By Caroline Bedford, People Advisory Associate Director
“I spent seven years in the British Army as an officer in the Royal Artillery, serving on operational tour in Iraq in 2003 and Cyprus with the United Nations. While in the Army, at 23 years old, I lead a group of 30 soldiers, as the only girl in my troop. While no longer in the Army – as the title of my book suggests— the Army will always be an important part of who I am. I hope that through my story I can help make a positive difference, especially for my daughter.”
Chapter 1: You can’t take the Army out of the girl
My third day at Sandhurst (Army officer training) was 11th September 2001, I remember listening to Radio 4 (we were not allowed television), hearing reports of planes hitting the twin towers. On the day of my passing-out parade I was on the front page of the Times newspaper with the headline ‘Troops Go to War’ as Tony Blair had visited the parade and we had invaded Iraq. It was quite a start and finish to the course! I spent seven years in the British Army as an officer in the Royal Artillery, serving on operational tour in Iraq in 2003 and Cyprus with the United Nations.
The Army is a very male dominated environment and its only when you step away from it and get a different perspective that I recognised some of the challenges I faced. I think being resilient and keeping on going in Iraq was one of the biggest challenges. I was only 23 and looking after a group of 30 guys, being the only girl. In the area where we were based there was one communal shower block, someone from a different unit kept on cutting holes in the shower curtains so that there was no way to have any privacy – I was issued my own shower curtain! Sometimes it’s the little things that make it hard to get through.
Some of my proudest moments in the Army were when I won the Sword of Honour and the Hatch Tankard upon completion of my artillery training. The Sword of Honour was for the best officer on the course and the Hatch Tankard was for the person who had contributed most to the course.
'I’ve learnt a lot about myself and what motivates me at work. I am motivated by getting things done and making a difference.'
Chapter 2: A different battle ground
After the Army transitioning into civilian life and feeling successful was a challenge. It was only when I won my first bit of leadership work that I felt I’d truly transitioned back from being in the Army to being a real civvy!
I currently work with clients as an associate director on our people advisory business. Part of the joy of working at Grant Thornton is having held many different roles, including head of diversity and inclusion, and trainee experience. My journey with Grant Thornton has been quite unique, since it’s my second time working here.
The first time I accepted a job here I had just resigned from a head of business development role at a small leadership consultancy. One of the reasons I resigned was that they did not want me to work part time on return from maternity leave. I applied to be an associate for our leadership and culture business (no longer exists!), but I was sent a description for an associate director role. I read through the job description and thought “I can do about 60% of the role” and was not going to apply. However, I had just read the book Lean In by Sheryl Sandberg where she encourages women to think about giving job opportunities a go even if you don’t think you can do 100% of what’s written in front of you. I mustered up the courage and applied. To my surprise, I was offered the role and allowed to do it part-time.
I’ve learnt a lot about myself and what motivates me at work. I am motivated by getting things done and making a difference. I really want to help people, teams and organisations realise their full potential. I hope that that through my work I’m able to make a positive difference for the people I engage with, especially for my daughter.
Chapter 3: An agile life is for me
My daughter, Jessica, who is five going on 15, is the most important person in my life, closely followed by my husband Steve. Coming in at three and four are my best friends Carrie and Karen - without them in my life I would be lost. They are a huge reason why agile working is very important to me. It allows me to be there for my family and friends, without having to worry about progressing in my career. I get to be there for the special moments, like seeing my daughter doing her first assembly at school (I am a massive blubber, but managed to keep it under control!).
I know Grant Thornton isn’t always perfect when it comes to diversity and inclusion, but I firmly believe that people want to do the right thing by others and we are committed to getting it right. I could not do this job without our approach to agile and flexible working – it’s an absolute game changer for me. I want to work hard and progress, but I want to make sure I am the best mummy I can be at the same time. Grant Thornton lets me do that.