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Women in Risk Advisory: Aoife Connaughton solves big problems

Aoife Connaughton has a history of solving big problems. She has been interested in climate change for a long time, but when she saw a TED Talk on the issue more than 10 years ago, she knew she had found her calling. She realized that climate change and sustainability were two of the biggest challenges facing the world today.

Aoife has had two career stops at Deloitte Ireland, first from 2006-2011, and then returning in 2018. She spent her time in between working for sustainability-focused organizations before returning to Deloitte.

“I was looking to make a difference, and my former colleagues recommended coming back to Deloitte. It wound up making perfect sense,” she says. “Deloitte works with some of the world’s largest clients, and I want to help these organizations address their roles in climate change.”

Today, Aoife works as a director in Sustainability and Climate for Deloitte Ireland and spends most of her time helping large companies, as well as public organizations, cope with the ever- changing world. To honor Deloitte’s Women in Risk Advisory, we spoke with Aoife about her experience helping companies navigate emerging and current risks, as well as what it’s like being a woman in Deloitte Risk Advisory.

How did you become so focused on climate change?

Aoife Connaughton: A few years ago, I saw a TED Talk by Jason Clay, and it greatly influenced how I thought about climate change. It became clear to me that sustainability and climate change are among the biggest problems companies face today. It also made it clear that Deloitte was the perfect place to be, since we consult so many organizations on their biggest problems.

For example, some of our clients have factories that risk being underwater in a few years. This is a major business continuity problem. Obviously, this is only one example of how climate change can impact organizations, but you get the idea. Organizations need to address both how they are impacted by climate change and how they can transform their business models and operations to function more sustainably. This is why climate change has become a CEO and board issue — go into any board meeting now, and you’ll see climate change as a section heading on the agenda.

How does diversity play into your practice?

Aoife Connaughton: It all comes down to business resilience. Climate change is one factor that threatens resilience; diversity among the workforce is another. I’ve experienced firsthand how diversity can benefit organizations. It’s also incredibly important that our Deloitte teams reflect the diversity of our clients, so bringing more diverse teams to the table is absolutely critical. As part of our sustainability work, we interact with human resources departments to show the benefits of diversity and to implement programs to create a more diverse workforce.

Customers understand there are things you need to do to be more resilient, whether that’s promoting diversity or sustainability. Occasionally you come across an executive who doesn’t buy into these issues — but customers, employees, and everyone else touched by the business see their importance.

What has life been like as a woman in Deloitte Risk Advisory?

Aoife Connaughton: Honestly, I’ve always found Deloitte to be a very supportive workplace as a woman. I’m lucky in that we have so many great role models in the business who are female leaders, so it makes my career journey easier. There is no “glass ceiling” when your organization values diversity at its highest levels.

The calculation is pretty simple: If you see people who look like you near the top, then you realize that you, too, can reach the top. This is one of the elements that has fueled my career at Deloitte. The evidence suggests some women are at risk of “checking out” of their careers even before they have kids, because they figure there is no room for them at the higher levels of an organization or that the demands of a senior role wouldn’t be family-friendly. That’s not the case here, and it’s an important consideration for management, whether you’re hiring or retaining employees.

How has Deloitte supported you when starting a family?

Aoife Connaughton: I started my career with Deloitte as a graduate, before I had kids. I’ve since had two children and have been delighted by the flexibility the company has shown. When I first joined Deloitte, it was not as flexible for parents and people with family responsibilities as it is today. Deloitte not only changed its policies to give mothers more flexibility, but it also gave generous parental leave to men so they could focus on being new dads, while providing a variety of additional benefits that help women and men establish a better work-life balance.

I work a compressed week, which allows me to spend Friday afternoons with my kids, which I really value. Deloitte Ireland also allows all our staff to take a month of unpaid leave each year, and many parents use this to enjoy the summer holidays off with their kids. The best thing is the company knows it’s key to have senior people take advantage of the benefits because, when they do, the rest of the organization is more likely to use them, too.

I’m married to a doctor who’s also an academic. We both work hard to balance having full-time jobs that we are really passionate about, with our other values. One of those values is being there for our kids, and Deloitte gives me the flexibility to be home more to spend time with them. In fact, I work from home three or four times per week, and I really enjoy having the flexibility to be able to walk them to and from school most days.

I don’t think about being a woman at Deloitte because it’s never been an issue. I think the company focuses on helping you grow at each stage of your career — before and after you have kids, if you decide to have children, regardless of your gender. I have felt very supported here.

View Deloitte’s Women in Risk Advisory Series.