Director, Risk Advisory
What inspired you to become an ICAEW Chartered Accountant?
I fell into accounting by accident. I studied law at university and had the ambition to become a lawyer. During one of the university career open days, I managed to speak to one of the Big Four firms and got invited to their residential insight day. The experience inspired me to pursue accounting as a profession. I ended up being the only ethnic minority that attended the insight event which I found overwhelming. I was suffering from imposter syndrome to the extent that I didn’t think a firm like that would hire someone like me, but I still applied for an internship. In those days the recruitment process was the same for postgraduate internships and graduate programmes – psychometric test, first interview, assessment centre and final interview.
I worked really hard and put my best into the process. At my final interview, I was fortunate to be interviewed by a partner who was an advocate for diversity, and I believe he saw my potential and knew that I deserved to be on the graduate programme but didn’t have the confidence to apply. That confidence he saw in me was so important, and the power of that interaction shouldn’t be underestimated. Long story short, he changed my life when he offered me a position on the graduate training programme, and I’ve never looked back. Even though the profession has become more diverse, it is important that there are more advocates and role models to open up opportunities for underrepresented groups.
Thinking about specific people or experiences, what helped you to get to where you are today and how?
I have been very fortunate to have good mentors throughout my journey who advocated for my development and gave me constructive feedback – which was not always pleasant! I am now very intentional about planting myself in environments where I feel that I can be supported to flourish. In the early days of my career, I focused on just working incredibly hard and hoping it would be enough. As I progressed, I realised that hard work wasn’t enough, it was important to also raise my profile and build my network.
Having someone advocate for you can make a big difference to your career journey and self-confidence. I remember returning from maternity leave and thinking that my professional career would be short-lived because I wasn’t aware of any other Black women who had progressed as working parents. I also didn’t think that it would be possible to combine my career with the demands of being a mother. My work mentor (and advocate) at the time was gracious enough to prove me wrong and found me a Black female partner who was also a mum and she inspired me to continue my career trajectory. These relationships have evolved over the years and new relationships have been formed. My network is my wealth and I pay it back, completing the cycle, by mentoring other people coming up the career ladder into leadership roles.
What actions can we all take to become workplace allies and what does this mean to you?
Allyship is something I take very seriously. I believe that true allies are those that are not looking for recognition but are passionate about advocating for others. They are not only the people we see on social media posting about how they mentored or supported students from under-represented or disadvantaged backgrounds, but are those quietly making a difference every day by supporting and advancing people’s careers one step at a time. Allyship is not a label or an accolade, it’s a position of responsibility that comes from a place of passion. I will encourage those that have benefitted from allies to always recognise their contributions openly and show appreciation. Advocacy is a two-way thing. I’ll also recommend a very useful blog by Deloitte’s UK CEO Richard Houston which reflects on the need for allies to listen, learn and lead.
One of ICAEW’s strategic themes is ‘strengthening the profession by attracting talent and building diversity’. Why do you think this is important?
I was surprised to learn that most executives in the FTSE hold the ICAEW qualification. This demonstrates that the ICAEW qualification is an enabler for holding senior-level positions. However, how do we bridge the diversity gap at senior levels when we don’t have many people from under-represented backgrounds taking interest in the profession and the ICAEW qualification? There is work to do to make the profession more accessible to people from diverse backgrounds, and role models/those in senior roles (myself included) need to be visible and encourage this. One of our committee objectives for my year as President of the ICAEW West of England is to promote awareness about the profession and the benefits of the ICAEW qualification in schools and universities. This is also a great opportunity for our younger members to build their leadership skills, and start their journey to a life changing, exciting and rewarding career.
That confidence he saw in me was so important, and the power of that interaction shouldn’t be underestimated. Long story short, he changed my life.
How do you think the profession is becoming more diverse?
Progress has been made but there’s still work to be done. By embracing the activities that young people are most interested in, such as sustainability, diversity, technology, we can attract a wider range of people. ICAEW, accounting firms and the industry at large need to incorporate these into their businesses and sell them as part of their recruitment efforts.
What would you like to see more of in the future of accountancy?
I would like to see more diversity in the accountancy profession at all levels and role models – after all, you can’t be what you can’t see, and trailblazers are few and far between. Employers have a role to play in this by investing in building a diverse pipeline of talent. For instance, at Deloitte we are awarding bursaries to support university students from under-represented ethnicities to support their ambitions for successful careers, acknowledging that they will form part of our recruitment pipeline for the future. Together with our 5 Million Futures charity partner Blueprint for All, 41 students have benefited from this initiative so far. I would like to see other employers offer a similar helping hand to people entering the accountancy profession. ICAEW is also playing an important part in improving access to the profession in its excellent social mobility initiative RISE, which works with employers to provide skills-based workshops in schools identified as having a higher than average number of students eligible for Pupil Premium Funding compared to their local area.
What one piece of advice would you give to someone thinking of joining the profession?
Accountancy is more than crunching numbers behind a spreadsheet; the profession opens you to many opportunities and enables you to make an impact in the world. I am proud to be an ICAEW Chartered Accountant.
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.