Inspirational Woman: Rachel Taylor | Technology Partner, Deloitte

Rachel Taylor - Brand Photo

I’m a beekeeping, vegan, teetotal, computer-game playing, scuba-diving, book-reading film-lover and I’m a self-confessed hippy at heart too.

I believe strongly in each of us taking personal responsibility in looking after our planet and those who live here. I’m a terrible singer but that doesn’t dampen my enthusiasm or my volume. I’ve got a weakness for crisps and I’m a huge fan of rainy days curled up with a great boxset.

I’m also a Technology Partner at Deloitte within the Tax service line; I work with clients all over the world, helping them make sense of the sometimes confusing world of technology and automation. I love to solve problems and share insights that I’ve gathered along the way.

I moved down to London after university without any real plan of what to do (other than knowing that I definitely did not want to be a barrister, which had been my intention at the end of my law degree). I took a series of admin temping jobs for a year, before accidentally falling into joining the Tax service line at Deloitte & Touche (as it was then); I met a recruitment consulting at a late-night party and, after talking with me, suggested that I think about a career in Tax – I shook off the feeling that this was the equivalent of a personality slap in the face and took up the suggestion.

Since then, I had in-house roles at HSBC, Channel 4 Television and Barclays, before rejoining Deloitte in 2006 as a Senior Manager, working 3 days a week. It was there that I truly found my groove in carving out a role to deliver all the tax aspects of Finance Transformation, with the current focus on Operational Transfer Pricing. Through that work, I progressed up through Partner in 2011 and have been enjoying myself doing that ever since.

Did you ever sit down and plan your career?

No – most of the major events in my career were actually unforeseen, whether they were an unexpected opportunities or a crisis. There have been times where I have set a goal and targeted a particular career progression, but the real accelerators have come from spotting a gap or an opening and throwing myself into making something differential happen.

The two main things I would advocate for making sure as many of those opportunities arise as possible are 1) make yourself enjoyable to be around – people are more likely to give a hand up to those who they like; and 2) keep your mindset enthusiastic and positive – being open to the joy in life and the possibilities of events will help you spot the potential.

Looking back over my career so far, it has taught me never to worry too much about the future – focus on the here and now, do the best job that you possibly can with as much gusto as possible and chances will come to you along the way.  When they do, grab them and don’t let go.

Have you faced any challenges along the way?

Many – but that can be a good thing.  I firmly believe that challenges are what build our stamina and keep life interesting.  It is my experience that the greatest learning comes from the times that feel hardest in the moment and that nothing beats the feeling of overcoming a difficulty that once felt insurmountable.

There have been times however when those challenges have tipped over into negativity – I have faced situations at different times in my career where I have had to deal with such things as discrimination, being subjected to bullying and subsequently suffering from feelings of depression and hopelessness.  Going through each of those has taught me highly valuable lessons and given me the ability to genuinely empathise with others in similar situations; however, I now do everything within my ability to try and make sure that others do not have to be subjected to the same behaviours.

I was also out of work for over four years and had to re-enter the workplace with two young daughters who were aged two and four at the time. I’ve had to manage much of my later career whilst being a single parent. For one 6 month period, I was travelling from London to Manchester several times a week to help nurse my family nurse my father at home through his terminal illness – sleeping on the floor of his room overnight and then catching the 7am train down to London to carry on the day job. During that time, I remember telling someone that I couldn’t make a meeting before 9:30 and receiving a sarcastic comment back about that being “practically the afternoon”. That taught me that you really don’t know what someone’s personal life looks like, so never judge.

What has been your biggest achievement to date?

Without a doubt, my biggest achievement is raising two daughters who have embraced STEM subjects without any sense of that being a male domain.  Sasha, who is 17, is taking Maths, Physics and Film Studies at A-level and has accepted an offer to study Robotics at the University of the West of England, which has the largest robotics lab in the UK; Cassia, 15, is taking the full range of sciences, maths and Computer Science at GCSE and has selected Maths, Biology, Chemistry and Psychology for her A-levels next year.

Seeing their connection with their chosen subjects is hugely encouraging to me that there is no reason why we shouldn’t have more women embracing technology and the wider STEM subjects. It’s a personal passion of mine and I carry that through to the workplace, making sure that each of my own projects always creates opportunities for women and that I have a strong gender balance on my teams.

