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Five Turning Points of My Career

with Niamh Geraghty

This week, Audit Partner and Investment Management Leader Niamh Geraghty discusses how ‘looking up’ is key to unlocking your career, how tough feedback can be a catalyst for positive change and the importance of advocating for other women

"Think about how you can add value"

While I always loved my job, I think it took me a while to get really good at it.

 I always wanted to go down the accountancy route. I loved Maths and Business Studies at secondary school so when it came time to go to college, I decided to give myself a broad business base and studied International Commerce with French in UCD and spent a year in France, which was amazing.

 After completing my Masters, I started my career with Andersen. However, I was about to hit my first career challenge as a few months after I started, the firm effectively collapsed and ended merging with KPMG in Ireland. It was definitely a worrying time but once I settled in, I found I really liked the structure of the Chartered Accountant route. Becoming a Chartered Accountant was one of the best things I did for my career. Qualified accountants are consistently in high demand in the market and there is a reason for that! The auditing profession can be dismissed by some as not that interesting but I have found the complete opposite. I really enjoy understanding how businesses work, what challenges and risks they face and then ultimately determining whether their financial statements fairly reflect all that.

When I look back now at the earlier part of my career, I realise that I didn’t take my head up enough. If I was asked to do a task, I did the task, but I wasn’t looking around thinking ‘how do I add greater value?’.

 I was always willing to do more work, but I was waiting for people to come to me. Now that I have two girls myself, I would advise them to look up, get out of their comfort zone and add value outside the day-to-day job. It was only when I started to look at my career in that context that I really saw myself develop and grow.

Everybody is apprehensive about networking

I knew that networking was really important, and I was good at getting to know people outside of my immediate area of the business, but I didn’t do as much external networking earlier in my career. I wish I had started much sooner but I definitely had a mental block about it. I didn’t think I knew ‘how’ to do it. Of course there is no magic formula to it, it’s people talking to people! But now I really enjoy it.

 There’s generally a lot more men at the events I go to but when I go to a female-only event, I do notice how much more comfortable women are. There’s a totally different vibe, so if you are really not confident, I would recommend starting with those events and buddying up with someone. 

Find your core confidence

Becoming a partner was one of the proudest moments of my career - I felt extremely supported, am part of a great team and people want you to succeed. It’s very demanding and holds a lot of responsibility but I thrive on that, and I love that my daughters see me doing a job that I love, rather than dreading going out to work every day!

 The most challenging period of my career came when I got some tough feedback and I was pretty devastated. I knew I had potential and I was being supported but I was really getting in my own way. There were two routes I could have gone down - either getting more frustrated or annoyed, or recognising that something wasn’t right. I needed to do something, and it wasn’t about anyone or anything else - it was about me, no excuses.

 I worked with my coach and did a lot of soul-searching. It was transformational because I understood myself so much better. I realised that I had all of these limiting beliefs that were not correct. I definitely went through a very tough period both emotionally and mentally, but I learned so much from it and I feel like a different person, a huge weight was lifted.

 People had said to me before ‘you worry far too much about what other people think of you’ and ‘you’re too hard on yourself’ but I thought it was that way of behaving that was pushing me forward. I thought that if I wasn’t hard on myself, maybe I wouldn’t do all the things that I do. But, ultimately, I realised that any success I was having was not because of how I was thinking but despite that! I just needed to trust and believe in myself more. If something doesn’t go right, learn and move on – don’t dwell on it. Focus on what you can do and what you can control.

 Now, I care less about what people think of me and I am more curious about their views on what we are discussing and it’s made my life so much better. I am more authentic. I’m also more ambitious because I don’t have the shackles of what other people think.

 I focus on what’s really important because I listen to my instinct - instead of dismissing it in favour of what I think other people feel is important. What I would say to people is - if you have been getting feedback about something, or you know you aren’t really helping yourself, spend some time unpicking that and work through it with someone if you need to.

 When I dug deep, I found my core confidence - something that was probably always there but I had just buried it. I have that now and I believe in myself, feel more resilient and a lot stronger mentally.

The importance of balance in a hybrid world

One of the most interesting roles I’ve had in my career is as People and Purpose Lead on Deloitte’s Executive during the pandemic.

 When things were opening up and people started returning to the office, it was very intentional for us to go down the route of not putting a set number of days into people’s diaries. We were probably quite enlightened in how we thought about it and realised that ‘something has changed here’, people had changed, society had changed and we need to get on board with that.

 We wanted to offer our people the best experience possible, and we felt that a hybrid approach would give that, so we implemented Deloitte Works - which offers people the option to choose where they work according to their needs.

 I think hybrid offers a great way to be able to balance your life both personally and professionally. I am generally at home in the morning and evening for my girls, seeing them off to school after having breakfast together and then tucking them in at night! Of course, travel and social events can impact that but I am very conscious of managing my diary and I find planning in advance really helps with balancing that.

 My husband and I share parenting duties and, for me, this is key and so important for our girls to experience. Just this week, the girls were back at school so I made sure I was working from home more to get them settled in and also to spend time with their teachers and other parents and get their school year off to a good start. The flexibility to manage my work around this is worth its weight in gold and I am so grateful that I am a partner in an organisation that promotes this.

I then organise my work day based on my priorities for that day. Sometimes I need to reflect and plan and I do that at home. Otherwise, I am in the office. I personally love going into the office and working with my teams on client work or proposals or strategising with my partners. There is a real energy that comes from people being in the same room.

For me, going into the office and meeting clients in person is important,
relationships are what it’s all about and I really don’t think I would be doing
my job very well if I didn’t do this.

Putting women up in lights

If you had asked me five years ago whether I had experienced issues around gender in my career, I would have said ‘no, I have gotten promoted, and I get on with people’ but as I understand it more, I’m becoming so much more aware of the fact that there is a huge amount of male privilege in business and that everything has been designed around a man’s view of the world - from the lack of support for people returning from maternity leave down to the KPIs that we use to measure success. I do sometimes wonder what the business world would be like if it has been shaped more by women – maybe not any better but definitely different!

 It’s so much more difficult to navigate a career as a woman. I didn’t recognise that in the past. I guess I just got on with it, but I see it now. People don’t want to be biased but they just are. I’ve certainly experienced that ‘boys club’ mentality and unfortunately there’s still a huge amount of unconscious bias out there as well, even amongst women. So we still have work to do as a society to fix this.

 People need to know their worth and value and I, for the vast majority of my career, didn’t know my worth and value. Men naturally recognise that much more and don’t hesitate to point it out, whereas a lot of women just feel like they’re lucky to be in the position that they’re in. A partner I worked with early in my management career said to me once: “I have all the male managers and directors knocking on my door to tell me how great they are, you never do that”, which I think is a great example. Whether that is the right behavior or not, the jury is out, but it’s the reality.

 I definitely believe in sponsorship as a way to combat this and it’s something that I have done and I’m currently doing for a number of female colleagues at the moment. I haven’t formally told them but I’m definitely putting their names up there in lights. It is just fantastic to see them get promoted, take on new roles and live up to their potential and continue to grow.

I think women need to put other women up in lights - half the time we won’t do it for ourselves, so we all need to make a conscious effort to highlight other women who are out there doing amazing things. 

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