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Student Insights

Diversity and inclusion: leading by example

Author: ICAEW Insights

Published: 17 Jul 2023

informal meeting office sitting young people men women tablet phone laptop ICAEW Students role models

Three ACA students tell us about their career journeys so far, and the value of having inspirational role models.

Sharing my story of where I started in life, how I made my way through education and where I am now is incredibly important

Ryan Makuku, funding and risk trader, Barclays, London

I was born and raised in Newham – an area identified as the most ethnically diverse borough in England and Wales. In my early years, there was a distinct lack of socio-economic opportunities. It was far easier for me to pursue a career in music or football than it was to go down the qualified route. Towards the end of my time in secondary school, a student a few year groups above had successfully started to forge a career in accountancy. For me, that’s when the penny dropped. Securing a place on the EY Smart Futures social mobility programme during sixth form was also a life-changing experience. And that’s how my story to qualify as an accountant began. I can now say I’m very close to completing that journey.

They say in life it’s not about what you know, it’s about who you know – but imagine having neither. Unfortunately, that was my lived experience, so identifying that first role model really helped to widen my perspective. I thought, “if you can do it, then I can too.” It was as simple as that. A lot of the work I do now both in and out of the workplace is about helping young people get on the employment ladder. Sharing my story of where I started in life, how I made my way through education, and where I am now is incredibly important. I hope my story can offer a ray of hope and inspiration for the next generation. Opportunities may be hard to find, but seek them out, and find the role models.

There was a time in life when I had no positive role models – and now I have tons. They are all trailblazers in their own right, and a handful of them are people I know personally. I study their stories, take inspiration from their life lessons, and ask them for advice. Their ability to achieve highly whilst breaking the status quo is what I find incredibly inspiring. One that stands out is ICAEW member Monique Malcolm-Hay - who co-founded an organisation called New Gen Accountants - which is geared towards breaking down stereotypes in the sector. Monique has become a mentor and a role model in my journey of qualifying as an accountant. 

There are some great people I’ve worked with at my firm who I believe are good role models and they are not the most senior members of staff

Emma Kim, trainee chartered accountant, Saffery Champness, Bristol

I did a degree in law, but I wasn’t sure it was the right career for me. I ended up working at an event at the Saffery Champness office in Bristol and in September I started the graduate programme within the Audit department. I hadn’t considered going down the accountancy route before, but the firm seemed really nice, and I thought it would be a great opportunity to kickstart my professional career.

I think one of the reasons I hadn’t thought about accountancy before was its reputation – it didn’t seem very diverse, particularly at the top of the profession. We have a great company culture that celebrates diversity and inclusion and looks after employee wellbeing. I do think there is still a lack of representation in more senior positions, and there is always room for improvement when it comes to embracing and promoting diversity. It’s so important to have role models you can look up to and relate to, especially in professional settings. I think that’s particularly important from a diversity and inclusion perspective: seeing somebody with a similar background to you or who has had similar experiences in a position that you may also want to be in gives you the belief and confidence that you can get to where you want to be.

I like the idea of being a role model for younger people who are looking to get where I am, especially to those of Asian heritage, by sharing my experiences and giving advice. I would like to get more involved with my firm’s outreach programme, as I think that this would be a nice way to give back to the community. I don’t have specific role models myself – I tend to look at people around me and draw out qualities or traits I like, to then create my own set of values. Role models don’t always have to be leaders. There are some great people I’ve worked with at my firm who I believe are good role models and they are not the most senior members of staff. I think we can all demonstrate the right attitudes and behaviours to those around us and be role models for each other.

It’s crucial to have someone with similar life experiences that you can look up to and see as an example that you would like to follow

John Olejnik, trainee chartered accountant, Saffery Champness, Bournemouth

I studied English and German at university, and I wasn’t sure what I wanted to do afterwards. Both my parents are teachers, so that route didn’t appeal! When I thought about what I enjoyed doing in my spare time, a lot of it involved logical puzzles, so accountancy seemed like it might be a good fit. I applied to one firm to see what would happen and ended up relocating from Northampton to Bournemouth. I’ve been here for two-and-a-half years now, and I’m into my final year of ACA training.

When you’re leaving school or university, it can be quite overwhelming trying to pick a career, so having role models around you can help motivate you to make good decisions. It’s crucial to have someone with similar life experiences that you can look up to and see as an example that you would like to follow. My dad instilled a strong work ethic and a desire to be successful in me. At work, I’m surrounded by others who’ve followed a similar path, so I find that inspiring. 

Before I joined Saffery Champness, the prospect of entering the corporate world was quite daunting. I’ve had problems with my mental health, and I worried that the profession might be a bit cold in that respect. But I’ve found it to be a really welcoming and supportive place, from manager to partner level. When I’ve struggled, they’ve made allowances for me to access treatment and put measures in place so that I can still fulfil my role. The firm is very accepting of differences and the adjustments that might need to be made for people, which has really helped me. 

Now that I’m more senior in the team, I hope I’m a good role model for others. I enjoy passing on my knowledge, exhibiting behaviours and setting an example to the juniors. I always make myself available for any questions and reassurance they might need. I think the most important thing is to be approachable, so that people feel they can be honest about accommodations they might need to help them fulfil their role to the best of their abilities.


Join the ICAEW Diversity and Inclusion Community for resources, guidance and support.

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