Sonia Shah is the Financial Regulation - ESG and Climate Risk Lead at Grant Thornton
I started my career in external audit at PwC and pursued my ACCA qualification and during that time I wanted to transition - not to a traditional finance role but into a consulting environment, where I could use the skill sets that I had gained from external audit. So, in the consulting area I got involved with a vast range of projects ranging from risk management, strategic change, restructuring and mergers and acquisitions and this was across various sectors including technology, manufacturing, pharmaceuticals and financial services. My clients were based in different locations, so I had to travel to various countries, and it was great to meet different people as you learn to appreciate and understand how people in different cultures operate which is very important when you are working in diverse environments.
I have lived in different countries and when I moved to these countries I had to start afresh in my career and seek new opportunities. My move to these various places has happened ironically during recessions so it was a challenge for me. I had to showcase my skills and abilities that I had built to date and prove this again. However, going through this made me confident, and I did have setbacks but whenever this happened I analysed why this happened and looked at ways on how I needed to navigate to be in a career I enjoyed and be successful.
My key observations from my experiences are firstly, enjoy what you do as you thrive for success as this makes it slightly easier to get over hurdles along the way. Also, learn to be confident and as women, we have a habit of second guessing ourselves, so it’s building on assurance of your knowledge but also not shying away from raising your hand when you need help.
"Always step back and hear and understand what people are saying as this helps from a management and culture perspective and builds you into a good leader."
Learn how to take criticism and not take it personally. It is sometimes hard to do as we tend not to like criticism, but we need to be mindful that at times we will have crunch points and other times we will have collaboration and success. Also be aware that there will be down days and I deal with this by listening to podcasts of inspirational leaders and you realise that they too have been through challenging situations in their careers and how they managed these situations.
The world is changing a lot along with opportunities – probably at a scale which seems so fast paced and at present we have seen global economic changes taking precedence. Do not be afraid to take risks and do not discount the value-add you would bring to what you do. The environment I work in is male influenced so being a female I am in a minority, but this has enabled me to stand out. What I see now is that organisations are being more open on change and opportunities - new solutions and diversity is a prominent area today. As boards are getting cognisant about recognising this, opportunities are being developed and research shows that diversity of thoughts has led to better decisions and in turn success. However, we still have a way to go in terms of diversity and gender balance but there is a move in the right direction.
My experience in the profession has been extremely interesting as I have had the opportunity to be involved in various areas.
"The setbacks and challenges along the way have provided me with an opportunity to learn how to manage difficult situations and rise and look forward. "
Ultimately, I have driven how I want to shape my career - I have always pursued what I enjoy doing, and don’t get me wrong, along the way I have had to be involved in areas that do not really drive me, but the various experiences help to build your skills. Through my journey I have also been aware of my strengths, weaknesses and capabilities and have grown through lessons learnt along the way.
ACCA has led in creating value for society by providing a global qualification – so the diversity aspect has always been on the forefront of being able to offer this opportunity to everyone wherever one is based. Also, the flexibility on how you can study for this qualification has enabled people who may previously not have been able to be in this profession. A pathway is provided to allow individuals to move in various directions whether it be starting up their own entrepreneurial business or progressing within existing organisations. A point to note is that the finance world is always changing with markets and participants changing, technology changing, and requirements of accountants is also changing. ACCA embraces change as it enables individuals to thrive through its programmes. What I also see featuring strongly in the future is that there is an increasing focus on ESG and there will be a huge shift in how organisations will need to adapt to climate change. ACCA has started to support individuals to lead the way here and it’s great to see how its qualification is focusing in this area.