Laurie Krebs, global vice president of tax for innovative software-solutions company Red Hat, has always found time to turn away from numbers in order to help promote women in the workplace. That’s impressive, considering everything that falls on her shoulders at Red Hat, an international company with roughly eleven thousand employees. As the head of a twenty-two-member global tax department, she manages all tax strategy, planning, compliance, and tax audit controversy arising in the more than ninety different jurisdictions that Red Hat operates in.
When she began her own career in public accounting thirty years ago, it didn’t take long for her to notice that there were few women in executive positions for her to look up to as role models.
“Early on in my career, I was struggling with work/life balance, trying to figure out how, as a young working mother, I could manage on the home front and also be successful at work,” Krebs says. “There was no one I could directly look at and ask, ‘How are you doing it?’”
When Nortel hired her as its tax director in 2002, Krebs found an opportunity to help other women facing the same issues in the workplace when the company contracted with a consulting group to empower women workers. Choosing a leader from each of the company’s locations, they tapped Krebs to helm the initiative in the Raleigh, North Carolina office. “All I did was say to myself, ‘I know other women like me, women who were good at multitasking as working mothers,’” she recalls. “So, we got together and we brainstormed. We were talking about the issues facing all women in the workplace: How do you create a healthy work/life balance? How do you find quality day care? How do you get promoted?”
As she developed the group and its strategy, they decided to also create a committee on charitable works, as well as reach out to other companies in the area to talk about the idea of women’s groups and what some of those companies had done. In addition, at Nortel there was no mentorship program at the time, so they started one. Lower-level women employees were matched with upper-level male and women managers, and the lower-level employee created agendas for one-on-one meetings with their mentors.
The group also brought people in to speak on women’s issues, including empowerment, and also had other influential women in the community to speak on their careers. An unexpected benefit of the work for Krebs was the exposure it gave her to women in other departments of the company she had rarely interacted with up until then.
“We found so many people who had the same passion, and when they got together there was a spark,” she says. “What it did for me was get me out of my silo of tax work. I had a team of twenty-five, and we rarely had the opportunity to network with other people outside our area of finance. This group, which grew to more than 250 women, enabled women in finance to network with women in engineering, legal, sales, and more. What we found was that no matter what anybody’s job was, we were all having the same experiences as women.”
Having joined Red Hat in 2017, Krebs says she was fortunate to be part of a company that not only liked the idea of a women’s group, but also encouraged and celebrated it. The company’s finance department employed more than four hundred people, and half of these employees were women.
Krebs learned that two women from this department, who felt they were alone in facing challenges in their roles at work, had started an informal women’s group that met over lunch once a month.
Krebs went along one day and told the group about what she had done at Nortel. Other women leaders in finance joined in to share experiences as well. This group collectively decided to evolve the gathering into an official “women in finance” group at the company, and initiatives proceeded from there.
“The group started with no budget, but within six months it was rolling along,” Krebs says. “I went on behalf of the group to the CFO with the idea, and he couldn’t have been more supportive. He loved that the women in finance were doing this as a way to make themselves and the team stronger, and he agreed to sponsor events supporting it. His support has empowered us even more. I couldn’t be prouder to be associated with this amazing group of women who I learn from as well.”
The group has already grown to more than one hundred members. Together, they sponsor charity drives, develop personally from motivational speakers, and gain valuable insight at recurring networking events with other members of the finance organization and beyond, Krebs says.
Krebs has two adult daughters—one a successful accountant with BDO, and the other a marketing director for USA baseball. They have told her that seeing what she has accomplished made them believe that they could reach the levels they have.
“I couldn’t be prouder of my daughters and what they have accomplished,” Krebs says. “I always remind them, as I remind the women I work with, ‘don’t let anybody tell you that there are limits to what you can do. If you want to do something, go for it.’”
Photo: Red Hat
BDO congratulates Laurie Krebs, vice president—tax from Red Hat, Inc., on this well-deserved recognition. We share Laurie’s commitment to putting people first and believe that deep and lasting relationships within our teams allow us to help our clients thrive every day