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Five Turning Points of My Career

with Ita Langton

Throughout her career with Deloitte, Consulting Partner Ita Langton has spearheaded digital transformation for a range of clients across the public sector - combining her industry expertise with technical knowledge and leading multidisciplinary teams.

In this week’s ‘Five Turning Points of My Career’, Ita shares how she was initially discouraged from her chosen career path, how she creates an environment for high-performing teams to succeed and why, for many, childcare is the key to improving female representation at senior levels.

‘Where there’s a will, there’s a way’

During his career, my dad had retrained as an engineer, and I found myself drawn to the types of projects engineers worked on. He was looking at challenges, thinking about how to solve them and then seeing them through to fruition - which really appealed to me.

I went into my career guidance office in school to find out more about engineering courses and found myself being discouraged initially by my career guidance counsellor as this was a path not typically followed by my peers in our all-girls secondary school. The advice I got was that teaching or commerce would be good options, given that I was doing well in school and was likely to secure the required points.

I was really fortunate that my dad was in engineering - he had female colleagues and arranged for me to chat with one of them to see what their path had been. They said they had faced the same biases but persevered and loved their jobs, so that gave me the courage that it would all work out. I was so lucky to have that support.

I chose to study Electronic and Electrical Engineering at UCD and there were five girls in my class and about 55 guys! It took a lot as a 17-year-old student from Enniscorthy to migrate up to Dublin, settle into digs, walk into UCD and be one of five females in a class of predominantly male students. I was sitting there on my first-day thinking ‘Do I even belong here, am I going to make it?’.

‘Push yourself outside your comfort zone'

I really enjoyed life as an engineering student at UCD and was fortunate to secure an internship with IBM through a Women in Engineering group that visited the university.

The internship was a great experience, but I knew from it that I didn’t want to be the type of engineer who works in a microelectronics fabrication lab. I craved more engagement with end users and teaming up on solutions. I did some research on career paths followed by fellow alumni from UCD and found consulting, which I thought would give me good experience and variety while I figured out what I wanted to do.

I came into Deloitte on the Graduate Programme in Consulting and initially worked on a big system proving engagement with a large gaming organisation before becoming a developer on an app for the European Presidency and designing and implementing one of our first digital services for a public sector organisation.

Around this time, I had just bought a house with my now-husband Stephen when I was called into the office and asked if I would consider going to the US to work on a mega €60m public sector project in Pennsylvania. While it sounded so exciting, I was also thinking ‘What does that mean to me in my life?’

I went home and Stephen just said, ‘They’re not asking everyone to go, they’re asking you - it’s a great experience, it’s one year, we’ll figure it out’. I’ve always had that support and encouragement to take those opportunities from Stephen and my family which has given me much-needed confidence at different points in my career. The move happened very quickly so I didn’t have time to talk myself out of it!

It was an amazing experience but it required a lot of inner steel. I landed on a Friday and started work on a Monday. I was very quickly in front of the client delivering workshops and managing the team in the background, which was a great experience to build my confidence, credentials, etc.

At one stage, I was so lonely that I drove four hours to visit my husband’s aunt in New York, but I don’t regret a minute as it really set me up for success when I returned to Ireland. I’m very grateful that the Consulting partners gave me that opportunity and that I made of it what I did.

‘Find your purpose”

The transition into managerial roles can be very difficult initially. You’re used to getting your sense of achievement from feedback on work that you delivered individually. When that success is through the team, it can be harder to connect with your purpose and your impact. As I progressed in my leadership journey, I began to connect more with the role I had in giving people opportunities to progress in their own careers in the same way that opportunities were presented to me. That is hugely rewarding and motivating as a leader to see those on your team grow and succeed.

I now have the opportunity to support and facilitate people’s growth and, in that, you can see the importance of your role in setting that vision for the team, hearing what everyone is saying and bringing it all together. In all walks of life, whether it’s business or sport, you need a leader to create that collaborative environment and to set direction. Once you see the impact of that, it’s very rewarding but it does take time to adjust and value the contribution that you make as a leader, rather than your technical ability.

I have struggled with the gender imbalance in my field at times.

I remember when I became a partner and found it daunting walking into industry and client forums and being in the minority. I used to have to mentally prepare myself for those interactions and say, ‘You have this role, you earned this role’, almost psyching myself up and challenging that inner imposter syndrome.

These days, I do see progress in more female representation at senior levels in IT and I see changes in how people behave in meetings which is creating a more inclusive environment for example more awareness as to who has contributed to a meeting or not and others inviting those who have not had the opportunity to contribute to do so. For sure there is still a lot of progress to be made but I do see change is happening.

The fact that I had such great support from my family, my husband and great coaches in Deloitte was so key to navigating my career - I had a lot of people saying ‘You can do this’. I got external coaching on confidence and that really helped - I still use some of those techniques now if I’m going into meetings where I feel that imposter syndrome kicking in.

‘Make the choices that are right for you’

I was six months pregnant when I was approached to interview for the partner process. It was a big decision - I felt that if I decided to take it on, it would be what I was doing for the rest of my career. I was in my early 30s at the time and thought ‘This is a big commitment’. It was an honour to be asked but I needed to make sure it was the right thing for me as well.

The partners gave me the option to move through the process during my maternity leave or wait until I returned. Ultimately, I went ahead during maternity leave and was going from changing nappies and singing ‘Wheels on the Bus’ to presenting a five-year business plan and discussing challenges with diversity in the technology industry! That was right for me and that was my choice but it’s so individual and everyone has to make that call for themselves.

‘Enabling the next generation of leaders’

When I think about gender imbalance at senior levels, I always go on my experience and the things that nearly diverted me off my path.

A key factor in choosing the path less taken is the belief that you can do it and the awareness that it’s a career option for you. My colleague Caroline O’Driscoll does amazing work in this area with I Wish. A lot of the role models in technology are male - whether in the media or leadership positions so it’s extremely important to get those female role models to students and show them that STEM is an option when it comes to filling out the CAO. I think many of us have a bias over what a career in STEM means but there are so many career opportunities upon completing a STEM course. I see this variety when I look at the career paths followed by my college friends.

An area that I believe needs continued evolution is how we as a society support working parents through the provision of childcare from early years right through school. On each of my maternity leaves, I went to mother and baby groups and the conversation was always ‘I can’t get my child into creche so I’m going to have to take another six months off’. Then it becomes ‘Will I even go back? Does the workforce even want me because they’re not supporting me through childcare?’. I have seen a lot of females forced into decisions about their careers because of the availability and affordability of childcare. We need more progress in this area for parents.

One of the most important parts of my role as a partner is being responsible for the ongoing success of the firm - we’re a people business so it’s vital that we are ensuring people are growing and we’re supporting them to become our future leaders.

For me, it’s looking back to the opportunities that I got and thinking ‘Should I be bringing someone with me to this meeting with a senior client?’ or ‘Is there someone who can do this piece of work with me to gain insight into how we run the business?’. It’s about sitting back and thinking about how you can support and empower people.

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