After four years building and leading Deloitte Canada’s Diversity & Inclusion Consulting practice, Carolyn Lawrence is now Deloitte Global’s first ever Inclusion Leader. Passionate about creating inclusive cultures, Carolyn previously spent ten years at the helm of Women of Influence, growing the organization’s reach, offerings, and impact.
by Carolyn Lawrence
“I want to influence women’s advancement.” That’s what I wrote in a graduate school application essay some 20 years ago. It was a pivotal moment. You know the kind. When you’re working through your thoughts; exploring, testing, sounding out and seeing what sticks. And then I wrote that and everything became clear.
I mapped out my action plan to pivot from my marketing and communications in financial services background and follow my passion. This led me to join and subsequently run Women of Influence. It was a dream creating events, magazines, and courses, all to advance women! Things couldn’t get better.
But throughout those highs came a number of strength-building “opportunities” — and some real lows. I faced not only the stresses of entrepreneurship amidst a recession, but also the sudden loss of my father.
What helped me most was that I knew I had found my purpose. I’ve said it many times before, and I will say it many times more: find your passion. This has been my compass and a burning fire lit from within. Still, I knew I needed change. I was tired, stretched, and feeling a need to learn, grow, and, quite honestly, have a little less entrepreneurial stress.
I also saw that the representation of women in leadership wasn’t increasing fast enough. It was time to shift my focus away from helping women advance, to advancing corporate culture instead — guiding them to hire and promote women.
That led me to Deloitte, where I joined the Human Capital consulting team to build a Diversity & Inclusion practice. It took significant effort to learn how to be a consultant and navigate the hundreds of bosses in the partnership, plus a good amount of resourcefulness to create a new service offering (thankfully with helpful and bright minds, global thought leaders, and strong allies on my side).
To be rated a high performer, I had to supplement the practice with substantive revenue and hit billable hourly targets. It was a challenge to keep up with the pace and volume. I was working from 4 am to 6 pm, spending time with my son, and then often crashing right after I got him to bed if there wasn’t an urgent proposal on the docket. I had some great wins, and learned some invaluable lessons about my work — but I wasn’t connected to my purpose, and therefore wasn’t getting fuel. It felt more like running on empty.
“What helped me most was that I knew I had found my purpose. I’ve said it many times before, and I will say it many times more: find your passion.”
Then a funny thing happened: I got some negative feedback on a presentation. It was hard to hear, but it was also the push I needed. It was time to look in the mirror.
Was I being true to my purpose? Nope. Did I want to be a badass again? Yes! Here’s how I moved back towards passion and authenticity:
Pivot when it’s not working. There was a meeting planned in front of a panel of partners where I had to share my business case for advancement. I knew I couldn’t keep on the course I was on. I prepared, sought counsel, and designed my case. Would they give me some runway to figure out how to declare my focus? I shared my passion and expertise, and my ideas for how I could make it work. I thought through their perspective and all of the questions they might ask. The meeting went well. They were appreciative of my honesty and that I had framed it with the business in mind.
Be Brave. I risked my career in that moment. I’d spent many years keeping my mouth shut when things weren’t going accordingly (at home and at work). No longer. I do wait for the right moment and thoughtfully and strategically script myself, but I do it.
Stay true to yourself. As a result of my bold move, I was realigned to the work that I loved: designing gender pay gap methodologies and groundbreaking research, all with inspiring people. Our report, The design of everyday men, shares a new perspective on how culture is getting in the way of gender equity, including the “always-on, always available” barrier I encountered.
Fast forward, and that recent work — the work where I was aligned to my passion — has led me to being rewarded with my current role, Deloitte Global’s first-ever Inclusion Leader and our report was just honoured by Fast Company’s Innovation by Design Award!