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Five things that made me

How Katie got to where she is now

Five things that made me’ explores compelling stories of human leadership as we speak to senior role models in the firm. Every month, we put the spotlight on a different leader to find out how they got to where they are now. This time, we chat with Katie Houldsworth, an audit partner who leads with kindness.

Meet Katie

Katie has been with Deloitte for over 25 years. Her day job is leading audits for listed companies and she is the People & Purpose Lead for Audit & Assurance. Katie also runs our Deloitte Academy Women on Boards programme. Oh, and she’s a mum to teenage twins. Above all, Katie’s open, honest and 100% herself – which gives others permission to do the same.

1. Life on the moors

“I grew up in an old farmhouse in the middle of the moors in Yorkshire. As the oldest of four siblings, I had a lot of responsibility and independence from a young age. My parents didn’t have much money, but they always gave us the confidence that we could achieve whatever we wanted.

My first job was at a greengrocer when I was 13. I worked all the way through school and university – in bars, hotels and factories across West Yorkshire. It was obviously great to have some pocket money, but it also gave me the opportunity to work with different people.

At university, I did a maths degree. I didn’t know exactly what I wanted to do after, so I went to my careers adviser for guidance. I was given three options (this was the days before the internet!): be a teacher, stay in education or become an accountant. My parents were both in teaching and dad wasn’t going to give me any more money, so I thought I better get a job…”

“My parents inspired me to do the best I could at whatever I was doing.“

2. The power of perseverance

“So that’s where it all started! I have to admit that it was not from a burning desire to become an accountant, but just because it seemed like a choice that would give me another qualification and more options in the future. When I graduated, I applied at every one of the Big Six (as they were known at the time) and received six job offers. I decided to join Deloitte because I really liked everyone that I met and felt an instant connection.

Over 25 years later, I’m still here. That may seem like a long time, but no year has been the same. I’ve had the opportunity to work with different teams across the firm, on different audits, with different clients in different industries. I’ve also taken on roles in audit innovation and talent leadership. Making sure that I’m learning and trying new things is really important to me.

There have been times where I’ve worked on engagements that I didn’t particularly enjoy, or with teams I didn’t fully connect with. On a few occasions it even made me consider leaving the firm. But I realised I was looking to go for the wrong reasons, and just having an open and honest conversation with people at the firm I trust helped me find my next great opportunity within Deloitte.”

“I’ve been here for this many years because no year has been the same.“

3. Women inspiring women

“When I was first preparing to become a partner, I remember doing a practice presentation with a senior leader who I’d worked with for a long time. He pointed out that I’d come dressed in a different outfit, used lots of complex language and had been very serious throughout – he said that it just didn’t feel like me.

I realised that I was dressing and talking the way I thought an audit partner at Deloitte should. His feedback gave me the confidence to be myself and be authentic to who I am. I’ve brought that with me ever since and try and share it with others over the years – especially women.

For the last few years, I’ve been leading our Women on Boards programme, which supports women to take a step back from their day jobs to consider whether there’s a role for them on boards in the future. I learn from seeing others achieve great things and take inspiration from that. That’s why we need more senior female role models in business – it can be so powerful in encouraging others and giving them ideas.”

“If you can’t see anyone who looks like you it doesn’t mean that you can’t succeed.“

4. Professional is personal

“A few years ago, I found myself in a difficult position both at work and at home. I have teenage twins, and my daughter is autistic and has learning difficulties, so it can be quite challenging to balance. Until the pandemic, I travelled extensively and didn’t work from home very often.

My daughter was having a hard time. To be honest, I nearly left the firm to give her the support she needed. But one of my colleagues spotted that things were challenging and kindly checked if I was okay. This resulted in a support framework being put in place to take some work away and allow me to focus on home when I needed it most.

Sometimes, explaining what you are going through is important to those you work closely with. That first conversation made a huge difference to me and my daughter’s mental health. It also encouraged me to have a bigger conversation about working part-time. I felt a bit uncomfortable about it at first, because there weren’t many partners in that position. Over the last few years, I have flexed my working pattern to suit what I’m doing which has included working four days a week – it has allowed me to feel much more balanced.”

“The smallest conversation can have a real impact on people. It did for me.“

5. Finding balance

“You know what they say – you can’t look after others if you don’t look after yourself first. I try and make sure I’m making time for me by going outside to walk the dog, getting enough sleep, going for a run or doing yoga and spending time with my family.

I’m not claiming to be wonder woman – sometimes I find myself doing a spin class far too early in the morning or discover the kids have had a huge bag of crisps for dinner. Or I haven’t caught up with my husband for days! We’re all just human after all. I believe that sharing personal stories and examples gives people ideas on how to manage certain situations in their careers. I hope that mine have.

My advice for anyone reading this? Make sure you’re learning. Be confident in your ability to make a change if you need it. Oh, and work with people you enjoy spending time with. Take the time to get to know them. It makes work much easier and more fun.”

“Be confident in your ability to make a change if you need it.“

Five things we learnt from Katie

  1. Do your best at whatever it is you’re doing.
  2. Look for ways to grow. You’d be surprised at what you can do.
  3. Be who you are everywhere you go.
  4. When things get difficult, remember you’re stronger than you think.
  5. We’re all just human. Learn. Make a change. Have fun!

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