Meet three ambitious women from Deloitte. They are all in different stages of their career – but have a similar aspiration: to make their mark on the gender diversity and inclusion agenda in Deloitte.

In June 2021, Mette Kaagaard became Deloitte’s first female business unit leader when she took over as Head of Risk Advisory, thereby also becoming part of the executive team. The same year, Monsurat Nurudeen joined Deloitte’s SAP practice as Chief of Staff, and Line Lund Pedersen finished her Master in Business Economics and Auditing – moving one step closer to her goal of becoming a State Authorised Public Accountant.

All three women are part of a traditionally male-dominated industry, but they are also part of a movement. A movement to challenge the status quo and change the culture within the industry.

Respect requires setting boundaries

Throughout her professional career – from earning her university degree in mechanical engineering to taking up a CEO position in an IT company – Mette Kaagaard found herself in industries where women have usually been a minority. But she has learned to navigate fields where she at times felt different – thanks to her upbringing and own ability to set boundaries

- I always knew that I wanted to be a leader. I grew up with a mother who was a successful businesswoman and in that sense a role model for me. One of the biases I have met is that you cannot be a great mother and prioritise your kids while having high ambitions at work. But I have set boundaries that allowed me to do both.

Throughout the years, Mette has found strength in staying true to her values and setting the right boundaries for herself.

“My best advice for young women with career ambitions is to be themselves and set boundaries. I might laugh a bit too loudly, but that is how I am. I have always been like that – also in the executive suite. Respect comes from being yourself and setting boundaries. Even towards your boss or client.”

Mette Kaagaard, Head of Risk Advisory

Setting boundaries is also a primary reason why Line Lund Pedersen thrives at work. Line lives with a chronic illness that affects her energy levels and requires flexibility – but an illness that is not visible.

- People often forget that I live with a chronic illness. But I want to be ambitious at work and at the same time have the resources to create the best conditions for my body. For that reason, I put demands on myself and I put demands on Deloitte.

Due to her chronic illness, Line has some different needs to make her everyday life work, such as increased flexibility. But that is also why she is passionate about creating an inclusive environment that has room for talents that come with different strengths and challenges:

- There are so many talented people out there with different backgrounds and abilities. It is a strength to be good at different things as a team and workplace. I want to be part of setting requirements and changing the culture, so there is room for more diverse profiles. You can create value in so many ways.

Monsurat Nurudeen agrees that it is a strength to set boundaries and say no – and believes we all can learn something from standing up for ourselves. A significant moment in Monsurat’s career was turning down a job offer, which – on paper – was a great opportunity and a double-promotion, with no other offer as a back-up:

- The job and the compensation package disregarded my qualifications and were designed based on a stereotypical idea about my Nigerian nationality. It did not feel right to take it; I would be doing myself a disservice. Turning down a job offer with nothing else lined up takes some guts. But it is okay to say no and have boundaries – also as a foreigner.

Quotas or qualifications – or both?

The debate about gender quotas has once again gained attention in Danish media. Monsurat has been through a mental shift on the topic and now embraces the concept because she realised that it is the only initiative that will truly move the needle and create real progress.

“If you had asked me about quotas some years ago, I would have said that I don’t want to be chosen for a role just because of my gender or the colour of my skin. If you ask me today, I’ll be your damn quota. I will be your quota because I believe in my qualifications, and once I’m in the room I can be part of creating a more diverse environment and changing the culture for the next generation.”

Monsurat Nurudeen, Manager in Consulting’s SAP practice

She also highlights that the argument against quotas often revolves around choosing gender over qualifications. But to Monsurat, quotas and qualifications can go hand in hand:

- I realise now that qualifications will never be the only thing that gets a woman where she wants to be. It is about the relationships and trust you build with professional peers and superiors who have the power to positively influence your career – while proving your capabilities and strengths. That is why I do not think the quota system is useless. It will still hire the best candidate within the given category – it just turns out ‘best’ isn’t only male.

Mette has many years of experience in leadership and executive positions. And while we are doing certain things to change the speed of progression in Denmark, she believes we are not anywhere near where we should be:

- When I became a CEO in 2007, the recruiter told me I was the first woman he had recruited to such a position. 15 years later, I see close to no progression on women in leadership roles. That is why I believe we need quotas. However, I think quotas should be on men and not women – a quota is a restriction and when restricting the traditionally dominant figure in leadership and board positions, we create space for others and turn the dialogue upside down. In that way, the negativity of getting a certain position due to gender or other types of diversity disappears.

While Line also believes the lack of women in leadership positions poses a challenge for our society, she thinks we need to look at the culture from within and take action to create better conditions to equally support different competencies in people:

- If we want more women in leadership positions, I believe we should look at where we lose our female employees. The lack of female leaders is not because we are not competent enough – a big reason is that we are often missing from the talent pool because we have left the industry.

Unconscious bias impedes diversity

Line dreams of exiting the doors at Børsen after passing her exam to become a State Authorised Public Accountant – and has recently been accepted to the academy. But some of the reactions she has received have surprised her:

“When I have voiced my dream to become a State Authorised Public Accountant, I have gotten comments such as “You will definitely be accepted to the academy. You are a woman”. That makes me feel like my professional competencies are neglected. The agenda to get more women in leadership positions is so important, but it is a shame if we, during this process, focus on women just because of their gender and thereby overlook their competencies.”

Line Lund Pedersen, Senior in Audit & Assurance

Mette has likewise experienced degrading comments related to her gender and highlights that the intentions behind these types of remarks are often harmless. However, they are part of a culture that, to a large extent, is sustained by unconscious bias:

- More and more organisations have started to work with unconscious bias – including Deloitte. Not only to act on gender diversity but several types of diversity. If we want to accelerate the speed of change, organisations must set requirements and targets for recruitment, promotions and board elections.

Monsurat agrees that unconscious bias plays a massive part in why we are not progressing much on gender diversity:

- Research shows that people like, trust and more positively evaluate others who are similar to themselves. If a homogenous group is to describe who should fill the next seat, they will most likely describe a copy of themselves, or a copy of the last person who held the seat, and this may detract focus from the actual qualifications needed for the job. Being conscious of this, I would gladly take a seat in that room and change the way we collectively assess and define qualifications going forward.

In Deloitte, one of our biggest challenges is to attract and retain women on more senior levels. To change this, we have many different initiatives including:

  • Training leaders on all levels on unconscious bias and inclusive leadership
  • A sponsor programme for top female talents
  • Targets and systematic reporting on our progress
  • Our improved parental leave policy that gives all parents equal terms.

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