What kind of leader do you want to be?

Whoever said it was lonely at the top might have felt differently if they’d had, or been, a sponsor.

At Deloitte we want to make sure everyone with the potential to become a leader can achieve their ambitions and has the same opportunity to succeed and thrive.

In early 2021 we launched our Emerging Leaders Development Programme for senior managers and directors from Black or ethnic minority communities.

It’s helping us to tackle under-representation, work towards achieving our ethnicity and gender representation targets and build a pipeline of future talent that reflects our increasingly diverse society.

We schedule catch-ups but, also, I can call Kate and just run something by her. It’s good to know I can do that.
Puja Shah

Deloitte senior manager

Puja Shah is one of 166 leaders in the first cohort of the initiative, in which she’s working with her sponsor, Deloitte partner Kate Darlison.

Kate is a valuable sounding board and source of insight for Puja, but this is far from a one-way relationship. Since they started talking to one another in February, both have felt the benefits.

“We focus on my career to date, what the challenges have been and their impact,” says Puja, a senior manager in our Audit & Assurance practice.

“We schedule catch-ups but, also, I can call Kate and just run something by her. It’s good to know I can do that.”

And Kate adds: “Hearing from Puja about the different experiences she’s had has made me question whether I’m looking outward enough and thinking about opportunities for partnerships within the firm. It’s lovely to spend time talking to someone in that way. There are definitely benefits on both sides.”

Open and honest

Kate works in Audit & Assurance too, so understands Puja’s career path. However, being in different teams gives them a degree of separation that has helped to build trust. Puja knows she isn’t being assessed and it sidesteps any hierarchy.

“We’ve been able to have some frank conversations about what Puja might be grappling with,” continues Kate.

“We’re all problem solvers here. But when we talk, being slightly removed stops me jumping into problem-solving mode and coming up with the answer, which isn’t the point. Instead, I can listen and provide a sense check.”

In addition, increasing access to our partners is breaking down perceived barriers.

“Kate is very open and honest, and I’ve learned that she also has a comfort zone and can get nervous if she has to step outside of it,” Puja says. “She’s talked about how she manages those experiences. It makes you realise that it isn’t something that should stop you progressing.”

Opportunity to connect

Alongside sponsorship support, participants attend a range of workshops. These are designed to develop their self-awareness and understanding of their environment as they prepare for the next rung on the leadership ladder. This includes sponsorship meetings, educational workshops, reflective check-ins (to help participants reflect on what they’ve learned and share experiences with peers) and talks from external presenters.

One thing Puja has found valuable, especially given COVID-19, has been the peer network provided through the programme, which participants have engaged with online.

“It’s been amazing,” Puja explains. “Having the opportunity to connect with peers from around the firm and also having more transparent conversations – supporting and challenging each other – in a good way!

“The combination of the training, the conversations with peers and the sponsor relationship has been invaluable and the impact greater than the sum of its parts.”

We need to see more people we each identify with in senior roles.
Kate Darlison

Deloitte partner

Unlocking equal opportunities

The programme is enabling more Black and ethnic minority colleagues to determine the kind of leader they want to be.

“We need to see more people we each identify with in senior roles,” Kate says. “As a firm, we know we have to do things differently – we’ve got a brilliantly diverse group of people but we don’t always provide the right progression opportunity.

“Unlocking more equal opportunities to progress is exactly what we should be doing as leaders.”

So, what would Puja say to anyone considering joining a future cohort?

“You have to want to do this because that’s where the real value is. The fact that this is voluntary for both the sponsor and the person being sponsored makes a massive difference as people are genuinely committed to the relationship and to the programme.”

And Kate’s thoughts?

“You need to have a willingness to explore subjects that you may not always have been comfortable talking about. As a sponsor, it’s important to offer the opportunity to have those conversations.

“For me, this isn’t a short-term programme that you complete and move on from. It’s a long-term relationship and a long-term investment.”

Accelerating gender balance

We’re also increasing sponsorship opportunities for women directors on track to partnership to help accelerate development. In June 2021 30 per cent of those promoted to partner were women (up three per cent on June 2020), and 41 per cent of director promotions were women, taking representation of women partners and directors to its highest to date; 25 per cent and 33 per cent respectively.


Laura Parsons, PR senior manager
+44 20 7303 0885 | Email Laura

Sue Gibson, PR manager
+44 20 7303 3156 | Email Sue