As he comes to the end of his time as a student, Ben Currie is looking to the future, and the part he can play in creating an inclusive profession where people are comfortable and confident to be themselves.
For Ben Currie, part of becoming a chartered accountant is doing his bit to make the profession a welcoming and inclusive one. “As part of the LGBT community myself, I wanted to see what I could do for other students in that regard,” he says. “As I’ve become more involved with ICAEW, I’ve met so many interesting people who give up so much of their time to make the profession better. I find that inspiring – and it’s something I want to continue doing.”
Accountancy was a natural career choice for Ben; his grandfather was an accountant so, after studying politics, philosophy and economics at university, he decided to complete a postgraduate course in accounting and finance. Now an audit associate at Buzzacott in London, he passed his final three Advanced Level exams in November. “It’s quite a relief,” he says. “I think this is the first time in a couple of years that I’m not revising during January, so it’s nice to be a bit more relaxed – although the work is a bit harder now.”
While he has enjoyed his training, Ben admits that finding a balance during the first lockdown in 2020 was difficult: “I started about eight months before, so I had settled in,” he says, “but because I was studying, revising and working all in my bedroom, I found it hard to separate that workplace from my personal space. When you’re in your bedroom, it’s tempting to keep revising, but you need those breaks, otherwise you’ll just burn out.”
It was around the same time that Ben first got involved with CASSL (Chartered Accountant Students’ Society of London). “I read about an upcoming AGM and that they were looking for people to get involved, so I went along to a session to find out more,” he remembers. “I found it really interesting – it appealed to me to be working with people outside your firm, getting to know other trainees and hearing about their different specialisms and experiences.”
For the first year he helped out on the committee, and was then encouraged to become Chair. “I’ve really enjoyed it,” he says. “There’s a lot more that goes on behind the scenes than you realise. Before I became Chair, it taught me about time management and organising events. Since becoming Chair, it’s taught me lots of skills, like how to hold meetings and how to delegate more. At the point I am in my career, I wouldn’t have had the chance to develop those higher-level skills yet. I’m looking forward to taking the experience forward, and seeing how I can utilise those skills again outside CASSL.”
One of the challenges of his year as Chair has been transitioning from virtual back to in-person events. “The majority of the committee, including myself, joined just as lockdown was beginning, so we’d never held an in-person event before,” he says. “It’s been a learning curve because they’re so different to virtual events – in lockdown, you could organise an event a couple of weeks before because people didn’t have anything else going on! We’ve seen a lot more engagement, though: people are ready for in-person events, and they do enjoy them more.”
Student societies play a vital role in bringing people together, believes Ben, particularly those in smaller firms. “I think that connection between people and sharing those experiences, even if you don’t work at the same firm, is such an important thing,” he says. “We started a mentorship scheme last year where we matched new trainees in smaller firms with more senior trainees in other firms. We had a really high take-up: people were really keen to meet others. Sometimes it’s as simple as having someone to share exam stress with!”
Though his year as Chair of CASSL – and his time as a student – are coming to an end, Ben is keen to continue his involvement with ICAEW, particularly with D&I initiatives. “When I became Chair, I reached out to Together, the ICAEW LGBT+ network, and a few other people at ICAEW to see what I could do to help. I’m part of a group of students that regularly meets with the D&I team to talk about the issues, and I’ve also recently got involved in a project to help out with our representation at the Queer Student Awards.”
While his experience joining the profession has been a positive one, Ben wants to ensure other students feel equally welcome. “When you’re at university, I think you’re used to having a community and feeling very secure and represented and safe,” he says. “Once you know what there is for you, the networks, the communities and the services are really good. I’m quite lucky in that I’m not too shy, so I’m happy to go and network and find those services for myself, but for people who are a bit more reserved or in smaller firms, it might not be so easy. That’s why I wanted to get involved and make sure everyone is aware of what is out there for them.”
Ben believes it’s important to find the right cultural fit, and a workplace where you feel you can be your authentic self. “You spend so much time at work, you don’t want to be hiding yourself away,” he says. “And I think in general, if you are being your true authentic self at work you’re going to be happier, and that will hopefully lead to you doing a better job because you want to work hard and stay at a firm that is making you feel represented and happy.
“It can be nerve-wracking when you first join,” he adds. “For most trainees it will probably be your first corporate job, and you’re not sure what the atmosphere will be like.” He recommends doing your research before joining. “You can find out a lot from a Google search, but I think it’s only really at the interview stage when you go in and have a look around yourself that you can really assess the culture. You need to experience it rather than reading about it. Luckily I really like where I’ve landed.”
While it’s important for employers to set inclusive policies and cultures, Ben believes it is all of our responsibility to ensure everyone feels welcome and included. “It’s about making sure you’re giving off an atmosphere where people around you feel comfortable to be themselves, and allowing them to have the conversations that are needed – as well as making sure you’re involved in those conversations and learning. If there’s anything you don’t understand, inform yourself and ask questions.
“ICAEW is a great place for information and support: if you look at the events that are happening, you can easily go to them to get informed, network and meet other similar people. If we all keep an open mind and learn, that will lean into that culture that the profession is looking to create, and hopefully everyone will feel represented and happy.”
For tailored resources and best practice guidance for individuals on D&I topics, join the ICAEW Diversity and Inclusion Community.