Posted: 21 Jun. 2022

We need to be bold. Speak up. We hold back too often. I would love it if we could do these things more because we can add so much value to society, to our working environments, to our clients – and ourselves!

Manuela took part in Deloitte’s global Women in Risk campaign, honoring female employees in risk leadership roles around the world.

Hi, my name is Manuela and I am part of the German Risk Advisory Team.
In my position as a Senior Manager I am taking every opportunity to empower the women in my team and urge them to speak up, be bold, and believe in themselves.

We need to be bold. Speak up. We hold back too often. I would love it if we could do these things more because we can add so much value to society, to our working environments, to our clients – and ourselves!

Could you tell us a bit about your so far career journey?
I started my career in the risk field at Deloitte in 2019, as a manager in Extended Enterprise, which encompasses a wide range of areas organizations need to monitor and control, such as IT asset management, contract management, and third-party risk management. At the beginning, I was deeply involved in three or four client projects, two of which I still have today. These are with two very large clients — one is a “top five” pharmaceutical company, and the other one is a $25 billion logistics provider.

Deloitte really allowed me to build my career step by step, taking on more strategic tasks over time. For example, at the end of last year, we began the very critical but intensive, challenging process of building shared service centers from the ground up throughout Deloitte Continental Europe (DCE), including Turkey and Casablanca, Morocco. These centers allow us toe grow and scale our consulting services and provide our clients the right resources at the right time.

Early in 2021, I was also nominated for a female leadership program, which gave me another opportunity to learn so much more about the company overall and how it works, and to hone my leadership skills.

What excites you the most about your job?
What really excites me is that it’s multi-dimensional. There’s never just one thing to do. I have operational tasks on the client side — that’s the project management work. Then, there’s supporting my team with the infrastructure, knowledge and power they need to be successful at their work. I also have strategic tasks.

I also love that I’m situated between IT and business administration. You need to understand IT concepts like virtualization,, containerization and you also need to be able to design and implement business processes to ensure efficiency. And on the other side, you need to understand the business impact. We need to ensure clients are optimizing ROI (return on invest) for their software spend, which is usually massive — typically 20% of the entire IT budget.

Overall, Deloitte is a very project-oriented company, and that’s what I’m drawn to — the ability to get into different clients and organizations. The growth opportunities are really high.

How would you describe your day-to-day role as Senior Manager?
I spend the majority of my time (40%) collaborating with my team to help develop solutions to the problems they’re tackling with our clients. Even though it’s no longer realistic for me to get involved “in the weeds” of client projects on a daily basis, it’s actually one of the things that I still love to do, so you’ll still find me digging into the details from time to time.

About 30% of my time is related to project manager tasks. For example, longer-term planning, goal-setting and creating cost savings for clients. And another 30% is focused on strategic business tasks like hiring. It can certainly be challenging because I need to focus on all of these areas simultaneously – client projects, growing the business, hiring people, team training and development, onboarding and ongoing skill sharing, and more.

What career growth challenges have you experienced as a woman an how did you overcome them?
Balancing my career and motherhood definitely remains one of my main challenges, and I don’t think it’s realistic to think I’ll ever have a perfect solution. I’m constantly aware of this “push and pull”, and I make a concerted effort to achieve a good equilibrium. I would say two things that have been instrumental are:

·         The support of my husband: We both have demanding, full-time jobs, but we always find a way to share the responsibility of parenting. During the pandemic, we were often faced with kindergarden closures just a few hours before our workday started. We’d have to quickly review our calendars and determine how we could best divide and conquer work obligations and caring for our kids. We always made it work — and the rest gets done once the kids are in bed. It truly does “take a village,” and having a supportive partner, family, and friends is essential.

·         A supportive employer and flexible working times: I’m able to work remotely, and I also have the flexibility to manage my days in such a way that I can focus on priority client meetings and make room for personal priorities like kindergarden closures, if needed, during business hours, and then resume less time-sensitive but more strategic business workloads later on, once the kids are in bed.   

Overall, time management is critical. So, for example, I carve out time for lunch with my husband every Friday and a date night every other Saturday. The hours of 6 p.m. — 8 p.m. each night are always reserved for family time with the kids. I also try to take two hours each weekend for myself — whether that’s a massage or to meet with friends. We all have different, and often multiple, roles in life. I don’t want to fulfill just one of them, but it’s up to me to try to balance it all. Is it perfect? No. It’s challenging. It can be exhausting. But it’s definitely worth it.

