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Five Turning Points of My Career

with Lorraine Griffin

This week, Lorraine Griffin, Tax Partner and Chair of Deloitte’s Partner Council, shares some of the key lessons she’s learned throughout her career - from how key mentors helped her to avoid the “glass ceiling” to finding her voice at the boardroom table.

The word inspirational is frequently overused, but it is well deserved in the case of Deloitte tax partner Lorraine Griffin. From becoming a partner at the age of 30, Head of the Tax & Legal practice 8 years later, and more recently being elected as Chair of Deloitte’s Partner Council and a Deloitte NSE Board Member, Lorraine has built an impressive career advising Irish and international clients, but that’s only half of her story.

‘I always took it step-by-step’

Sometimes I ask myself how did I end up here?

I struggled with what I would study at university but ended up studying law at UCC, which I really enjoyed. I didn’t know what I wanted to do career-wise. Still, a summer spent clerking for a Federal District Court judge in the US copper-fastened my decision not to go into the legal profession but to pursue a tax and accounting qualification with Arthur Andersen.  

While there was a lower percentage of female partners, there were strong female role models at all levels who were very inspiring. I also had a great female mentor from the outset of my graduate journey. Because of that experience, I didn’t really look up and see a glass ceiling.

I took my career development step by step. I just focused on the year ahead, or the next obvious milestone for career progression, which I think was my way of not getting overwhelmed (particularly when asked about long-term ambitions). I focused on challenging work, working with strong teams and leaders, and learning new skills. Then it didn’t feel like a huge mountain to climb as I progressed career-wise, because it was step-by-step, month-by-month. 

‘Finding the right chemistry’

In 2002, the opportunity came to join Deloitte, where I could focus exclusively on corporate tax/M&A, so I decided to make the move.

I had a pretty accelerated career with the timing (Celtic tiger era) and the growth in Deloitte and became a partner in 2007. I was 30 and about six months pregnant, so it felt like a very quick turnaround in terms of where my career and personal life were going! I had a great amount of support so it felt really exciting… but also somewhat terrifying!

My head definitely hadn’t quite caught up with where my career had got to. I constantly worried about whether I was doing it right, and what others thought of me. I probably wasted so much time and emotional energy worrying, but having mentors and a strong support network was really vital to get me through that initial period of uncertainty. I also got huge value from doing coaching sessions with an external coach, so the combination of mentors and coaching was a huge catalyst in helping me progress in my career and personally.

It’s important to find the right chemistry with a mentor or a coach – chemistry is crucial. I think you develop a gut instinct of who you can trust, who could be a good sounding board or have something to offer. I would really recommend seeking out those people and not being afraid to ask them for a coffee and a chat, or even if they might be a sounding board from time to time. Seek out a diverse network that can offer perspectives broader than your own practice area. 

‘Be yourself and find your voice’

It took me time to get comfortable in my own skin as a partner and develop my own voice. I tried to role model others early in my career, or how I thought people expected me to engage.

I recall being pulled into a presentation pitch last minute, with little time to overthink or prepare – I just said what I wanted to say, in my own style and words, and the feedback was really positive on my contribution, plus I had enjoyed myself! I think that’s when the penny dropped and I realised ‘Actually, I need to be authentic and be myself’.

If you’re comfortable in your own skin and able to articulate your own thoughts and opinions - not copying how others do things or how you think they might want you to act - you come across better, more genuine, and you build stronger connections with people.

‘Supporting the success of others’

We don’t have a business without our people and the talent, skills, enthusiasm and commitment that they bring. I’ve had so many rewarding moments throughout my career, but some of the standout moments have come from watching others grow, and achieve their ambitions, whatever they may be. I feel really proud to see how people I mentored, sponsored or brought into the firm, have blossomed and the impact that they make.

I don’t need to be the one in the limelight - seeing the success in others is just as rewarding. Championing and supporting people behind the scenes drives me a lot, whether that’s formal or informal mentorship or in other ways. This is particularly true when it comes to supporting female talent.

Achieving gender parity at partner and senior leadership levels is essential, and there are many contributing factors in the context of gender diversity. Confidence is often mentioned, and it can definitely be an issue. However, it’s not the only one, nor is it generally applicable to all women or exclusive to women. It shouldn’t be used to mask or overshadow other important actions and measures needed to drive equal opportunity and greater gender diversity.

We need to challenge ourselves in every situation to ensure we’re considering that question of balance and equal opportunity. It’s how we advertise for roles, how we run our promotion processes, and which responsibilities and opportunities are afforded to men and women, to name but a few areas. It’s challenging assumptions around the timing of career progression. It’s building a strong culture of mentoring and sponsorship, more transparency and open conversations.

I try to share the concerns and challenges I’ve had at different stages of my career. I didn’t have it all worked out and I wasn’t sure as a manager or director if I wanted to be, or would be capable of being, a partner in the business. Even now, I have times of doubt or anxiety, particularly as I transition into new roles. I still rely on seeking out good counsel and help from my support network. Hopefully, more open conversations by senior leaders in the business around lived career experiences can help others, particularly when it comes to supporting female talent. 

‘You never know what the future holds’

I am lucky to be a Mum to three wonderful children, but the toughest part of my career was definitely when I had my second child, Adam. He was born with a very rare genetic syndrome (Prader Willi Syndrome, which presents with physical, intellectual and behavioural challenges) and was diagnosed at two weeks old. It’s hard to articulate how difficult those early years were, juggling medical appointments, and other children, while still trying to come to terms with the diagnosis.

One becomes an advocate for your child, pursuing all therapies and interventions, which could easily have become all-consuming. A combination of my husband and children, family, friends, and my career with Deloitte provided a great counterbalance. We know the future is uncertain with Adam, and his condition can become more challenging as he gets older – so I try to make the most of every day, and as I said earlier, take it one step at a time!

I’ve seen tremendous progress in the workplace and how people facing challenging situations, like myself, can be supported to work. It was a huge outlet for me to focus on something else for a few hours in the day. Deloitte was and continues to be so incredibly supportive, and I could always ask for that support - whether it was time off or reduced hours depending on Adam’s surgeries.

You can’t cater for every situation through policies – this is why it’s so important to create a culture that enables people to be vulnerable and open about the challenges they may be facing and what supports they may need at a particular point in time. 

I recently shared a post on PWS Awareness, and how Adam gives me inspiration every day, see it here: "Today is Prader Willi Syndrome Awareness Day."