‘Surround yourself with people who care’… In conversation with Valeria Locatelli

Putting yourself first when navigating a career isn’t easy, but Valeria Locatelli, chief internal auditor at Pension Insurance Corporation, has some good advice to share. In a candid interview with Simran Sadhra from Protiviti’s iGROWW network, she explores priorities, purpose and passion – and the power of people in your corner.

Please tell us about your professional story and how you started you career?

I started my career as an external auditor in my own home country of Italy. It wasn’t a profession I dreamed about; in fact, it was the only job available when I graduated. But it’s been a good career. I moved from external to internal audit early; I spent some time in industry, and then moved into financial services, where I remain today.

There have been two key moments in my professional life: In the early days, I was trying to follow the path everyone else was taking, but I lost a sense of who I was and what I wanted to achieve. I was lucky enough to go on a training course, where they asked the right questions, and I realised I was stuck. That’s when I moved into financial services. The second most important moment of my career, after many years as an auditor, was trying to figure out what I wanted to do. But I realised I enjoyed being an auditor, and I was good at it; ever since, I have made it my mission to stay in the profession.

A few years ago, I also developed a passion for neuroscience and pursued a master’s degree in the subject. As I evolve as a person, the activities I engage in change, and I find that quite inspiring; I like to see where things take me.

How do you manage your work-life balance?

I prioritise myself, because I have to be physically and mentally well to help those around me. Sometimes that means taking difficult decisions, such as delaying a meeting or taking time to rest, but I find that’s better than continuing on a path of self-destruction. Every day, the first thing I do is look at my diary. Instead of accepting what’s in there, I change things that are no longer a priority.

What is the biggest adversity you have faced in your career?

The passion to pursue my interests doesn’t sit well with everybody and requires compromises. Also, as I have progressed in my career, there have been difficult choices about what to prioritise: from a bereavement or illness to a new relationship or family, for example. It’s easy to get caught up in the hamster wheel and continue doing what has always been done. But taking stock of where I am, at home and in work, has been invaluable.

Looking back, is there anything you would have done differently?

I would have cared less about what people thought. Most of us want to have a good working life, and that means healthy relationships with colleagues. But it’s also true that we have objectives to achieve. I sometimes got caught in those relationships instead of focusing more on the outcome. When you are part of a team, you don’t have to have the same opinions and interests, but you have to drive towards the same outcome.

Have you seen any improvements to the gender gap?

In the past few years, several colleagues have taken shared parental leave, and many female peers have been recognised for their work; colleagues have also chosen to take a step back from the workplace when they become mothers. It’s about individuals making decisions that are right for them, rather than what society or the workplace expects.

But more needs to be done. If we have a diverse group of people, hearing those voices isn’t enough; they have to be carefully listened to and acted upon. Something else I have noticed recently are questions about people’s backgrounds. Even though I was born and raised in Italy, for example, I have lived all my working life in the UK, so I am well equipped to deal with things here – but I am still stereotyped.

What is the best work-related advice you have ever received?

A manager, who continues to be a valued mentor, said: “Never think about your next job; always think about the job after that, two steps ahead.” Everything I do today will impact my ability to achieve my goals tomorrow. If I want to be a stay-at-home mum, retire at a particular age, or be a chief auditor, the journey is going to take different steps. Things don’t just happen because we’re good at what we do; things happen because we help ourselves.

Have you got any advice for the next generation of women?

Do what is right for you and take your time because a career is very long. Everyone needs to look after themselves, think about who they are, and their strengths. One thing I have learned is that there is always time. If people look back on their careers, most will probably wish to have spent more time doing the things they enjoy. A healthy balance is key.

Also, surround yourself with people, either at home or at work, who really care about you as a person. There’s so much competition and I haven’t always found that conducive to success. I thrive in an environment where individuals are collaborative and enjoy supporting each other through good and bad. When others want to see you succeed, the strength is in the team and never one individual.

iGROWW is Protiviti’s internal women’s network group and stands for ‘Initiative for Growth and Retention of Women at Work’. It has a strong voluntary membership that tackles women’s professional issues through forums, and facilitates networking events and community service activities. For more information, please contact Rhianne Williams [email protected].