Five things that made me

How Caroline got to where she is now

Five things that made me’ shares stories of senior leaders at Deloitte. This time, we had a heart-warming conversation with Caroline Hope, who heads up our social care practice – and has got quite a few tales to tell.

Meet Caroline

Caroline is a force of nature. Her family of can-do women helped her believe she could do anything. She’s unstoppable. But she realised it was okay to take a break too. From her early social work in Romanian orphanages to how she learnt to fit in and find belonging, here’s her story.

1. Can-do women

“I grew up in Northampton in a fairly traditional family environment with my parents and older brother Iain. My biggest influence came from strong, practical, can-do women who were very present in my life – my mother and my grandmother but also a whole community of women in my extended family and beyond. They gave me a strong sense of self-belief that was quite unrelated to any logical assessment of my ability!

When I was eight, my teacher asked who wanted to be in the football team My dad had been quite a serious footballer, so I put my hand up. It hadn’t crossed my mind that they didn’t mean girls. I was so indignant I decided I was going to be in the chess team instead – and spent the whole summer learning how to play.

My first job, at 12, was plucking turkeys for Christmas on my uncle’s farm. I always knew I wanted a ‘profession’, but I changed my mind about what that would be for a long time: a vet, a doctor, a dentist. I trained as a lifeguard when I was fifteen and landed my first ‘professional’ job as a lifeguard as soon as I had my national insurance number.

My first degree was in psychology. I wanted to be a clinical psychologist, but to be accepted on the master’s course, you had to have worked as a clinical assistant. At that point they were paid virtually nothing. From my moral high ground, I decided it was unethical and fundamentally went against social mobility, and I refused to do it.”

“It never crossed my mind I wouldn’t be able to do whatever I fancied. Most children are like that, but I’ve held on to that for a very long time.”

2. A massive dose of naivety

“I started working as a residential social worker for children with disabilities in the UK. Next thing I knew, I was off to Romania with my rucksack to start a new job. This was the post-Berlin Wall, post-Ceaușescu era, and a growing awareness of children with complex health and emotional needs living in horrific conditions in ‘orphanages’ and other institutions.

I managed three children’s homes, designing and running a training programme for Romanian residential social workers. And, with the medical director, I identified children who would move into each unit while a sister organisation tried to find their birth families. Our mission was to prepare the children emotionally and physically to return home.

I had no idea how challenging this work would be and how isolated we were from home. There was no phone contact with our families, so all communication was by letter. The winter was hardest. We were living on Romanian ration cards, getting up at 5.30am to queue for sugar, oil and milk rations. I was there for just over a year, but the children were wonderful and the experience and friendships will stay with me forever.

From Romania, I applied to do my social work masters. University of Birmingham offered me a place without an interview. I couldn’t afford to fly home, so I took it. After working as a social worker in children’s services in the public and not for profit sectors, I realised I wanted to have more influence and impact. But there was no clear career path for me – you served time and you slowly moved up the ladder step by step. I wanted a different direction.”

If we’d known the reality, I don’t think any of us would have done it. It was a solid case of can-do with a massive dose of naivety.”

3. Fit in to stand out

“Over the course of my career, I’ve often forced myself to accelerate my growth by making a big change. For example, I took on a fixed-term contract so I didn’t get stuck somewhere for years – that was my worst nightmare. I also decided to work for myself for a while. I was an absolute fiasco. I had no idea how to run a business, and my assumption I’d be fine on my own was very wrong.

So that’s how I landed in the consulting world. I joined one of the other Big Four firms to look after their adult social care practice. I had no idea what the job even meant, but I loved the excitement of consulting and freeing the more impatient me, the one that wants progress fast. There was a big value placed on passion and speed.

But it was also a shock. Because of my background, it never occurred to me I couldn’t take my whole self to work. I’ve always been open about being a lesbian, my relationship with my partner Jo, and a strong sense of standing up for what’s right. But suddenly, my wardrobe choices made me stand out. My forthright opinions were not welcomed. And I felt like an imposter.

