This Black History Month, Brewer Morris is delighted to interview a number of Black tax and treasury professionals to recognise and celebrate their careers and achievements. We’ve invited our Black clients and candidates to speak to us about their career journeys, the challenges they’ve faced in the workplace and their views on what needs to be done to promote racial equality and inclusion within the industry.
We were delighted to speak with Akin Coker, Head of Private Clients at Buzzacott LLP.
Tell us about your career path to date.
My tax career started over 30 years ago and for the most part it’s been an exciting journey. I really enjoyed the tax modules en-route to obtaining a degree in accounting, so I jumped at the opportunity of working in tax when the opportunity arose. I started in a mixed tax role in a local firm in Bromley; by sheer coincidence I got the job through Brewer Morris! I then moved to London and qualified with a mid-tier firm. About 4 years into my time there, the London office broke away from the national practice and merged into Buzzacott. I have been with Buzzacott for just over 19 years and although the Private Client team, as well as the firm at large, have grown considerably in this time, the culture and values remain largely unchanged.
What do you attribute your success to?
I have never really stopped to take stock of my progress. I am still chasing dreams and very much consider myself to be work in progress. Throughout my working career I have imbibed the advice of my parents from all those years ago. I can still picture my mother and late father saying over and over again that you can never go wrong with the right work ethic, honesty and integrity.
What challenges have you faced as a person of colour working in Tax & Treasury?
I am really quite fortunate to work in a firm that takes the issues of equality and diversity very seriously and Buzzacott has quite a diverse work force. However, the fact remains that there are still very few black people at a senior level in practice and in tax, and as a consequence of this, there are no black role models to look up to.
How have you tackled those?
I have coped with this in the same way I coped with most challenges, by knuckling down and focusing on the things that I can control. I have worked hard to improve and develop myself to be the ‘best me’ that I can be.
What can white colleagues do to help and support their black colleagues in the workplace?
This is a really difficult question and I am not convinced the answers should necessarily be coming from me or indeed any other black person in the workplace! However, I think it is wrong for people to conclude that, just because they do not consider themselves to be racist, they can’t be prejudiced at times. I didn’t really know how to articulate this, until I stumbled on the phrase unconscious bias, which really does explain one of the real issues. Everyone has an unconscious bias in one area or another and the only way to overcome this is to get it out in the open and educate yourself. People need to think about the prejudices and biases that they have grown up with and educate themselves to get past the stereotypes.
What do you think needs to be done to promote racial equality and inclusion in the industry?
The best way to promote racial equality is to keep talking about it and educating people. In many ways it is always on the horizon for black people, as we live with the issues (not just limited to work) around race and equality, as a minority group. There is a tendency to wait for a racial incident or a certain time of the year, like black history month, to think about these things, but maybe it’s better to keep talking and questioning all year round, rather than limit it to a particular event or time of year.
What advice do you have for young professionals on how to succeed in this industry?
Things are improving, but I believe there is still some way to go. For now, I think young black professionals will need to accept that in some cases they may to have to work harder to prove themselves. They should also get used to the fact that it may be a while before they see commensurate black representation in some of the senior positions that they aspire to. My advice is for them to work hard and stay positive and focused. Even if there hasn’t been a black person before at the level you're aspiring to, who is to say you couldn’t be the first!
Please note that all comments and opinions provided are those of the individual and not the organisation/company they are employed by.