Are there other work challenges you face as a woman?
Apart from motherhood, a big one is the myth of working hard and automatically being recognized for it. When I was younger, it seemed simple: If I just worked hard enough and performed well, of course someone would notice, right? And I would be recognized in some way, like receiving a promotion. But reality hits fast, and I understood that’s not necessarily how it works. If you or your team is doing good work, you have to communicate and promote it.

Over the last two years, I’ve started making sure I devote time to this. I owe it to my team to make sure their client successes are conveyed to the larger team within Deloitte. The lesson is it’s not enough to just be hardworking — that’s not how business works. If you’re doing something good, it’s important to talk about it, and it’s often up to you to do so.

What do you think makes a (female) leader successful?
In order to grow and lead, I think it’s really important to build self-confidence and step out of your comfort zone. As an example, I started my career in IT communications, but I realized it didn’t fulfill me. I wanted to get more involved in client-facing IT advisory work. Although I was a bit worried since I didn’t have a lot of experience in the area, I took on my first software sales role. Then, I made the difficult decision to move from Germany to California in 2016, without having landed a job there yet. I remember those very difficult first six weeks in the U.S., applying for jobs after having left my family and everything I knew in Germany. It was also very challenging to get a U.S. work permit. All of this forced me to take big leaps outside of my comfort zone, but it has paid off in spades in terms of career growth and satisfaction. And I’m so thankful for the opportunity to meet so many strong and successful business women in the US. In 2019 my husband and I decided to move back to Germany to be closer to our families and I decided to take over a new role as Manager in Risk Advisory.

Second, a leader needs to be a decision maker: I also think balancing gut instincts with data analytics is very important to great decision-making. It’s essential to examine the data you have at your disposal. But in the end, we’ll never have truly complete information available about anything, and we need to do a better job of trusting and combining that feeling in our stomachs with the data at hand.

Third, a good leader should be able to solve problems. That may sound obvious, but it often doesn’t happen. No problem is so complex that you can’t break it down into the essential parts. And you will never solve hard problems alone. I often grab a colleague and say, “Hey, look, I have this problem, and I’ve thought about it this way or that way.” We almost always come to a conclusion, and I think that process of collaboration is so important.

How can organizations encourage and inspire young women (or young people in general) to join this industry?
One of the most important things to me is to show my team, including incoming hires, that I believe in them. We have to give those just starting out the trust to make them feel comfortable, safe, and protected. It’s similar to the dynamics of a family; if you feel safe and protected, you’re willing to take a risk because you know there’s someone who will help you get back on your feet.

Second, give them high-quality projects so they have the opportunity to grow, but also to make mistakes. Making mistakes is essential, and I’ve made many of them. What’s important is that we learn and grow from our mistakes. I always say, “There’s nothing you can break that I can’t fix.” Think about Deloitte’s slogan, “Make an impact that matters.” You can only do that if there’s someone who trusts you enough to give you significant projects.

Third, empower them. Allow them to make their own decisions. I have a young team member who is in her early 20’s. She’s already a Senior Consultant as she’s very competent and talented, so she was promoted quite quickly. Since she also can be shy, I’ve been gently nudging her to take over on a project I’m managing, which involves being more vocal and leading calls with the client. I tell her, “I’m here if you need me,” but I’m pressing her to take that freedom to make decisions and have her voice be heard.  

Do you have any advice for women entering the field?
As we’ve talked about a bit, a major challenge for women is self-confidence. There are often a lot more males than females in any given work situation, and the males are usually more confident and vocal. As a female, I know I’ve left meetings and wondered why I didn’t speak up when I had something to say.  There is one  book that offer advice on this subject: “Nice Girls Don’t Get the Corner Office,” and I recommend it to female colleagues all the time.

Women face challenges that men don’t have to grapple with — the myth of “just work hard and you’ll get ahead,” as I talked about, or dancing around the challenges of pregnancy and a career, or the feeling that we have to minimize our work, our position, our achievements. Many of us can relate to that situation where a male colleague proudly states he’s “the” Senior Manager on a project, while as women, we might feel the need to downplay our role and just say, “I’m doing a project.” We need to stop denying the importance of office politics — something men often inherently understand and do well at.

Essentially, sometimes we need to just step up and take on new challenges. We need to be bold. Speak up. We hold back too often. I would love it if we could do these things more because we can add so much value to society, to our working environments, to our clients – and ourselves!

Would you like to learn more about career opportunities in Risk Advisory? See our Risk Advisory career page.  

Get more information about female empowerment at Deloitte and read further stories from women in Risk Advisory all round the world. 

Become part of our Risk Advisory team – let’s grow female empowerment together!


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