This #BlackHistoryMonth, we are delighted to interview a variety of Black #tax and #treasury professionals to recognise and celebrate their careers and achievements. We spoke to Sofia Thomas about her successful career in #tax and what she thinks needs to be done to promote racial equality and inclusion within the industry. Sofia commenced her career with a Big 4 firm before moving in-house to work for a global investment bank. She now runs her own company, Sofia Thomas Ltd.
Tell us about your career path to date.
My main ambition when growing up was to be a Gladiator on the TV. Sadly the show stopped airing before I could make my debut so I turned to my backup plan of being an accountant. I was delighted to be accepted to study Accounting and Finance at University. During my first year at Uni I had my son, I decided to take a rest year and during this time I found several careers where I could study and start my career at the same time. When my son was 8 months old I joined PwC on the Apprenticeship scheme in the tax department. I found that I was much more suited to tax than accounting so stayed with tax from that point.
What challenges have you had to overcome during your career?
There are some challenges which we can put on ourselves and I held a lot of beliefs that I can’t do ‘xyz’ because I had a child. I started to challenge those beliefs as my son got older. I took him into the office if I couldn’t get childcare, I took him in meetings if it was the holidays etc and no one ever said anything (to my face anyway!). So for me I try to work out what is an actual barrier and what is something that I’ve created as a barrier in my head. Of course I was lucky that I had good employers who were seemingly okay with me carting a child every so often.
Following on from that I think imposter syndrome is a big one, I often think “oh will anyone want to hear what I have to say?”, or “what right do I have to say certain people?”. That one is a work-in-progress.
What additional challenges have you faced as a person of colour working in tax?
I’m not sure that the challenges are specific to tax but there are a lot of people who lecture on tax and write about tax and many of those voices are white. That can be quite a challenge because it can subtly make you feel as though you don’t belong in that space.
Also recently I’ve been approached a lot to speak at tax technical events but not to speak about my expertise but to talk about racism in the workplace. I think that we need to be really careful about assuming that just because someone is BAME that they instinctively know how to dismantle structural racism.
How have you tackled those?
My approach has been to almost try and ignore the issues and act as if I will be successful. I put myself forward for lots of things, for example I write for a lot of publications, I speak at industry events and run online courses. All of these things have come about because I have asked to be involved. I also found that joining a network such as Women In Tax meant I had so many incredible women to learn from and ask their advice and support. I think almost every month I am reaching out to one or more people to ask for some advice or guidance.
What do you think needs to be done to promote racial equality and inclusion in the industry?
I would love to see people of underrepresented affinities being spotlighted because of their technical expertise and skills and not because of the affinity they represent. I think if we could have some form of informal mentoring within tax that could also be huge help. There are times when we can all feel alone and unsupported and having that person we can talk to a few times a year could really go a long way to enable us all to feel more included.
What advice do you have for young professionals on how to succeed in this industry?
Firstly, define what success is to you. If it’s being a Partner in a Top 20 firm the path is going to look very different to if your definition of success is working 3 days a week so that you can follow your other passions the rest of the week. Once you know what success is to you I would look for people who have made it work for them, try to learn what path they took. Then I would say that hardly ever will something fall into your lap, you will need to ask for what you want and you will need to be able to demonstrate how you can make that work. You might need to be creative with your solutions and with your career but ultimately it should be led by you and what you want.
Please note that all comments and opinions provided are those of the individual and not the organisation/company they are employed by.
Should you have any questions about this interview or if we can support hiring on your team or your own career search, please contact Sarah Reid.