Today we sat down with our Accountancy and Postgraduate Programme Leader and tutor, Laura Marshall, to discuss her career as a woman in business and how she aspires to inspire young people to further their career.

Tell me a little bit about yourself

Hello, I’m Laura Marshall. I am the Programme Leader for the Accountancy programmes at Pearson College London and I also lead on the MSc in Financial Leadership and Master’s in Business Management postgraduate courses.

At university I studied Business Studies with Entrepreneurship, with the intention of starting up my own business once I had graduated. Instead I decided to go and gain experience by working at a different corporations across various industries, and at the moment the dream to run my own business is still just that.

What have you done in your career so far?

Whilst at University, I undertook internships in Event Management and Marketing and then upon leaving university, I became an Account Executive for a manufacturing and packaging company. At this point I didn’t have a clear aim or direction of where I wanted my career to head, and so I thought I’d try accounting and finance next! I applied for a graduate scheme at PwC and was fortunate enough to join their London Top Tier Division; which performs the audits for their FTSE 100 clients. I trained with them for three years to become a Chartered Accountant (achieving the ICAEW ACA qualification) and had the opportunity to work with clients across the oil and gas, pharmaceuticals and retail industries, giving me exposure to and experience within a range of areas.

When I was at PwC, I couldn't picture myself being a partner at the firm, hence realising that auditing was not for me. Therefore, I transferred internally to worked in the Learning and Education team, delivering the training materials to the PwC employees across the UK. This helped me transition into my role at Pearson College London in 2017 as a Finance Tutor and then I became Programme Leader in January this year.

What challenges have you faced as a woman in business?

Something that stuck with me since university was being told that I would never be taken seriously in business because of the way that I looked. Offended and determined to prove them wrong, it gave me the confidence to push ahead with a career in business. At PwC, the intake of graduates who joined the same department as me was largely male-dominated and although there were less women in senior roles in the business, there were inspirational women at the firm who were partners who I could gain advice and support from.

Overall I have been lucky where I have worked that it hasn’t been an issue that I am female. I have always felt like I have had role models in the companies that I have worked in, and I have had support by both men and women alike to push forward in my career.

Interestingly, Accountancy courses at Pearson College London are generally an even gender split.

What inspires you?

For me, I love reading books or attending events and talks to discover other people’s journeys and to learn how they got to where they are. The students here at Pearson College London are extremely inspirational; it’s fantastic to be surrounded by people that want to enter the business world to make a difference and make positive changes. For example, we have the new Women in Business society that has formed and held events this year; so it’s really great to see strong women raising awareness and inspiring others. Finally, being surrounded by friends and family who are challenging themselves to achieve their goals also really inspires me, plus they give me the support and push when I need it too!

What do you think the future holds for women in business?

Hopefully, there will continue to be more women entering into business and I think that when there are more women working in business and there is a balance, the nature and perception of the industry will change.

I think it will be interesting to see the change in skills needed as we become more technologically advanced, as more roles will be focused on human relationships. Therefore, traits such as empathy, conversation and building relationships, which predominantly perceived to be more natural women traits, will become more important. Therefore if we have more job roles with the need to communicate with others, empathise, and to build networks and trust, then that will help encourage more women to enter into business, helping to create a more level playing field.

At the moment it is a struggle where women in influential corporate positions are few and far between; and entrepreneurial business start up activities are extremely male-dominated. However, there is a huge opportunity for women to enter into business and make changes. It’s a constant conversation that needs to be had, not just with women, but with our male counterparts as well. We can’t just continue with women only raising awareness of the gender pay gap and the amount of women in business, we need men to also understand the importance of these issues too and be a part of driving the change with us.

What advice would you give to a young woman starting out in business?

  1. Do not let anyone tell you that you can’t achieve something - because of the way you look, speak, act or your current skill set. If you want to do something, you can - just learn what you need to do in order to achieve it and find someone to support you! It’s so important to have a strong support network to push you and motivate you, but also who will comfort you when you aren’t feeling so great!
  2. **Don’t be afraid of hard work **- if you are going to work for a corporate organisation, learn all about the organisation and immerse yourself in it. Work hard to build your knowledge, increase your skill set and earn trust from your managers. If you can prove your worth and value to the business, you can ask for extra responsibilities and promotions that will help keep you moving forward in your career.
  3. Lastly, try not to put too much pressure on yourself if you don’t have a clear career aim at the moment! Don’t think that just because you are starting out, you have to have it all figured out - try something, if you don’t like it, move on! Be flexible and willing to change directions, by taking the leap and trying something new you may find something you really enjoy!