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Women in Risk Advisory: Donna Glass shares business trends and career advice

For Donna Glass, global business leader for Risk Advisory at Deloitte, it’s rewarding to help clients use a deep understanding and management of their constantly evolving risk landscape to drive value for their customers, their people and society at large.

“Our ultimate goal is to serve clients around the world with consistency, clarity, quality and capability,” Donna says. “Helping clients develop and execute on their most strategic objectives is the kind of work I enjoy most.”

In her role, Donna sets the vision and strategy for Deloitte’s Global Risk Advisory practice, leading almost 45,000 professionals and aligning our offerings and geographies to help companies connect trust, resilience and security for responsible business and enduring success.

As Deloitte honours “Women in Risk Advisory,” Donna is a salient example of an inspiring leader, talented professional and champion of gender diversity and inclusion in the field. We had the pleasure of sitting down with Donna recently to learn more about her work, career journey and advice for female professionals and aspiring leaders.

Staying ahead of emerging risks

Working in Risk Advisory, Donna’s team helps companies identify existing and emerging risks that impact their business and develop and implement strategies and solutions to address those risks.

As Donna notes, the risk landscape is dynamic and risks change all the time, so it’s important to be vigilant and proactive.

“If you mapped out business risks, with quadrants based on their potential impact and likelihood, I think you’d see a lot of risks have changed places over the last few years,” Donna says.

For example, climate and sustainability, privacy and the need for resiliency have become increasingly important, both in terms of potential impact and likelihood. Our professionals work every day with our clients to address these evolving needs. Although successfully addressing issues like these doesn’t happen overnight, Donna adds that this work is most rewarding for her team, as they feel they’re really making a difference to clients and society.

Journey into the risk industry

Despite her current, influential role within Risk Advisory, Donna did not always know that this would be the career path for her.

After graduating from the University of Delaware, she worked at Deloitte & Touche in the audit department from the mid-to-late 1980s. Although Donna enjoyed the work, at the time, she wished there were more female leadership role models.

“When I looked around the office, I didn’t really see a lot of women more senior than me,” Donna says. “I didn’t see a way for me to have the success I wanted professionally and personally, so I ended up changing career paths.”

She transitioned to the client side of the business for 10 years, where she got deep, hands-on experience in the Financial Services industry.

Then in the late 1990s, Donna began to look for new opportunities. “One thing I really missed about Deloitte was the constant variety of challenges. Every client had unique challenge. Every day was different.” she says.

During the decade Donna was away from Deloitte, she says that the company, along with the accounting and professional services industry, underwent a major change to become more inclusive. Donna notes that Deloitte had started a firmwide Initiative for the Advancement and Retention of Women—aimed at hiring, supporting and cultivating more female talent—and she realised it had become a place where she could find success in both her personal and professional lives.

“When I returned to Deloitte [in New York, in 1999], I had two young children,” Donna says. “I saw, immediately, that I could get the flexibility I needed that would allow me to manage my life and my career, in a way that I could be successful in both.”

Donna has been at Deloitte ever since. She became a partner in 2001 and has held a variety of leadership roles within Risk Advisory and the broader firm, all culminating in her current role as Deloitte’s Risk Advisory Global Leader.

“I got to do a lot of different things and hold a lot of different roles. I appreciate how big and complex this firm is and the many ways we can make an impact,” Donna says. “So, it’s been a really great ride.”

And when asked what inspires her most about her role, Donna says it’s the people. “I work with what I believe are the smartest people around,” she adds. “Every day, I learn something new from first-year staff, up to the partners that I work with. I’m intellectually curious and I’m driven by having new challenges each and every day.”

Five tips for women in the industry

Reflecting back on her more than three decades of work and leadership experience, Donna shares tips she wishes she’d known when she started out, and that may be useful to other women, both in risk and other careers:

Deloitte offered Donna a culture of flexibility, open-mindedness, and support structures when she returned in the late ‘90s, areas that were more important to her after starting a family.

This enabled Donna to both be present in her daughter’s lives, while still meeting the demands of clients, her team and partners at the firm.

Providing flexibility even goes beyond flexible hours, she says; it’s also about the flexibility to find your strengths and pursue your interests.

“Flexibility was incredibly important to my journey as a leader,” she points out. “I’ve had the opportunity to participate in a lot of programmes that allowed me to be introspective about what kind of leader I want to be and how I could be that leader.”

“It’s not just about a point in time,” she says. “It’s about attaining a balance you’re happy with over the course of a week, a month, or even a year.”

Donna says when she became a leader, she had a greater appreciation for the significance of finding balance in her life.

“Of course, there are tradeoffs,” she says, “but what’s important is to give and get what you need to in your personal life and in your professional life, so you can be successful and happy in both. Balance is not always easy, but it’s important to attain.”

“As women, it helps to recognise that we’re often harder on ourselves than we really should be,” Donna says. “We need to give ourselves a break!” She adds that it’s important to use the flexibility your organisation offers and be transparent about your needs—both personally and professionally.

“I want my team to see me actively making choices about how I spend my time so they feel free to do the same,” Donna says. “If you’re successful and your clients are happy, if you’re getting work done and the quality of your work is high, then do what works best for you to keep that balance.”

There should be multiple seats at the table for women,” Donna says. “A challenge in my generation initially was that women would sometimes be pitted against each other, competing for that one seat. Instead, we need to realise we should be fighting for, not against, each other to make sure there are two, three or four seats for women at the table.”

Donna’s two daughters are in the workforce now, and it encourages her to see a younger generation of women more attuned to helping each other succeed, she says. And Donna also finds that she’s risen to a point in her career where, if she’s the only woman in the room, she can do something to change that.

“Once we get to that point in our careers, it’s important that we pull each other up and make sure there are more seats for women.”

“A mentor told me once that you only get to be a leader if those around you want to follow you,”

Donna says.

She notes that if you’re passionate about your work and can bring people together to rally around a cause or idea, then your team will be more motivated and better positioned for success. Your success has to be about the team’s success.

For aspiring leaders, it’s important to have clearly defined business goals and a vision for the future, according to Donna. “Align interests create a shared vision. Communicate it properly and share how you’ll achieve it,” she says.

Diversity of thought reaps huge dividends

Through her own leadership, advocacy, writing, and more, Donna works to bring even greater inclusion to the field of risk and beyond.

“It’s no secret that companies with an inclusive culture perform better,” Donna says. “Every one of us brings a different set of experiences when we show up every day—whether that’s our gender, where we grew up, where we went to school, where our family is from… we all have different ways of thinking about the world.”

“Putting that together and creating that diversity of thought is what really makes us successful and creates much stronger teams,” she adds. “If you can find the common ground, and bring success that way, it allows everyone else at the table to see you as someone who adds value.”

She also encourages women to try new roles and projects that extend their skills and even put them outside of their comfort zone—without being hindered by fear.

“One of my mentors used to use a baseball analogy when helping me think through career decisions. She would say, ‘You can’t steal second until you step off first,’” Donna says. “What she meant is that you can’t advance unless you are willing to step away from what makes you comfortable and take a risk. So be willing to take risks and put yourself out there. If you believe in yourself and invest in yourself, more often than not, that risk will turn into something worth taking.”

View Deloitte’s Women in Risk Advisory Series