Deborah Harris is the first Black woman to be elected President of the London Society of Chartered Accountants in its 150-year history. She tells us about her priorities for the coming year.
Tell us about your career
I completed my ACA training with PwC Financial Services group, then went into corporate finance and investment banking roles. I now lead a digital media agency, as well as my portfolio of non-executive director (NED) roles, where I am an independent NED and Chair of Audit & Risk committees in financial services, public sector (education, housing, healthcare) and central government bodies.
I’m determined to reduce inequalities that women often face in the workplace and beyond. At the London Society of Chartered Accountants (LSCA), for example, we have committed to events that spark impactful conversation and an allyship-based approach. During my term, I want to build on the best of our existing events and activities.
I see the LSCA’s role as supportive, enabling more members to discuss the issues they are passionate about, and also hold the door open to enable more volunteering on our committees and planning groups.
It is important the LSCA offers the 36,000+ ICAEW members that live, work in London, not just a different lens through which they see their profession, but also direct opportunities to engage as local communities with Area Societies. Our district society wants to support more take-up of ICAEW Continuous Professional Development. We also want members to recognise the opportunities available to increase their impact as professionals in business or practice.
Tell us about your involvement with LSCA – what persuaded you to put yourself forward as an office-holder on the committee?
I’ve been a volunteer in one shape or form for most of my life; I enjoy the impact delivered through service. So it’s been natural for me to continue my volunteering within the profession. I started earlier than most, so I’ve also been a non-executive director for nearly two decades now I’ve been on the main LSCA committee since 2013 and found it fascinating to see the huge breadth of activities the LSCA delivers or contributes to, many of which some members may not be aware of unless they are also active members.
What kinds of volunteering do you do?
Some of the non-executive directorship are to do with things I am particularly passionate about, including women’s financial empowerment. I’m also the founding President for the UK & Ireland Council of Lean In Networks. Lastly, I sponsor InspiringTomorrow, an initiative that mentors Black students and women undergraduates with a passion for STEM, and then gives them opportunities to meet and learn from senior leaders in their dream career.
Often these students are the first people in their family to go to university. Over the six years I’ve volunteered with this group, the mini-mentoring and inspiration sessions we’ve arranged have led to many participants getting a better understanding of the opportunities. Without those sessions, many would have never thought about accountancy as a valued career.
Can you share a memory with us from your time training for the ACA?
Before training at PwC, I studied Civil Engineering as I was interested in how buildings went up – and stayed up. However, although I had a brilliant year of work experience with civil and structural engineers in the UK and US, I knew when I returned for my final year that I did not want a career outdoors. I’d also started to think about how businesses went up – and stayed up.
Just before my graduation I researched five possible careers, and I found that audit would give me the opportunity to get behind the scenes and find out about a business. I spent a few months in Finland after graduation and walked into the PwC office in Helsinki and asked to speak to a manager. Luckily, they didn’t march me out of the building and I spent some time hearing about what they did and meeting the staff. I loved the culture and opportunities for interesting work, so when I returned to London I applied for ACA training. I love the fact that ACA has an open route if you have a solid degree; you don’t have to have studied accountancy or finance. In fact, they welcome that sort of diversity of qualifications.
I wanted to study at one of the big firms and I wanted to work in financial services. PwC and most of the Big Four had embarked on building a diverse intake, and my training course had people from all around the world. I made some really good friends and am still in touch with many today.
What advice would you give your younger self just starting out on their journey to become an ACA?
It wouldn’t be that different from how I’ve lived. Maybe… find your workplace allies and put yourself out there to find them sooner! People can’t help you if they don’t know who you are. Build your personal board. Review it often. Don’t hide your accomplishments – it’s not bragging if it’s based on facts.
Stay engaged and inquisitive. That’s opened doors to people who I would otherwise not have met. Oh, and don’t give headspace to those who enjoy putting other colleagues down.
Deborah is happy to invite you to the upcoming annual Pan Accountancy Lunch on 28 October at Mansion House in London.
More Black History Month content
ICAEW is proudly celebrating Black History Month, which takes place every October in the United Kingdom. The theme for 2022 is “Time for Change: Action not Words”. Discover our range of content on this theme.