Sharon Thorne is a member of both the Deloitte UK Executive and Board, the DTTL Global Board and is the Managing Partner of Regional Markets. We spent some time with Sharon to find out more about her path to becoming a female leader.
How does Deloitte demonstrate their commitment to the professional development of their female employees?
We are not where we want to be in terms of gender diversity, currently only 15% of our partners are female and 43% of our graduates last year were female. This has been as low as 38% and dropped from a 50/50 split when I joined in 1986. Recognising this, we have a very active Women’s Network, running regular events and training sessions with the likes of Helena Morrissey. Further to this, our emphasis at Deloitte is on output not hours. We allow our employees to be agile in their working hours and location, and offer a Time Out scheme where both males and females can take up to 4 weeks unpaid leave. This flexibility is important to make sure all of our employees can stay on top of the demands in their personal life, without it getting in the way of their careers.
What do you think are the most significant barriers to female leadership?
There is no glass ceiling, but there is an unconscious one. Most leadership roles are held by men. We are hard wired to prefer people who look like us, sound like us and have similar values - hence it isn't surprising that white male led organisations perpetuate leaders who are white males. This unconscious bias is one of the main factors that is holding back diversity in leadership positions.
Another significant barrier is confidence. Sheryl Sandberg, in her book Lean In, writes about the Tiara Syndrome where men draw attention to how well they are doing, but women wait for praise to come to them and for a ‘golden tiara’ to be placed on their head. For example, when an opportunity for promotion arises, women do not tend to put themselves forward in the same way that most men do. Rather they wait to be asked and often miss out on such opportunities. If women do better in recognising their own strengths and match this male confidence, we will quickly start to see more women in leadership positions.
Which woman inspires you, and why?
I do not have one specific role model, but take parts of inspiration from many influential females. I was inspired by one female partner I worked closely with earlier in my career who was incredibly smart, but also found time to be very caring and she was easy to connect to. Margret Thatcher is another, although she was not perfect, there are parts of what she did that really inspired me. Her success in a man’s world made me think ‘why not, I can do that’. Madonna is also inspiring in the way that she has constantly re-invented herself to stay at the top.
If you had to start over from scratch, knowing what you now know, what would you do differently?
Knowing that you don’t have to fit into a set way of behaving and having the confidence to be yourself would have helped me earlier in my career. I would also love to be able to stop that element of self-doubt that constantly tells me I am not good enough. I have learnt to overcome that much better as I have got older, but it has not gone away.
How do you motivate yourself and stay motivated?
I get great satisfaction from mentoring and coaching people in the business and watching them push forward in their careers. My client work is also something that I find very rewarding and enjoy. I constantly think ‘am I having a positive impact’ and that gives me the energy and keeps me motivated in what I do.
What advice would you give to our members to help on their journey to becoming a female leader?
First and foremost I think you have to be yourself and enjoy whatever it is you are doing. You will be working for so long that you have to love what you do. Decide what you want to do and go for it, be positive and make an impact.
I would also stress the importance of building relationships. Everyone will have chances to meet people that will be able to help them during their careers, make sure you do everything you can to make that good impression as you never know what opportunities might open up. Having senior people that respect, sponsor and mentor you is invaluable. You will need this support network to help show you off, get your name heard in a good light and don’t be afraid to ask them for help.
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