Elaine Daly, Partner, Head of Business Consulting, Grant Thornton

8th May 2023

This week Elaine Daly, Partner, Head of Business Consulting at Grant Thornton and WMB Diversity Ambassador tells us that ‘successful networking is a critical part of almost any business today’, especially in relation to business development.  Elaine also talks about some of the ED&I initiatives in place at Grant Thornton where last year alone, 60% of promotions to Director level were female.

Can you tell our readers a bit about your background and your role at Grant Thornton?

Absolutely. I joined Grant Thornton back in 2006 and I am now a Partner and Head of our Business Consulting unit here in Ireland. At the beginning of last year, I also took on an additional new role as Global Head of Business Consulting with Grant Thornton International. I come from a business-minded background having completed an MBA, studied Strategic Management and having previously worked for the business consulting units of two other leading Irish professional service firms. I’ve worked in both the public and private sectors across a broad range of engagements, in particular with the Healthcare and Life Sciences fields.

As a WMB Diversity Ambassador, you are a role model for others. How do you think you can make a difference in this regard?

I am very proud to be involved with WMB as a Diversity Ambassador and to be counted amongst such a high calibre of working women. Throughout my career, I have at times worked in a more male-dominated industry, yet I have worked through the ranks over the years to achieve my personal goals. By being involved, I would hope to be able to encourage women to achieve their own goals too, whatever they may be.

I think it is also important to acknowledge that Diversity is not just gender-based, and it is my role to look at how we can be inclusive across every aspect of Diversity in a female context.

How important is networking to you and your business?

I think successful networking is a critical part of almost any business today. Certainly, in business consulting, while I would hope the quality and reputation of our work is the main factor enabling us to secure new business, the value and importance of networking shouldn’t be understated. It can be exhilarating to network with new people, to hear and share experiences and to take the first steps into a new opportunity. We, in business consulting, acquire a lot of our new work through networking and it is a very important part of business development.

What is the greatest opportunity in your business sector today?

We work with a broad range of fantastic clients and I’m proud to say that we have such a fantastic team who deliver on those engagements. In the last five years alone, we’ve more than doubled the size of our business consulting team. I think that your people are at the heart of what you do as a business. Every new hire offers an opportunity for a new way to approach something or a new way to look at a challenge. Our team has grown exponentially across every corner of Ireland and I believe our people are our greatest strength at Grant Thornton.

Do you think your gender defines you?

I would be hesitant to say that; there are many things in this world that truly “define” you. I think people have an enormous capacity to grow, change and adapt. I don’t believe that the gender to which a person identifies with holds much bearing on what they are able to achieve in the work environment.

Investing in ‘you’ builds confidence and self-esteem – Do you agree?

Most certainly. At Grant Thornton, we offer yearly continuous professional development courses to our staff to promote and encourage upskilling and to help ensure our people are getting their best out of their role.

It’s important not just to invest in your people, but to also recognise and offer support when people are not at their most confident.

People have lives outside of work and things can happen. I think taking time to invest in yourself and to be aware of how you are feeling is a valuable skill to have. The ability to self-regulate and to know when you need to take a moment for yourself is really a testament to a person’s character and resilience.

What ED&I Initiatives are in place at Grant Thornton?

Grant Thornton is very much committed to ensuring that every staff member feels their individuality is embraced and that they feel like they can bring their who selves to work.

Our ED&I programme, called Embrace, operates across five key pillars: Ability; Gender Equality; LGBTQIA+; Family; and Ethnicity & Culture. The programme currently has well over 80 members from over 50 nationalities across the firm.

From an Ability partnership perspective, we have an ongoing partnership with AsIAm, Ireland’s national autism charity, and recently, during Autism Awareness Month (April), we rolled out Autism Inclusion Training firm-wide.

We also hosted a week of campaigns, panel sessions and social gatherings during this year’s International Women’s Day focusing on the theme of #embraceequity and have hosted education-focused International Men’s Day events. From a training perspective, we offer tailored training programmes, Aspire and Accelerate, which are focused on promoting and helping women progress to senior leadership roles at the firm. We’ve led Pride celebrations and we’re proud to say that inclusive family policies received extensive media coverage in 2022 as market-leading family-friendly initiatives and this year we have launched our Return to Work Programme for those coming back from maternity/paternity leave.

Also, last year, we had our inaugural Culture Night which showed our dedication to representing all our diverse colleagues in one forum.

While overall progress in Ireland is positive, an alarming 15% (globally 9%) of Irish businesses currently have no women in senior management roles. (Source: Grant Thornton). What are the main challenges facing women when it comes to career advancement?

I agree that these were alarming statistics to read. I think there can be many obstacles facing not just women, but all people, when it comes to career advancement. Competition can be intense and as we become more and more connected globally, this competition can increase. Having said that, there are many opportunities now for roles that didn’t exist previously. There is so much information available at our fingertips and I think that brings such opportunity to those in the workforce now. Separately, sadly, women still face issues with career advancement when it comes to maternity leave and starting a family.

I’m very proud to say that last year at Grant Thornton, over 60% of our promotions to Director level were female.

Additionally, four of my own team within business consulting were promoted to Director directly after, or while on, maternity leave.

Can you provide a possible solution to one of these challenges?

I think communication is key. The more we talk about gender challenges in the workplace, the less taboo they become for our wider society. I think we have come such a long way in recent years in that respect – the work that WMB do, and this very interview, is evidence of that.

People are talking about gender challenges in the workplace in ways that did not seem possible to talk about even just a few years ago. Acknowledging that something exists out loud is always the first step.