Preparedness Meets Fate
A Q&A discussion with Women’s Initiative managing partner Julia Cloud
In celebration of Women’s History Month and the 20th anniversary of the Deloitte Women’s Initiative (WIN), we sat down with Julia Cloud, Deloitte Tax LLP, to learn more about her journey to becoming the WIN managing partner.
Tell us a bit about your background and your family.
The oldest of three children, I grew up in St. Louis, where my dad was a public accounting partner for Arthur Andersen in its audit practice. I received my undergraduate degree in accounting from the University of Illinois and my graduate degree from DePaul University. I joined Arthur Andersen’s tax practice in 1990 and became a partner in 2001. I joined Deloitte Tax LLP in May 2002.
As for my family, I married my husband, Bob, a mechanical engineer, in 1991. We live just outside of Chicago with our two sons, Nathan (15) and Matthew (11) and our amazing golden retriever, DJ.
What has your career path looked like?
I’ve always worked in the mid-market, or Deloitte Growth Enterprise Services space – this has been a bit of a differentiator for me because I’ve focused on this area my entire career. I’ve worked with a lot of entrepreneurial companies, family offices and their owners and it’s been very rewarding and personal. Working with these types of clients is not only about tax but also very much about business strategy and family dynamics.
Tell us about a challenge or a personal uncertainty you overcame in your career – about how you turned it into an opportunity.
I’ve made choices in my career journey so far that have transformed decisions into opportunities – there’s been an alignment of preparedness and fate.
I was offered the Midwest WIN leader role a couple months after I joined Deloitte. At first, I wasn’t sure if I should say yes. My prior firm didn’t have WIN, so I would need to quickly get up to speed on the activities, responsibilities and the people involved. The role required a fair amount of travel to build relationships across the region and at the time, I had a newborn and a three-year-old.
However, I spoke with a lot of people who had knowledge about the role and became very intrigued. I saw it as an opportunity to learn and expand my network and so I took the role. In looking back, I had the chance to grow my brand at Deloitte across offices and functions, which helped me stand out from others who were also new to Deloitte.
The exposure and experience I gained from being the Midwest WIN leader led to the National Tax WIN leader role, which provided an opportunity to meet with Chet Wood, the Deloitte Tax LLP CEO at the time and the members of the Tax Executive Committee and present to them on a regular basis. In turn, I was able to further grow my brand and gain more visibility. When the time came to choose a successor for the national service line leader for the Private Client Advisors practice, my name came up. Even though I resided in a different service line, I had established a solid reputation of leading change, leading groups and having a vision. I was co-leading the Business Tax practice for Chicago at the time and I was surprised to be offered the chance to take on a national service line. I was a little intimidated because it meant a much bigger set of responsibilities and there was structural change in terms of how this practice sat within Tax. But thanks to Deloitte’s culture and the power of our people, I got lots of calls from leaders who offered to help. We had a strong transition plan in place that surrounded me with a lot of support to make sure I succeeded.
How has your leadership style developed over the years?
I am much more open to stating right at the start that I don’t always know the exact destination but I will work tirelessly to figure it out. I’ve also become even more humble. Other people have so much knowledge and it’s important to open up the dialogue; I ask for a lot more input now than I ever did. My style is much more inclusive – it’s very important to me to incorporate diversity of thought into my decisions.
Why did you decide to take on the role of the national WIN leader?
What I liked about this particular opportunity is that it came at a critical inflection moment. I like the new structure – having an umbrella philosophy of Inclusion and then workstreams underneath that all tie together – and I like teaming with the other Inclusion leaders: Chief Inclusion Officer Deb DeHaas, Diversity Managing Principal Kelvin Womack, Work-Life Managing Partner Paul Silverglate and Deloitte University Leadership Center for Inclusion Managing Principal Christie Smith. Inclusion offers a multi-dimensional challenge that we need to address together and we’re all responsible for each other’s success. I’m excited about this new way of thinking and know it will accelerate our retention and advancement of women
What are some of the strategic priorities for WIN over the next 12 months?
Retention and advancement of women with a focus on retention in particular and especially manager retention. In terms of advancement, we’re honing in on the path to partner, principal and director for women and especially principal and partner roles. Retention and advancement of women of color is another priority. By looking at Flexibility, Diversity and WIN together, we can take a more holistic viewpoint of that population.
We recently launched the Deloitte University Leadership Center for Inclusion. Which breakouts did you attend? Any big ideas that resonated with you?
I attended two breakouts, “Unconscious Bias” and “Women of Color.” In the first one, I was struck by an example of unconscious bias that wasn’t gender or ethnicity related – it was project management style related. It had to do with team members who had a more commanding presence and would just get things done, versus those with a style that is more reflective. There’s a tendency for leaders with a command and control style to neglect to draw out the strengths of the reflective styles, which is detrimental to the team and getting the most out of everyone. I never thought of that as unconscious bias, but it is.
Kim Davis was guest presenter in the session on Women of Color, which is one of WIN’s strategic priorities. She shared a lot of demographic data and what I liked was that she had a unique way of reframing the topic. Instead of focusing on the challenges that women of color face, she flipped it and suggested that instead we think about the opportunities that women of color can bring to the table and what they have to offer the organization. An example Kim shared is that many women who grow up in the African American community are raised in a culture of strong female role models who offer an enhanced sense of both loyalty and an obligation to be successful. We should be thinking about how we can tap into these innate desires.
What are your hobbies or passions outside of work?
My kids – whatever they are doing in school has become my hobby…for example, reading the Oedipus three-part play and Romeo and Juliet. I also fancy myself as a golfer in training. I’m not in a competitive league, but I have fun playing and hope to one day take strokes off my game! I also really enjoy being out in nature and we do a lot of outdoor trips. This summer our family is doing a week-long whitewater camping trip through the Grand Canyon and we’ll be roughing it with no access to showers for six days.
As we celebrate Women’s History Month and the 20th anniversary of WIN, are there any women whom you admire or who have inspired you?
What inspires me is the macramé of all women, every day, living their lives and devoting themselves to their careers and family and making it all work. Whether it’s professionals I meet in the marketplace, fellow commuters, or members of my community – it’s the whole fabric of women who are making a difference with their families and in their communities and companies who inspire me.
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