On International Women’s Day, our Managing Partner Shona Godefroy answers questions about her career, inspirations and women in accountancy.
Q: The theme of International Women’s Day 2021 is ‘Choose to Challenge’, which is about challenging stereotypes and bias. Is this something you have had to do in your accountancy career?
A: During my career, I have been lucky enough to work for some exceptional firms who have supported me. I have always believed in the ‘best person for the job’, but, of course, I am aware that stereotypes and bias can exist and creep into everyday life. I would like to think this area has really progressed over recent years, as has the way we do business.
Q: You were made Managing Partner in 2019. What ambitions did you have for the firm when you took on the role and/or what have you focused on since then?
A: I was delighted to take over as Managing Partner in 2019. Thomas Westcott continues to grow, while retaining a firm commitment to providing local service in the communities in which we operate. As we cement our reputation as a leading South West firm, we have continued to attract and retain the very best specialist teams to ensure we provide a first-class service to all of our clients, a team with the capability to work with businesses of all sizes. The pandemic brought change within the firm. We went from working predominantly in our offices to homeworking, needing to adapt to new working patterns and practices, so that we were still able to support our clients, while balancing the needs of our team during a very difficult time. I am extremely proud of how our team adapted to this and continued to provide the excellent service which our clients expect.
Q: Who or what drives/inspires you in your life and work?
A: I really love what I do. I have always enjoyed business and people, both my clients and my team. I love understanding how businesses operate, what makes them successful, what areas of difficulty they may be facing and how we can support them. My interest in business really drives me forward but, more importantly, so does my family. Balancing work and family life and wanting to provide my family, especially my young boys, with a lovely life is really important to me. This above anything drives me forward on those days when it can be somewhat stressful and you feel like you’re spinning far too many plates.
Q: What have you been most proud of in your career to date?
A: I started my accountancy career straight from school, so perhaps not the typical route to becoming Managing Partner of a top 50 firm. I am extremely proud of how I have progressed through, gaining excellent experience at some exceptional firms, which enables me to do the job I do today. Hard work and determination have been key, alongside balancing family life as well. I am able to do all of this, however, as I have a supportive network around me and top marks go to my husband and young boys for this. Them, together with my wider family, my friends and work colleagues, provide much-needed support. I have not achieved this alone.
Q: One of the many challenges the pandemic has created has been the difficulties with working from home while childcare providers are forced to close and most children are out of school. Research has suggested that female employees have borne the brunt of this. What is the firm doing to support its employees?
A: Having young children myself means that I have empathy for those of our team who were suddenly having to balance working, childcare and home schooling. We introduced enhanced flexible working, in respect of both hours and working patterns from the beginning, to help the teams. We have encouraged this throughout the pandemic for all of the team, not just those with children. The intention is that this will continue for the future. It is also extremely important to stay connected with everyone, so that we were aware of what each team member is going through personally and be there to support them.
Q: Research from LinkedIn has found that 73% of women reported feeling employment stress compared with 57% of men, highlighting the impact of the pandemic of female employees. What is the firm doing to support employees’ mental health during the pandemic?
A: The majority of our teams have been working from home during the pandemic. However, we highlighted early on that some of our teams needed to be in the office for their own physical or mental wellbeing. Therefore, approximately 15% of our team continue to work in the office across our 17 offices in Devon and Somerset. We encouraged flexible working, which we will continue to support going forward and communication is key. Each week, we have a staff newsletter which supports wellbeing. We also have ‘Wellbeing Wednesday’, which has covered many different aspects to get our teams to take the time to think about their own wellbeing as well as providing helpful advice to support them. We also provide support through our Employee Assistance Programme and all offices and teams are encouraged to connect at least once a week to support each other. I also record a weekly video for everyone to let them know what is happening across the firm. Often my messages will encourage the team to think about their wellbeing. It really must come from the top.
Q: Do you think we need International Women’s Day? If so, why is it important and what does it mean to you?
A: International Women’s Day is a global event that celebrates the social, economic, cultural and political achievements of women. It is a great opportunity to recognise the contribution of women in business – something I am reminded of on a daily basis, working with colleagues and clients.
I am delighted to have the opportunity to work alongside some fantastic women in the various roles that I undertake: as Managing Partner at Thomas Westcott, as trustee of the Theatre Royal Plymouth and as Chair of Governors at Holbeton Primary School. In addition, I support some brilliant female leaders and entrepreneurs to achieve success for their businesses. International Women’s Day celebrates all of this and I am delighted to be part of it.
Q: What advice do you have for a young woman starting out in an accountancy career?
A: I have had some inspiring role models, not all of them women, who taught me to work hard, take control of my career, not wait for things to happen and to have the confidence to grasp opportunities when they appear. So, to anyone starting their accountancy career, quality of experience and taking control of your own destiny are key factors. In respect of opportunities, if they arise, grasp them, many people don’t. Sometimes you just have to take the risk to get the reward. Finally, build a support network - friends, family, colleagues - they will all play a vital role in your journey.
Q: If you could, what message would you send to your younger self?
A: You cannot please everyone. It is an impossible task, so do not focus on it, just keep focused on the positives.