To celebrate International Women’s Day on 8 March and to inspire women in the profession, AB talked to four young female ACCA members, who agree that having determination, continually seeking to learn, and seeking support from others all have a lot to do with how far they've come in their careers.
Make the leap
Ifat Jhugroo FCCA, director, Sleigh & Story
When I was a teenager and thinking of accountancy as a career, I talked to a local accountant, who said that I could probably get a job as a receptionist or in data entry. Accounting was definitely seen as a man’s world. My dad said: 'What are you going to do about it? Go out there and prove yourself.'
I did a master's in finance and management at Bradford, which I loved, but found I was overqualified for trainee positions, so I wrote to every small firm I could think of and said I’d work for free. A firm in Leeds gave me a desk in the corner of reception and on the first day, someone asked me to type a letter, then another.
At the end of the week I was sent upstairs to sit in the tax department. That was the biggest learning curve of my life. I was taken on as a trainee, started my ACCA training and started meeting clients.
'If anyone says anything about accountancy being a man’s world, or even a woman’s world, they’re wrong. It’s anyone’s world'
A recruitment agent sent me for a job with another firm, which I got. He became a trusted adviser – I used to ring him every year before my appraisal to tell him what I’d be doing and get a feel of what sort of salary I should be looking for. When I was ready to move on, he sent me to talk to Sleigh & Story, the firm I now co-own (see 'Taking ownership', AB, February 2022).
This firm and I were a great fit from the start because we both believe it’s all about the client relationship. My co-director and I were seen as the future of the firm and we took over in 2020, when the senior partners took a back seat.
The pandemic has been challenging because I was on maternity leave, the baby didn’t sleep at night and we were in the middle of taking over the firm. I never thought I’d own a business – I just want to be successful in whatever I do. When I go to a client meeting for the first time, I’m aware that I’m young for a partner, and female and Asian. I know I have to impress people, so I work hard at it.
If anyone says anything about accountancy being a man’s world, or even a woman’s world, they’re wrong. It’s anyone’s world. It’s up for grabs if you have the passion and energy for it.
Persistence pays off
Wendy Yap FCCA, business accounting and treasury specialist, Linde Group
My father is an accountant and I was always keen to follow in his footsteps, but I’ve faced quite a few challenges to get where I am. I graduated in 2011 and wasn’t able to get onto a graduate programme because of visa restrictions, so I took a lot of temporary roles to build up my portfolio of experience.
I self-funded my ACCA studies while also completing a master's degree, and I had two young children. It took me about five years to qualify and I’ve worked at Linde Group – the global industrial gas and engineering company – for almost four years.
I moved around a lot during that time but never stopped learning new things. I’d say that networking is a very important skill – the bigger your network, the more opportunities come up. Building on your soft skills and experience really helps you progress your career. I’ve always looked for projects that extend beyond my role and asked to be involved.
'You need to know when to lead, when to challenge and when to be a team player'
My career is both more challenging and rewarding than I expected when I started out. People skills are very important in the modern profession, and you need to know when to lead, when to challenge and when to be a team player.
ACCA has been very important in my career and I really appreciate the opportunities that it has given me – the qualification is a passport that opens doors all across the world. And I’ve had the flexibility to choose my own path. That’s why I volunteered to be an ACCA advocate. It’s been wonderful sharing my experiences with students.
Never stop learning
Farah Anwar FCCA, finance partner, AECOM
My parents were in business so I learned about personal finance and business from a very young age. One of the first lessons I learned was that accountancy was about a lot more than number crunching – it’s about understanding business and making decisions.
My career journey hasn’t been the most straightforward. It was really difficult to find a graduate role in 2011 when I left university, so I decided to self-fund my ACCA journey. I worked in a number of sectors while I was studying, including healthcare, retail and now a Fortune 500 engineering company. That range of experience has really helped shape the accountant that I wanted to be.
This job is a true business partnering role. Being part of a finance team that has amazing leaders, many of whom are women, inspires me to be the best I can be. I am also passionate about raising the levels of cultural awareness within our profession, and I love my role as culture sub-committee chair for the Ethnic Diversity Network, an employee resource group at AECOM.
'My mentor told me I would never, ever know it all, but I should take every opportunity that came up'
At my first job, an undergraduate work placement at a Canadian bank, I had a mentor who helped me see things from a different perspective. I was a perfectionist and afraid to do things in case I got it wrong. My mentor told me that I would never, ever know it all, but I should take every opportunity that came up and keep learning.
That would be my advice to young accountants; don’t be afraid to keep on learning and growing. There is no real picture of what success looks like; it’s unique to each individual. But don’t be afraid to ask for help, and for new experiences.
In January, I was elected as a panel member for the ACCA UK Corporate Sector Network, and I look forward to giving back to the profession that has given me so many opportunities in my career.
Role models are important
Bola Lawal ACCA, accounting professional – technical accounting, Santander
I knew I wanted to be an accountant but the usual route after A-levels – university and a degree – wasn’t the best option for me, so I had to rethink. I did a lot of research into other avenues into financial services and found Leadership Through Sport & Business (LTSB), a social mobility charity.
I was already applying for apprenticeships through the government’s apprenticeships website, and the charity helped me to prepare and arranged interviews. I got a trainee position with Berg Kaprow Lewis in north London, which was a great firm to work for. I studied with AAT, then when I joined Santander I switched to ACCA.
'I’ve had a lot of female role models, and they gave me the motivation and inspiration I needed'
The industry is changing a lot and will keep changing, which means we all need to keep learning. I want to become a better leader and learn more about technology and its impact on financial services.
Financial services is seen as male dominated but it’s important not to let your preconceptions get in the way. I’ve had a lot of female role models during my career, which has been a huge help. I had a female mentor at LTSB, too, who gave me the motivation and inspiration I needed.
Having a mentor was crucial to me while I was learning, so I am always open to speaking to young people about their options.