This week, we’re joined by Siobhan who works in the Business Support Team for Mazars’ Financial Planning based in Milton Keynes. Siobhan recently spoke on a panel for the launch of Stonewall’s Starting Out 2018/19 guide, sharing their experience of being a young LGBT professional. Siobhan tells us their career path to date, the main motivation for applying for Mazars, their most inspirational figures in life, and how they handle mental health difficulties.
Siobhan tells us the importance of maintaining an open dialogue at work for business as well as personal matters, creating an inclusive environment where people are not afraid to ask potentially awkward questions.
Tell us about your career – what do you do?
I work in the business support team in Mazars Financial Planning, based in the Milton Keynes office. I’ve only been in my role since July 2018 so it’s still all quite new to me!
Why did you choose your career and why did you choose Mazars?
I started out in various admin roles and the companies were pretty varied – events management, sports timing and clothing designers – but a lot of the work was very similar. I also worked in hospitality to make ends meet, working up to three jobs at any one time. I’ve never been afraid to hustle! A friend ended up referring me for a finance administration role at his workplace which was an insurance broker in Central Milton Keynes. I worked in various teams within the finance department, and was active on their Culture Committee for a time. We would organise social and charity events, and act as a voice for staff. I was in that role for about five years before I decided to move on, and I was discussing roles with different recruitment agencies. They suggested this job at Mazars and I thought it sounded interesting. In all honesty the thing that clinched it for me was looking up the gender pay gap data. I’d been following the articles in the media on all the data being submitted by various firms and I was getting really disheartened by what I was seeing, particular within the financial sector. Mazars still have a way to go but the numbers were so much better than others that I’d seen, including the firm I was coming from.
Who and what inspires you and why?
I think every person in my life inspires me to some degree, but the two people I think I look up to most are:
My best friend, Stephanie –hands down the person with the greatest strength of will and character that I’ve ever met. She’s always trying to look at things from different perspectives which I think is a really admirable and valuable skill both in the workplace and outside of it.
And my husband, James – the person who isn’t afraid to make the tough decisions, or do the things the hard way. His work ethic is something I really admire, as is his willingness to learn and adapt. He’s also endlessly supportive, and makes a mean macaroni cheese.
No matter what life throws at either of them they not only keep going but actively try to make things better in the world around them, both through their work and with people they know personally. They’re always happy to be a sounding board for my ideas, no matter how out-there they are, and give honest but constructive feedback. They’ve both taught me that the path of least resistance isn’t necessarily the best one, and to use my voice. They’re the people I try to emulate the most.
What are your ambitions?
I’m still fairly early on in my career, so I haven’t figured out exactly where I want to end up just yet. To be honest my main ambition is just to be able to go home after each work day and feel satisfied that I did my job to the best of my ability that day, regardless of what that means. Although I have been saying lately that I’m going to take over the world, so there’s that.
When things get tough, how do you keep yourself going?
I have, or have experienced, a few different mental health difficulties since childhood. While it’s not easy or pleasant it’s meant that I’ve had a lot of treatments to help me manage my moods, which obviously comes in handy in times of crisis or stress. When things get tough, I give myself a set amount of time, anywhere from five minutes to a couple of hours depending on the problem, to wallow in it, and let myself focus on the stress. Maybe have a cry if I need to! Then when time is up I have to get going again. I can still feel upset – you can’t switch off your emotions after all, but now I have to do something about it if I can, and if not, then I have to just try to move on. I try to think less about the problem and more about how I’m going to manage or resolve it.
I’m also very fortunate in that I have a fantastic support network of family, friends and even colleagues here at Mazars, despite only being here for a short time. I always find it helpful to talk things over with someone I trust, even if it’s to have a rant and get things off my chest. Plus it never hurts to get a second opinion.
What can organisations do more generally to create a culture of inclusion?
Stay open-minded. Understand that people are different, and will contribute different perspectives and ideas and that’s a really positive thing. I’m somebody who has first-hand experience of mental health difficulties and doesn’t identify as fully male or female but instead identify myself as queer/non-binary in terms of my gender. I know that people may not have much experience with either of these things so I’m always happy to answer questions or have a chat. Organisations need to try to create a culture of openness. They say there are no stupid questions but there can certainly be awkward ones! If you promote an environment where colleagues are happy to both ask and answer questions about their differences then you’re opening up a dialogue. You can remove the awkwardness and can start to celebrate those differences rather than tiptoeing around them or pretending they don’t exist.
I think it’s also important to understand that diversity and inclusion aren’t limited to things like race and gender. I feel very lucky to be where I am because I have no qualifications further than my GCSEs –I never did A-Levels and I didn’t go to university. Because of my mental health and my financial situation it just wasn’t something I felt like I could do. But I’m a hard worker and I’m eager to learn and progress. There are people like me in that regard all over the world, who may not have formal qualifications but are capable and can be developed. Look for new talent in places that would normally get ignored and you might be surprised at what you find. Inclusion needs to happen at all levels, and it’s everyone’s responsibility. Junior members of staff may see gaps that management haven’t noticed. If you’ve got that openness within your organisation, then junior staff will feel more comfortable putting forward their perspectives and ideas. This can benefit individuals and the organisation as a whole.
Colleagues will recognise their own differences, and will know if they need support in the workplace, so ask them! Check in with individuals and see if there’s anything they feel they need, or that they feel the organisation could or should be doing. For me, even if there’s not anything I feel that I need at that point in time, just being asked makes me feel more comfortable with approaching someone for help in the future. I think the networks within Mazars are a really good idea, and they’ve already made some small but incredibly positive changes. One thing that struck me when I joined was the fact that on my new-starter questionnaire I was able to identify myself as being of non-binary gender where most places only have Male and Female as their options. Change builds up over time and little things like that are a great place to start.
Thank you to Siobhan for taking the time to speak to us. We will be publishing more #WeAreMazars interviews over the coming months so stay tuned!