In this week’s edition of the #WeAreMazars series, we’re joined by Monika Salawa, an Assistant Manager in the Indirect Tax (VAT) team in the Bristol office. Monika shares with us some of the lessons she’s learned throughout the course of her career, her advice for the next generation of leaders and her thoughts on what businesses can do you create a culture of inclusion.
How did you get started in your career?
During my time in high school I knew I was quite good at two subjects – creative writing and maths. It was hard to imagine a career path where both of those could go hand in hand, so out of the two I chose to study Accounting and Finance at university. It’s fair to say that my literature teacher was a little disappointed!
What do you think has contributed to your success?
I set up and ran my own coffee shop business while I was at university and this was by far the toughest, most rewarding and most life-changing process I have gone through. The skills I developed during that period – be it customer service, time management, tenacity or team management – helped me to become who I am now in both personal and professional life.
How has running a coffee shop impacted your approach towards work today?
Thanks to this experience, I can also look at my client’s businesses from their point of view and focus on the bigger picture, coming up with solutions which are not only effective from a tax perspective, but workable and which will benefit the business in a general commercial sense.
Do you have any tangible strategies for success that you can share?
Stepping away from the daily hustle of work and evaluating the bigger picture: where am I going, what are my targets and plans, is what I am doing aligned to the long-terms strategy and does it benefit me? I try to do this regularly to keep myself in check, and adjust as I go.
Who would you say has contributed to your growth?
I would have to say my husband – since the time we met while we were studying, he kept on encouraging me to push myself through difficult times to reap reward for hard work in future. He taught me that there are truly no limits to what we can achieve if we have a clear goal and strive hard enough.
Can you share a leadership lesson that you’ve learned in your career?
I’ve learnt that it’s fine to delegate and allow others to work at their pace and according to their ideas. It has always been a difficult thing for me to do; as a perfectionist I often wanted things to go exactly as per my plan, but I’ve learnt that by allowing others to contribute and giving them full control over specific tasks without micromanaging, we can encourage them to thrive in their own ways. And we come across ideas and solutions which we would not have found ourselves.
What advice would you give to the next generation of leaders?
Know where you are going and how want to get there. Do not compromise your values in the process and be patient. All of the people I admire in the workplace or wider world worked hard and fought through hardship to become great leaders. Remember that often what inspires others is not necessarily achieving the goal but the journey you took to get there.
When times get tough, how do you keep yourself going?
As a Muslim I believe that everything that comes our way is a test from God – whether it’s a period of hardship or a period of happiness, it is placed in our life to help us strengthen and develop our character.
It helps to have a healthy distance from events in our lives and not to get overly excited during good times but also not to feel down when things do not go your way – remember that all is temporary, and just do your best in every situation. From a more tangible perspective, I find that listening to podcasts or lectures every morning on my way to work keeps me motivated and helps me start the day with enthusiasm.
Do you think that progress is being made when it comes to diversity in the workplace?
I love seeing Mazars and other businesses embracing diversity – and not only ‘accepting’ that people are different and do not all think or work in the same manner, but actively promoting diversity in the workplace. I think it is incredibly enriching to be able to draw from the experiences of people from all walks of life.
Finally, what do you think organisations can do more generally to create a culture of inclusion?
Organisations are on the right track with increasingly adopting flexible working models, openly encouraging the employment of people from diverse backgrounds and speaking about prejudice and unconscious bias.
More needs to be done to promote strong role models from diverse backgrounds; to inspire junior colleagues or new joiners to be brave to pursue careers they want. However, it is not enough to only speak about unconscious bias, we all must make sure we evaluate our actions on an ongoing basis and remain open-minded. ‘Different’ is not wrong, or strange – it’s just simply not the same.
Thank you to Monika for taking the time to speak to us. We will be publishing more #WeareMazars interviews over the coming months so stay tuned!