thrive in SALT

Several women shared advice that highlights the qualities and mindset you need to succeed in the SALT field. Working in tax is detailed work. You need to be comfortable diving into the nitty gritty to build strong positions – and you also need to know when to reach out for help.

Those who possess an investigator instinct will thrive.

“”Read and read on.” — the moral here is to make sure you read to the bottom of the paragraph or turn the page before you jump to your conclusion. Often, it is easy to find the rule in the SALT world, but those who excel at this stuff make sure there aren’t any exceptions to that rule that contradict what we initially think the answer is.”

Nikki E. Dobay | Senior Tax Counsel, Council On State Taxation

You should never underestimate the power of what you know. Raise your hand and share your unique perspective.

“Never assume you’re *not* the smartest person in the room. Chances are that you are farther down in the weeds on issues and facts than anyone else (because that’s probably your role on the team at this stage), and you may have made a connection that someone with a broader view hasn’t made. Don’t be afraid to verbalize your observations: at best, you’ll make a point that no one else knew or thought of; at worst, you’ll learn what others knew and hadn’t shared with you yet.”

Lindsay C. McAfee | Senior Manager, Multistate Tax Services, Deloitte Tax LLP

As you learn and grow as a professional, know the limits of other’s input.

“Something I heard recently that I really connected to was in a docuseries that I watched on  Hilary Clinton, she said: “Take criticism seriously because you can learn from it and grow, but don’t take it personally because it can knock you on your knees.””

Breen Schiller | Partner, Horwood Marcus & Berk Chartered


Careers Are Dynamic

Where you get your start in SALT is likely not your final landing place. Careers evolve as you learn what you excel at and what excites you.

If you encounter a career possibility that is currently out of reach, dig your heels in a little. Learn more about steps to get there, call upon your mentors, and keep tabs on similar opportunities.

“Lessons from my mentor Norm Bruns: “Always keep your foot in the door.” Though he says it in the context of negotiations with tax authorities, often when an agreement seems impossible to reach, I think it applies to many other contexts equally well.”

Michelle DeLappe | Principal, Foster Garvey PC


When it’s time to make a change, own your skills and know who to call.

“Always know your Plan B. Work may be going great right now, but you never know when you may suddenly want or need a change. Do you know who the first two people you’ll call to ask for a new job are? Do they know you? If not, fix that! Bonus is that the self-promotion that helps you have a Plan B happens to also be really great business development for getting your name out there for possible clients.”

Leah Robinson | Partner, Mayer Brown LLP


The Importance of Mentors

Mentorships and friendships in the field are invaluable sources of encouragement and build up the next generation of successful professionals.

A good mentor will give you an honest opinion about where you’re at in your career today and help you move to the next level.

“My colleague Jordan used to tell me when I was a young attorney and I tell the young associates now: Maturity comes from being comfortable in acknowledging what you don’t know. When you’re a young attorney, you don’t know everything, and no one thinks you do or expects you to. Maturity is when you’re comfortably admitting that.”

Breen Schiller | Partner, Horwood Marcus & Berk Chartered

You may not find a mentor in your firm or even in the field. A mentor can be anyone in any practice area that you can rely on for advice and support. Having multiple mentors is never a bad thing!

“Look for mentors wherever you can find them. They may not be in your practice group and may not even be at your firm.”

 Leah Robinson | Partner, Mayer Brown LLP


No One-Size-Fits-All Career Path in SALT

There is no one “right” path to follow for a successful career in state and local tax, no preset template.

“Follow your dream. Have a flexible plan. Make the most of the gifts the universe offers.”

 Christi Mondrik | Attorney and Owner, Mondrik & Associates

To find your own version of success in SALT, a creative mind and an openness to unconventional solutions can make all the difference.

“Huge problems don’t need huge solutions. It’s the little things that can bring happiness, great joy, and success.”

Tram Le | SALT Consultant, TaxOps


Elevating Women in Tax

March is a special month to take the time to elevate the voices and experiences of women in tax. Women take on a host of challenging roles in tax in the corporate realm, nonprofits, government agencies, law firms, consulting and accounting practices, and beyond. Their leadership and contributions to the field are significant.

Many of the women who provided advice for this article did not have a female mentor in the field as they were coming up. If you’re a woman in SALT, don’t underestimate the impact of sharing your skills, knowledge, and expertise with others. Your experiences can encourage more women (and men!) in accounting and finance to pursue fulfilling careers in state and local tax.

Sales Tax Institute founder, Diane Yetter, was able to gather recently with a group of women in SALT (many of whom shared words of wisdom for this article!) for a weekend away in Napa. It was a special time to make connections and share experiences in a relaxed setting.

“As women, we need to support and encourage each other.  We are a force in this field and have the opportunity to influence not only technically but also in how business is done.  It doesn’t have to be a cut-throat environment – let’s be there to support each other, to celebrate our wins, and help learn from our struggles.”

Diane Yetter | President & Founder, Sales Tax Institute and YETTER Tax

Women in tax should carve out more time and spaces like this to celebrate their wins and support each other. Here are a few ideas:

  • Establish a mentorship program in your department or company
  • Reach out to local companies and firms to create a ‘women in SALT happy hour/lunch’
  • Create a group on social media for women in SALTin your city or region

Let’s continue the women’s history month celebration by sharing on social media. Let us know why you’re a proud woman in SALT or if you’ve been impacted by women in SALT using #WomeninSALT to share career milestones and lift up important mentors and colleagues.

Here’s to the resilience and the influence of women in tax everywhere!

Posted on March 30, 2020