“I think when people first meet me, they assume that I am confident and outgoing. But in fact, I’ve suffered from being shy and lacking in confidence and would never describe myself as outgoing. I use humour to my advantage, rather than trying to hide the real me. I also struggled when coming back from maternity leave the second time. It was hard to find me again. However, rather than trying to be someone else I embraced being me. With me, what you see is what you get. My advice for others is don’t try to be someone you’re not, because it wears you down. If you are true and honest and say what you feel and mean – then in my world you can have no regrets.”
Chapter 1: An inspirational start
I grew up in Edinburgh, with my two younger brothers. I went to a council-run school and was incredibly lucky to have some amazing teachers who made me realise nothing was impossible, and it was ok to be myself. I was the first of my family to go to university and studied Geography and Politics at Edinburgh.
When I finished my degree, I had no idea what to do. I knew I would never be a politician – I am too straight to the point and lacking in spin! I joined the Big 4 through a graduate scheme which gave me amazing opportunities to stretch and develop. I stayed for 15 years and through two maternity leaves. The second time I returned from maternity I realised I was too much in my comfort zone – it was time to stop being scared and try something new.
I was very inspired by Grant Thornton being the first large professional firm with a female CEO. I was impressed by the culture and I had the opportunity to shape the Public Services team in Scotland. I was given freedom to make a difference my way and create an ambitious strategy, with guidance from the firm obviously!
'I wasted too much trying to be someone else so that people liked me or I fitted in – you can’t control whether people like you or not, but you can control being you. People should accept you for being you, and if they can’t, at least you know that you are not the problem.'
Chapter 2: Finding me
I think when people first meet me, they assume that I am confident and outgoing. Outwardly I can definitely meet new people and be chatty and relaxed and I hope that I am approachable. But in fact, I’ve suffered from being shy and lacking in confidence and would never describe myself as outgoing.
I’m always smiling and can see the funny side of things even when under pressure or on a bad day. I use humour to my advantage, rather than trying to hide the real me. I’m always aiming to be honest, helpful and supportive. With me, what you see is what you get. Life is short – it is too short to over-analyse and focus on what could have been. I’m not afraid to admit when I’m wrong, but I’ve got better at focusing on what has gone well and what I have learned. I wasted too much trying to be someone else so that people liked me or I fitted in – you can’t control whether people like you or not, but you can control being you. People should accept you for being you, and if they can’t, at least you know that you are not the problem.
I used to over analyse everything, always focused on what I could have done better, why everyone is so much better at X than me. I definitely get imposter syndrome. I’ve learned to try and focus on all the things I do well, and that I am good at my job – it’s not always easy and I often end up talking to myself!
The best aspect of my job is seeing team members pass exams or take on new opportunities and develop themselves. And it’s always great when a client thanks you for a piece of work. I’m always proud of my team when different views are recognised and we all work together, trying new things and not being afraid to not get it 100% right. For me, better to have tried and learn, than to do nothing. It’s really important to me to recognise that everyone has a view and opinion and they all matter – I used to be one of the quiet ones and I have learned it doesn’t make what I say any less important or meaningful.
I have lots of things to be proud of – My husband would probably say marrying him was my biggest achievement in life! I am proud of my current role at Grant Thornton leading the Public Services Scotland team and proud of becoming the only female partner in Scotland (there should be more of us!). Throughout my career I have lacked confidence in my own abilities (and I sometimes still do), but I don’t want this to get in the way of my ambitions. I would like to make more of the opportunities that come with being a partner. I would love to be able to do all that as well as living in Scotland with my family – to prove you can do both.
Chapter 3: Be yourself…all of the time
At home my family and I work as a team. They’ve supported me in coming back to work full time. My kids Sophie and Ollie are now six and 10. It’s amazing how they embrace everything with no fear - I want them to keep that for as long as possible. They make me smile no matter what kind of day I’ve had. They keep me grounded and they’re my number one fans. They pick me up when I’m down and vice versa.
I want to teach my kids that they can be whatever they want to be. That there are no barriers and they should aim big and be confident. I struggled when coming back from maternity leave the second time. It was hard to find me again. Although I was only off for 9 months – It felt like my career had gone backwards by at least 5 years, which was really frustrating. When asking for advice it was often assumed that I was asking about juggling work and children, when in fact I was asking for career advice. It was important to show my kids that you can work, be successful and have a family – that you don’t have to be the loudest or the most confident in the class to succeed.
My advice for others is don’t try to be someone you’re not, because it wears you down. Rather than try to be someone else I have embraced being me. In my previous roles there was a lot of pressure to fit in – my wardrobe was a series of black trouser suits. It often felt like you had to be someone else and imitate the most senior people if you wanted to progress. At Grant Thornton I have become far more comfortable expressing my views. I have confidence in my own ability and don’t compare myself to others – And I don’t have own any black trouser suits!