Life at PKF

IWD 2024 with Cheryl Mason: Treat yourself with kindness

This International Women’s Day, we sat down with Cheryl Mason, Partner in our Financial Services division who joined us midway through 2023. Cheryl shares her view on the importance of International Women’s Day, how she champions women as a female leader and the challenges she’s navigated throughout her career.

To go back to the very beginning, and to highlight an important lesson in my life, my career started out much like most of my colleagues in professional services – university. However, it didn’t happen the way I had always planned. Having been a bit of a superstar at school, I hadn’t envisaged how poor my A-Level results would be, and consequently I didn’t get into the university that I had hoped for.

Although I was the first in my family to study at university, which I have always been very proud of, I realise now that I learnt quite early on what it was to fail, and in turn, bounce back. It is that resilience and determination to never give up on what you ultimately want to achieve that has been a theme throughout my life. I even have a coffee cup that quotes Winston Churchill: ‘Never, never, never give up’, just to remind me!

As a result of my life taking a slightly different turn, I was on a new pathway working a year in industry as part of my course. That’s where I was encouraged to apply to the Big 4, starting off as a junior eventually making my way to Partner. Over twenty years later my career has now led me here, to PKF.

I am proud to be a Partner in a firm that has exciting plans for the future, and a culture that aligns with my personal priorities and objectives. PKF actively invest not just in women but everyone, and we celebrate our people as they really are our greatest asset. As a female Partner passionate about women’s empowerment, I know it’s not just my responsibility to encourage change. At PKF it is a shared vision, where education and insight is powerful for all.

I am proof that you can be a leader, a colleague and a mum, and PKF enables and empowers me to do so, but that’s not to say it’s easy. Recognising what you want to prioritise at any given time is vital, and your priorities regularly change. There is definitely some truth in not being able to have it all, all the time, and that’s why treating yourself with kindness is key. Take the pressure off yourself, and meet your own expectations. I know that now, but that’s not always been the case.

When I reflect on my entire career, one piece of advice I would give to my younger-self would be: ‘the only thing in my control is me.’ Being yourself is always enough, and if it isn’t enough then you’re not in the right place. I’ve previously had my credibility questioned due to outdated views. I refer to it as my real life Barbie moment, but my credibility was questioned because I wore a Barbie pink jacket – so of course, I wore that jacket even more! Credibility in professional services doesn’t falter by wearing a brightly coloured suit, or having manicured nails – it is defined by what you deliver as a professional. PKF welcomes this with open arms and encourages us to be passionate about who we really are – no exceptions. If something isn’t serving you then you need to make a conscious decision to step away and move on.

I have always been passionate about supporting women, and I’ve been a mentor throughout most of my career. Guiding fellow women has not only been rewarding, but has played a vital role in my development too. I attribute a lot to building your network. It’s a subtle yet important part of your journey, allowing you to share both your wins, and your losses, and in return receive different perspectives. I have learnt that it takes bravery and vulnerability to share the highs and lows, and asking for help or challenging the status quo takes both. While having my children, I was working part-time but remained in a client facing role, which was unusual at the time for women who became mothers. I asked for the support when needed from my colleagues which allowed me to balance my priorities. The key is communication. I still look back on that time fondly as it helped others reflect on what was possible as a woman.

That’s why I think International Women’s Day is so important and has real potential to make a difference to people’s lives. It gives us all a platform to share our story, which helps us to reflect and drive improvement. With it now being widely recognised and celebrated annually, it stays in focus. Whilst we’ve all come a long way, there’s so much more yet to be done. After all, women supporting women is great but everyone supporting everyone is better – that’s the change I want to see!