Caroline Thorley-Farrer | 40 Outstanding Global Women 2023
As part of our Think Women Outstanding Global Women series, we spoke to Caroline Thorley-Farrer, Group Global Mobility Director at engineering firm, Worley.
“We need to see people who look like us who are succeeding to realise sometimes it’s possible. To be able to offer opportunities to other people to grow is fantastic. When I also look at diverse ethnicities and see more women and people of colour coming through the ranks and taking senior positions, I just think that is fantastic because it shows everybody it can be done.”
On the international mobility front line
For Caroline, a “mobile life was in the blood from day one”. The child of a Forces family, Caroline moved frequently with her father’s postings. These early formative experiences, coupled with a burning desire to find an international role straight from university, have seen Caroline take calculated risks, pivot and seek opportunities to develop her own international career with self-initiated moves and employment with some of the world’s largest and most mobile companies, including Eni, BAT and Mott MacDonald.
In her current role at engineering company, Worley, Caroline is firmly on the frontline of aligning global talent with strategic goals. She is innovating progressive and sustainable approaches to overcome significant talent shortages in the sector, including a pilot programme for engineers with refugee status, and positively influencing what is possible in global mobility.
In mobility you’re on the front end – to foresee challenges and try to resolve them before they happen
“I can’t remember the number of primary schools I went to,” says Caroline. “The shortest we lived in any house was 7 weeks before my dad got another posting. As soon I left university, I knew I desperately wanted to work overseas and looked for opportunities to do this immediately.”
This early-career wanderlust saw Caroline put herself forward and be selected as a graduate recruit with Arthur Andersen as one of two people assigned annually to its US expat tax office in Brussels. It was during this time that Caroline’s started to work on how she could realise her ambition of moving into global mobility.
“When you work in tax, you are reporting what’s already happened,” says Caroline, explaining the appeal of global mobility. “In mobility, you get on the front end of it. That was my interest in moving to mobility: to try and get more involved in the front end, foresee the challenges and try to resolve them before they happen.”
This realisation continues to shape Caroline’s personal leadership in the sector, which is creating positive ripples of change and growing more inclusive talent pools.
Making an international career move with traditional gender roles reversed
“Being in Brussels was a wonderful experience,” says Caroline. “But I really wanted to be on the mobility side. It was difficult to make that change in Brussels. So, I figured I would come back to the UK and make the change from expat tax to mobility, which is quite a well-trodden path.
”After a sabbatical in Vietnam, a client-side role at Deloitte followed in 2005. These were to provide the springboard for Caroline’s next in-house roles into some of the world’s largest fast-moving consumer goods and energy companies, and a self-initiated move to Singapore with her husband and two young children in 2013.
“I had a couple of different roles in Singapore,” says Caroline. “It was quite easy moving when I was 21 to Brussels. I had a suitcase and I got on a train. But all the challenges and life admin that needs to happen to make it work and move my family to the other side of the world was a challenge.
“Then that guilt as well. My husband was very happy to take a risk, even though it meant leaving a successful corporate role to follow me and it eventually worked out brilliantly. My husband didn’t work for the first couple of months because he was the one who was doing all the settling in, house hunting, children settled into school, essentially setting up our new home life overseas.
“It’s incredibly helpful to have a supportive spouse who can flex their own career. Often, I know that women do that and take a step back if it’s a man’s career which is flying. But in our situation and in our family, my husband, who actively supports Women in Leadership initiatives, has found his niche building his own company which offers great flexibility.”
What can help the ‘male trailing spouse’ experience
Assignment success is often determined by how well the family settles, and social and cultural acclimatisation. With the traditional roles reversed, Caroline joined an informal group of women in senior roles in Singapore who, like herself, “had chosen to push ourselves out of our comfort zone and take a job on the other side of the world.”
What they all had in common was that “it was us who had said ‘actually, this is good for my career, this is good for my family, this is interesting and it’s an opportunity I want to take.’“
I do think there are opportunities for male trailing spouses to set up organisations to help each other. We were considering a move to Switzerland. There are a couple of male trailing spouse organisations there and that was quite a draw for us.”
Today’s engineering challenges need diverse talent
Caroline and her family moved back to the UK where Caroline is now working at Worley, focusing on global mobility to support the company’s goals. “At Worley, I find it really interesting how the organisation is putting sustainability and the messaging around the purpose and values at the heart of everything it is doing. It really hooks you in as an employee.“
To be part of an organisation that is supporting how we can develop more sustainable energy and focus on supporting our customers – like the BPs and the Shells – when they are on their journey to be more sustainable, is fascinating. It really speaks to me and other employees I talk to. Worley is doing an incredible job of bringing their employees on the journey to sustainability and putting those strong values at the heart of everything we do.
”An important aspect of Worley’s work is looking at new ways to engage more diverse and inclusive talent to support customers, the business and individuals. “We have focus areas within Worley on the women that are coming through,” says Caroline. This includes early on with schools outreach to spark young people’s, particularly girls’, interests in the range of opportunities.
“There are so many different focus areas in the engineering space. You don’t need to be a pure engineer. We need to make sure we are opening the eyes of all people, of all abilities and backgrounds, to show that there are careers and interesting opportunities for them everywhere they want to go. No one should think it is beyond them or not available to them.
“I’ve also been involved recently in setting up a small working group to look at how we can hire refugee professionals.
“Many tend to come from war-torn countries like Syria and Libya, where they have a higher number of female engineers than we do in the UK. From a sustainability perspective, we want to make sure we are hiring a cross-section of people.
“I also love the fact that more companies are getting involved in apprenticeships and taking away the degree requirements because some people could be late-bloomers rather than tick it all off at 18 or 20. There is space for all of us to have interesting careers and exciting roles everywhere really.”
Influencing and leading people is a core aspect of Caroline’s current role
“My parents drummed into me to always treat people as you would like to be treated yourself. So, that’s been the leadership style I take. I also trust my team. It’s about letting them get on with it so they can fly their wings.
“There’s a real focus as well in Worley on wellbeing and psychological safety; knowing that if you are unwell – physically or mentally – you need to take time off.
We want to make sure people can give of their best.”When it comes to events like International Women’s Day and networks like Think Women, Caroline believes they are crucial for raising visibility and learning from each other.
“We need to see people who look like us who are succeeding to realise sometimes it’s possible. To be able to offer other opportunities to other people to grow is fantastic. When I also look at diverse ethnicities and see more women and people of colour coming through the ranks and taking senior positions, I just think that is fantastic because it shows everybody it can be done.”
Offering advice for the next generation of leaders and young women, Caroline says, “Keep looking for something that makes you passionate and don’t be afraid to pivot. I’ve found my passion – expat tax wasn’t it – mobility is, so don’t be afraid to take a risk, because it should pay off in the end.”