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Insolvency, gender balance and Maltesers

Ahead of the Younger Members London and LSCA pre-Christmas networking event, guest speaker Laura Stuart-Berry, co-managing director of gender diversity consultancy 20-first, talked with ICAEW regional executive Megan Fitzpatrick about respect, the importance of speaking and listening, and how to land the perfect job.

January 2020

Laura Stuart-Berry’s career has taken her far and wide, from starting in insolvency, to becoming Grant Thornton’s first ever chief of staff. Now focusing on promoting gender balance across the workplace, the 20-first co-MD talked about the many highs and lows of her various roles, as well as advice she would give to anyone who wants to work in a more positive professional culture.

You came to accountancy through a bit of an unconventional route. How did you end up as an accountant?

Yes… a degree in History and Italian doesn’t exactly scream finance, does it? After graduating, I landed in KPMG’s insolvency department. I stayed working in insolvency for quite a few years, both at KPMG and Grant Thornton.

Insolvency is a very emotive department to work in. I’m sure you had lots of highs and lows?

One of my worst and best times was actually with the same case. We had to go into a timber frame construction company and tell the employees that the business didn’t have sufficient funding and that we would be laying off around half the employees.

Making that announcement to an unsuspecting workforce isn’t easy and there was a lot of shouting and screaming that day. I was with them for a few weeks working on recovery strategies but in the end, they did have to close.

By the time it was D-Day, they were so appreciative that they gave me a box of Maltesers and kiss on the cheek as a thank you for treating them with respect. That was the start of my human centric approach and my belief in a more inclusive style of leadership.

How did you manage to land a role which Sacha Romanovitch and the executive team at Grant Thornton created for you?

I asked for it! I emailed her when she was elected as CEO, saying ‘I love what you’re doing, please give me a job’!

What advice would you give to people starting out on their careers, as well as more senior professionals?

While I was at Grant Thornton working with Sacha, we promoted a company culture which was focused on sharing ideas, responsibility and rewards. The core of this ethos was making sure that we value and listen to each other, regardless of seniority.

If you are at the start of your career, make sure you put your voice out there. Also, chat! Get to know people in your business outside of your usual role; that’s how I landed the chief of staff job.

If you’re senior, listen to your team. Sometimes a fresh-faced intern can come up with an idea that had never even occurred to you – and remember to give them credit! Who knows what else they’ll come up with?

You’ve been at 20-first for around a year now. In a blog after you’d been there for three weeks, you wrote about how your new boss, Avivah Wittenberg-Cox, broke your heart. Have you had many more Eureka moments?

We’re a gender balance consultancy working with large organisations to balance their teams and become ‘gender bilingual’. As I set out in my blog, I’ve always been keen on promoting women in business, but I realised I was doing it all wrong!

If I’m honest, I used to be pretty angry at men. Instead, I’ve now found a way to channel my passionate feminism into changing the mindsets of leaders from gender balance being ‘nice to have’ to being a strategic business opportunity. And, most importantly, helping men to join the gender balance conversation.

Frankly, it’s not a women’s issue for women to solve, it’s a business opportunity for men and women to embrace!

For more events held by the Younger Members London society, go to www.icaew.com/yml 

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