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Challenging gender norms in accounting and finance: Sophie's story

8 March 2022

In the final edition of a new series about equality, diversity in accounting and finance, fourth-year Business Accounting and Finance student, Sophie Huggins, shares her experience of how her competitiveness and determination led her to study a typically male-dominated subject.

I started my journey on the ‘Flying Start’ degree at Newcastle University Business School in 2018. I’m now in my fourth and final year and, as part of the programme, I have taken part in a number of placements at PwC.


Where it all began

From a young age, I have always been interested in business.

When I was a child, I was part of my local Brownie group. We used to sell lollipops to raise money for charity. I was amazed by the fact you could make money from simply selling something.

From then on, I began thinking of ways to make money, such as selling various household items on eBay. I suppose it would be fair to say I was quite entrepreneurial from a young age.

My mum has been a big inspiration, too. She’d taken time off to have children but when I was about 10, she was ready to go back to work. She wanted to make a career change so started at night school. I remember her coming home from class and being engrossed in her accounting and finance textbooks and the software she used to plug into our old computer.

Sophie stands outside the PwC office in Canary Wharf, London

At school, I was drawn to subjects like maths, business and economics. I enjoyed English and science, but I am definitely more of a numbers person. I am quite competitive, so it didn’t bother me that the realm of business was perceived as a ‘man’s world’. That gave me all the more reason to pursue it.

The perfect degree subject

With my interest in maths and business, an accounting and finance degree programme seemed like the perfect option for me. I applied to another PwC Flying Start course, but I knew Newcastle University was the right choice as soon as I visited. The interview day was structured and organised, a first look into what the next four years of my life would be like. Also, I fell in love with the city - it felt like home.

There’s a diverse mix of men and women teaching our course. Even though I know the sector might be unbalanced, it doesn’t feel like that here at Newcastle.

Helen Currie, one of my lecturers, has been a particular inspiration to me. She’s always going the extra mile to share articles we might be interested in or to encourage us to put our name down for opportunities on offer in Newcastle. Because of that support, I’m now on the Student Voice Committee and the Social Committee. The staff really do want to bring out the best in you.

Carving out my career path

I’m now on placement at PwC at their More London office, working in their Banking and Capital Markets business unit. I applied because I was interested in the diverse range of clients that are audited within this business unit. It was competitive, with only a small number of students securing places, so I was delighted to be selected.

I guess I haven’t faced some of the adversity other women might have faced. I’ve been influenced by the careers of my parents and I’ve been lucky enough to work for a company that champions gender equality.

Out of the five managers in my team, four of them are women. Our senior manager is female, the partner, too. It’s inspiring. It makes you feel like you can achieve anything.

A view of St Peter

At PwC, there are also networks that you can join that support women through their careers. I have recently been invited to a company event where Sara Davies is going to speak about being a female in business.

My advice

I’ve been lucky to see many successful women pursue a career in this field, so there’s no reason why you can’t too. Do your research on the prospective companies you’d like to work for. Find out what networks and programmes they have to support women in their careers.

If you’re interested in accounting and finance, just go for it.

Sophie Huggins, current Business Accounting and Finance student at Newcastle University Business School

I love utilising my new skills and experience. My dad opened a restaurant on our local high street six years ago. Now I am always asking to see his accounts and I’m always interested to hear about the business aspect of things. We learnt about tax last year so it’s to apply what we’ve learnt to a real-world business. It’s been so interesting to see what we’ve learnt being put into practice.