When I joined Deloitte, I decided to do things differently. Before, I just stood out. Now, I worked harder to fit in, to be part of the fabric of the organisation so I could stand out for the right reasons – not because of my wardrobe. I spent some time learning about how a partnership works. I’m not particularly hierarchical, so I speak my mind and challenge openly, but I needed to recognise and respect it’s not the same for everyone.

Making those changes helped me focus on what I really cared about – delivering better social care outcomes for people. Listening to the people we create services for and to the people on the frontline delivering those services. Focusing on co-designing solutions and respecting the different skills and experiences people bring to the table. Getting alongside our clients, showing humility, and building relationships based on respect. We all need incredible people on the frontline, and we have the opportunity to support these people in every way we can.”

“I felt it was important to know how to fit in, so I could choose how to stand out – how I wanted to make an impact.”

4. Strength + vulnerability

“In 2010, I was training for Ride Across Britain, a 900-mile cycle across the country, when it became it obvious that there was something wrong with my legs. However hard I worked I just couldn’t do it. Shortly after, I was I was diagnosed with MS. So while the ride was taking place, a group of us rode unicycles in Hyde Park to send a message: sometimes the hardest things to take on are the things that need more than physical strength and power – they need you to accept help.

It took me a couple of years to accept that I could be both strong and vulnerable at the same time. Now I’ve found a balance, I can value each alongside the other; they contribute to each other, and the result is something much more rounded, more powerful.

I thought a lot about how I can have the biggest impact with the resources I have. MS definitely has an impact on that – I can’t rely on being physically strong or being able to keep going regardless of how I feel. My mindset used to be very much that you can achieve almost everything you want if you work as hard as you can. But now I had to accept that working five days was too much.

So, I worked with occupational health and moved to three days a week. It gave me an opportunity to think about how I could make a different kind of impact.”

“It took me some time to understand how the strength within me could be in service of my new vulnerability.”

5. Find the light

“I’m really proud I’ve been part of the change through my career – that I was brave enough to do certain things, to speak truth to power. But after working with children through really devastating moments in their lives, I’ve recognised a need for lightness. Working with children and young people has always been important to me – they have shown me that even when things can be deeply difficult or you find yourself despairing, things don’t have to always be heavy – there can be light too.

I was 12 when my Dad died and childhood bereavement services weren’t a thing back then. This is partly why I took a role with Young Minds, a charity that supports young people and makes sure they’re not alone with their mental health. As chair, I love the chance of working alongside young people – I’ve enjoyed bringing them much closer into our governance as trustees.

One of the most important sources of wellbeing for me is being part of a community. I’m the sponsor partner of our Proud at Deloitte network in the Midlands. Being part of that community gives me a deep sense of belonging and happiness. For our most recent Pride march in Birmingham, I wanted us all to bring friends and family along – to be there with my colleagues as well as my partner Jo, who is always there when I need her most, made me feel at home.

Looking back, I’d give myself permission not to always be in the driving seat. I remember being asked once what would happen if I let someone else hold the flipchart pen [laughs]. I’ve learnt that when I do less, I give other people the opportunity to do more. It’s just as important to be part of a community and not necessarily leading it. I’ve got better at feeling content with who and what I am.”

My communities free me to lead when I feel like leading and to be held when I need to be held. That’s my panacea of looking after myself.

Five things we learnt from Caroline

One

A big dose of self-belief can take you a long way.

Two

Try something out. Learn from it. Repeat.

Three

You can stand out and fit in and still be you.

Four

Accepting your vulnerabilities is your greatest strength.

Five

When you do less, others can do more. And that’s a good thing.

The five things that marked Caroline's journey

There they are – the five things that marked Caroline’s journey. The story of how she got to where she is now. May it inspire you on your own journey. We’ll be back next month featuring a new role model.

Explore more stories featuring our role models:

Five things that made me