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

8 March 2022

In continuation of our series about equality and diversity in accounting and finance, Newcastle University Business School alumna, Shivangi Kumra, shares her experience of what it’s like to have a career in a male-dominated field.

I graduated from the Newcastle University Business School Flying Start programme in 2015. I worked in auditing at PwC for a year after I graduated and tried a cycle of experience in Sustainability and Climate Change Consulting, as well as beginning my Chartered Environmentalist qualification. I'm currently working part-time as an Assistant Director in Financial Advisory at Deloitte and studying part-time for my MBA at London Business School.

Developing my subject interests

Both of my parents working in a similar field inspired and encouraged me to pursue a career in accounting and finance. The Flying Start course was unique because it was targeted at people who wanted to qualify as chartered accountants. My dad found the course and encouraged me to apply. My mum comes from Finance and Banking background as well, so seeing a woman in the industry and how her journey evolved helped me in my own journey.

Shivangi smiling at the camera in a professional headshot

The Flying Start programme was another influential factor. As an international student at the time, I didn’t have two additional years to look for a job after completing my studies. If you succeeded in the programme, you were likely to be offered a job with PwC and you came out with two years’ worth of experience from the work placements. When I graduated, I joined as a Senior Associate which is your third year of work. At 21 I was managing a large team of five or six people who were older than me and working with clients at a senior level.

Being a woman in accounting and finance

In the early part of my career, it was more diverse. During my degree, I found that at least 30-40% of the cohort was women. But once I started working with clients, I’d notice the disparities show. Usually, you would have one person from each pay grade and it would work out that senior associates and managers were often men. On top of this, you would be working with clients who are predominantly men and often you would be the only woman in the room.

It was challenging in the beginning since I wasn’t sure how to bond and network. Eventually, I found I had to develop small coping mechanisms for these situations. For example, if I knew I was working with clients who are into sports, I would search the results of the previous game and use that as a starting place to encourage conversation.

I think teams are getting more diverse overall and the awareness around inclusion and diversity is increasing. I didn’t drink alcohol, so I found it challenging to make myself feel included in the early parts of my career. Nowadays I find that I can be more open about it and people would be accepting of it. On the other hand, the element of privilege is also there. I can see that organisations are actively recruiting women nowadays. It’s making up for the privilege I didn’t have before, but it’s still a privilege at this stage.

Creating space for women

During my time at PwC, I was leading the Community Affairs team and we had a lot of different initiatives. The initiatives covered different themes including refugees, the elderly, encouraging women in business and more. I would give talks about careers to students, and we would actively speak to women to encourage their involvement. I’m also doing my MBA part-time and I’m an active member of the Women in Business club. This is the first time I had a large community where we encourage women in all spaces. We have an amazing speaker line-up and it gives us access to great role models.  

Informally, when I worked at Grant Thornton and at Deloitte now, we have a women’s group for the department where you can talk about any issues or discrimination you faced and how to overcome them. There were instances where I would meet a client with a male team member who’s the same grade as me and the client would only look at the male team member. Without the support of the women’s group, I would’ve found it hard to navigate these situations.

When I speak to people about my career, many don’t realise it was possible to do something that wasn’t just accounting or finance. You can combine the skills that you have to pivot your career.

Shivangi Kumra, 2015 graduate

My advice

An important factor to realise is that doing an accounting and finance qualification is not the be-all and end-all. You don’t have to do pure accounting or pure finance. My role at Deloitte is technically neither pure accounting nor pure finance but rather a blend of consulting and some finance. When I speak to people about my career, many don’t realise it was possible to do something that wasn’t just accounting or finance. You can combine the skills that you have to pivot your career.

My main piece of advice would be to speak to people in the industry. Speak to people in their early career, mid-career and even those in more senior roles. You’ll get an idea of what you’ll experience throughout your career and where it can take you. I set myself a 10-year plan when I was 17 – which only just expired – and even if you don’t complete everything on the list, it’s useful to imagine the future.