Women in work: advice from a senior woman in accountancy

office, senior woman in accountancy

Over the past few years, the UK has made great progress to get to a place where it is becoming acceptable, and expected, that we should be able to have open and honest conversations about mental health and wellbeing, however there is still a way to go.

As a wife and parent working my way up the career ladder, I have experienced times when I have felt overwhelmed, and the thought of having an open and honest conversation with a colleague or even friend about how I was feeling was not something I would necessarily have considered a few years ago. Being a woman in a senior position in a profession that was historically predominantly dominated by men, meant extra pressure to act in a certain way and not necessarily show any vulnerability.

I received what I like to call my ‘wellbeing intervention’ in 2007. For many years, my husband suggested I take some exercise to help relieve some stress, I ignored his suggestion for a long time. However, later that year I finally had to admit he was right and this led to a conversation that genuinely changed my life.

Soon after the realisation that I needed to do something different, I went to pick up my children from school. I was talking to some of the other parents and I asked if anyone would be interested in going for a gentle jog every now and then. To my surprise, two of the mums said yes and after the first run I was hooked. We all were. I almost couldn’t believe the impact running had on my mental health and I went from being someone who couldn’t run a mile to soon being able to run 5k. A proud personal moment came in 2017 when I saw through an ambition of running the London marathon.

According to the mental health charity, Mind, poor mental health affects half of all employees in the UK. I find this figure astonishing. Look around your place of work and just think that it is likely that half of the people you see are impacted by some form of mental health challenge. This is the clearest evidence to show why every business needs to make sure it has a mental health strategy in place. And every business needs to make sure it is doing a good enough job of communicating the support offered to every employee.

At BDO, part of our wellbeing approach includes offering resilience training known as ‘performance under pressure’ to our employees. We have also recently started to roll out professional mental health first aid training so we have trained people throughout the business able to help with the various challenges people may have. Employees also have access to a helpline 24 hours a day where they can speak to someone anonymously as we know it can be difficult to open up to someone you know.

There is no reason mental health shouldn’t be taken as seriously as physical health. It can have an equally significant impact on a person and those around them, so it is important for us as a business to acknowledge and understand that.

Due to the nature of the work in my profession of accountancy, we recognise that it can be stressful at times because we are often working to extremely tight deadlines. But I don’t think we should underestimate how much the modern working environment has changed as a whole.

I started working at BDO in 1987 when I was eighteen and I’ve been here ever since. Back then, something as simple as sending an email wasn’t an option – they didn’t exist! The internet and the technology we now have is amazing and makes many things a lot easier and more efficient, however it also makes everything so immediate. We used to post documents and not need to take any urgent action until we received a letter back which was usually days – not minutes! The type of working now blurs the boundaries between work and home life making it more difficult to switch off at the end of a day or a week.

Whenever I speak to colleagues about the importance of looking after their mental health there are three key tips I like to offer from my own experience:

Keep active. At this time of the year in particular it can seem like a cliché but keeping active is so important. I personally love running but experiment and find something that works for you and fits with your schedule. Experts believe regular exercise can boost your self-esteem and help you concentrate, feel better, and even look better.

Don’t be afraid to ask yourself if you are struggling with your mental health. I know that a large part of the battle is admitting that you do need help. Knowing how to spot signs of too much stress for example will help you to get the help you need. You will probably be surprised at how many others feel the same way you do.

Find out what help is available. Your employer should communicate to you the support they offer but it can be overlooked. If you feel comfortable asking the question, find out what support you can get. It is not a weakness to ask for help. A lot of workplaces now have counselling services or similar support networks.

Wendy WaltonAbout the author

Wendy is Head of Global Private Client Services and a senior tax partner at BDO.

She advises high net worth individuals on their worldwide tax position and is also a member of the Leadership team with a particular interest in partner development, gender balance and employee wellbeing.

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