In my group at Deloitte, Tax Management Consulting, we are also running a Women in Technology agenda – making sure that the roles we advertise are female-positive, bringing a strong gender balance into the group and through the promotion stages, providing training opportunities to women and creating a positive environment for all forms of diversity across the group.

It’s critical to me that I’m the same person at work as I am at home and that means promoting the same equality in my teams as I do within my home.

What one thing do you believe has been a major factor in you achieving success?

I don’t have a doubt in my mind that the biggest factor in me achieving any successes that I have is the mindset that my father instilled in me that I could do anything if I wanted it enough.  He had two daughters and he never set limitations on he believed we could achieve or what we should get involved with – either in relation to our gender or due to other people’s expectations.

He led by example and taught us to disregard any negativity that we encountered in relation to our ambitions or goals; he taught us the joys of ‘treading the path lesser trod’ and his favourite mantra was “give a man [or daughter!] a fish and he eats today; teach a man how to fish and he eats every day”. I can’t count the number of times that a request for him to do something for me was countered with “no, but I’ll show you how you can do it” – infuriating at the time but hugely valuable in engendering independence and self-belief.

He was an enthusiastic, kind and unique man. It was only in my twenties that I started to realise the power of the gift of self-belief that he’d given me. My only hope is that I can successfully pass it on to my own two daughters and those around me.

How do you feel about mentoring? Have you mentored anyone or are you someone’s mentee?

I love mentoring when there is a good working connection between the mentor and the mentee. I’ve had one mentor where we just didn’t get each other and it was largely unproductive and we almost certainly just wasted each other’s time.

However, apart from that experience, I have both mentored and been a mentee on multiple occasions and actively look for opportunities to do more of both.

A willingness to share and learn on both sides can give a special relationship and really open up different mindsets and pathways; often not the initial ones that either side had in mind, but usually fruitful.

If you could change one thing to accelerate the pace of change for Gender Parity, what would it be?

We need a mandate to actively promote a meaningful number of women into positions where they can effect lasting change with a more gender-balanced environment around them. Token placements of a woman here or there often fail, not because the woman is unable to run the role or the team, but because she simply doesn’t have the support network around her that men in the same position do.

Without women in numbers at more senior levels, we are requiring women to do what we are not expecting men to do – i.e. thrive in an environment where they are the exception, the only person of their gender at the table, with a pre-established male network around them.

All too often, tokenism replaces a real agenda for change – I would like to see a mandatory gender balance at senior levels throughout our working world. There is an argument that this is too aggressive a move and there aren’t the women ready to fill those roles. My view is that we react successfully to times of rapid change in a thousand other ways – whether those are economic, regulatory or technological – so the argument that change in this situation needs to be gradual is more about protecting the status quo by those who have created it.

If you could give one piece of advice to your younger self what would it be?

Don’t waste time borrowing trouble from the future or the past.

I have spent far too much time (and still fall back into this pattern now too) spending hours playing through scenarios in my head, usually with a negative slant to them.  I used to think that it was productive and that I was preparing myself better for future events; however, now I realise that the vast majority of it never actually happened in practice and I was just increasing my own stress levels.

Bringing myself back to the present and doing the best possible job in the here and now is infinitely more productive.  Meditation is extremely helpful for this; a friend was kind enough to introduce me to an excellent meditation teacher. I have since also done a retreat to learn stronger techniques and am starting a year’s Veda course in April this year. There used to be a stigma in talking about spiritual or personal resilience matters; that has gone away to some extent, but sadly I know that it has not yet left us completely.

What is your next challenge and what are you hoping to achieve in the future?

My next challenge is to make 2019 my year of giving back. That was my New Year’s Resolution for 2018 but I ended up having to focus on dealing instead with a period of depression and a low personal ebb.  Having come through that period, with the support of my partner, a therapist and my family and friends, I feel ready to take my resolution back up this year.

I’m making the promotion of opportunities for women one of my key focusses – as part of that, I’m throwing myself into Deloitte’s Women in Technology programme, bringing that to my group and also participating in wider events such as International Women’s Day sessions. I’m also planning on speaking at my daughter’s school (although she doesn’t know that yet – surprise, Cassia!). I also want to embed those philosophies into daily life too, so that it’s not all about the big events but taking the time to check in with those around me and making sure that they know there’s a listening ear ready if they need it.

I haven’t worked out yet what all the details look like, so any suggestions welcome!

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