QWhy did you first want to get into accountancy?
AI grew up in Surrey, where my parents had a post office and a haberdashery store, so that sparked my interest with them always looking at the books and whether X or Y would make a profit.
I was always interested in accountancy and helping people and their businesses make a profit. I remember as a young girl talking to my father about a few ideas for a career and he said "they don't pay very well so I think you should think again", so at around the age of 12, I said I wanted to be accountant and he said, "yes, I think that is a very good idea".
QHaving chosen that path, how did you get your first job?
AI came to Exeter and did a degree in accountancy studies and, once I graduated, I got a training contract with Ernst and Young and spent just over three years with them getting qualified.
QHow did you come to work for Thomas Westcott?
AI was reading an accountancy magazine and saw an advert for Thomas Westcott who wanted a manager – that was in 1988. At that time there were four partners and just four offices. I worked in Honiton.
I made it clear at the interview stage that I did not want to be a manager for ever, and that if I performed well I wanted a partnership. I was interviewed by Richard Thomas and he said he wasn't sure who was interviewing who! I got my partnership in 1990, which is one of the quickest they have done.
QDid you feel, as a woman, you needed to assert yourself more than your male counterparts?
AI think I did, I felt that I really had to make sure I stood out, otherwise I might get overlooked. Back in the late 80s and early 90s, if you didn't go for it, you weren't going to get it.
QWhat helped you stand out from the crowd?
AI just worked really hard. I have always felt whether you are female or male you have to stand out from the crowd.
When I was given a job for a client I made sure I delivered the job and that they were pleased with the work. I have always tried to look for something more than they expected; so if they asked me to do their tax return, I'd do their tax return but I might look for something else like perhaps how they could save money next year.
QSo what's this about your red hat?
AA lot of my female colleagues go to ladies' lunch clubs – I never have. There are not many women at men's dos and there are lots of men in grey suits who might not remember each other, but they will remember me as being the one that sticks out from the crowd.
When I was trying to get a reputation within professional circles in Honiton, I had a red hat. I didn't really enjoy wearing it, but I wore it because people would say "there's that accountant" because they would recognise the red hat.
QWhat particular challenges faced you as a woman?
AFrom outside of the organisation, it was being taken seriously. Even now, people sometimes think I've turned up to take the notes. I find it quite amusing.
Perceptions are the main barrier to overcome. When I worked in our Okehampton office and was a relatively young woman, they weren't used to having anyone other than a man as their accountant and the farmers found it quite difficult, I think, to relate to me.
You soon get over that, though, as it's all about building relationships. A few people at the time said they didn't want to deal with me, but I don't think you would have that as much now.
QWhat are the main difficulties facing women in accountancy right now?
AThe job market is very competitive and women tend to go out and have a family so they are out of the market for a while, and when they come back into the market, they come back where they were before they left. They then have to prove their worth again and they do lose ground over their male counterparts.
Here we help people with childcare incentives when they return to work, we give lots of help in terms of variable hours, we let them come back on a phased basis and we ensure they have the same responsibilities they have when they come back as they did when they left. If they are about to have a family and are also at a point where they are about to have a promotion, we will make sure they are promoted before they go, so there is every incentive for them to return.
QHow would describe your management style?
AQuite hands-on, but I like people to know I'll only ask them to do things that I am prepared to do myself. I like to stretch people, because most people are surprised with what they can achieve if they are given the opportunity. I'll help them but I won't do it for them.
QIs accountancy still a male-dominated world?
ALess so than it was. The number of females we have taken on is at least the same as males, in some years more.