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16th May 2023
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International Women's Day - Interviews With Women At The Top

16th May 2023

Laura Gillanders - Associate Director FP&A, Worldwide Clinical Trials

As part of our celebration around International Women's Day, Macildowie spoke to some of the amazing women we know in the local market about their route to the top of the their profession. Laura Gillanders is a real rising star in the East Midlands having started her career in a regional accounting firm before taking up her current post with Worldwide Clinical Trials.

We caught up with Laura on her experience working in two Top 35 accountancy firms and 'breaking through the glass ceiling' in her career. We also talked personal motivators and those who inspired her from day one. 

Was accounting always your dream career? Or would you have chosen a different path if given the chance? 

I’ve always been ambitious and enjoyed Science and Maths, even from a young age, so it was no real surprise that I was torn between a career in Medicine and Accountancy during my later school years. I think what tipped it for me was that I was introduced to someone that had completed her AAT and ACA qualifications.

I hadn’t previously been aware that I could become a qualified Accountant without going to University. This route into the profession allowed me to obtain internationally recognised professional qualifications and gain work experience at the same time, without waiting to complete a degree and/or long period of training first. Becoming qualified and experienced with no student debt was an added bonus. In addition, I doubt my love of Excel would have been satisfied by a career in Medicine! 

Your early career saw you working in two Top 35 accountancy firms. How did a role in practice set you up for a successful career in industry? 

Working in practice I worked closely with a broad range of clients and sectors, and the training I received allowed me to develop strong technical knowledge across various fields of expertise from an early point in my career. I was also exposed to many different businesses in practice, and I had the opportunity to identify what works well and what doesn’t, both in terms of how finance functions were run, as well as with businesses more generally. I found that this insight was more in short supply in industry, so not only did it set me up well for industry role interviews, it was really valued by the organisations I was looking to join. 

If you were able to give your younger self one piece of advice, what would it be? 

Your career is a marathon not a sprint. Push hard, be driven and achieve, but also make sure you balance that with reasonable time out to recharge and enjoy yourself. My husband will agree with this one!

You have stepped outside of finance at stages in your career. What made you want to explore operational roles and why did you decide to move back into a finance driven role? 

My earlier career involved being there to support, challenge and advise businesses, and I picked up a lot of my initial commercial knowledge by working closely with my clients, and witnessing the impact of the business on the financials and vice versa. The decision to explore operational roles was to expand and deepen my commercial and operational knowledge on a more practical level. I knew at this point I wanted to be in a future role in industry where I could add commercial value, and having operational experience added a different dimension to my skillset and made my CV stand out.

You’ve had the ability to 'break through the glass ceiling' in your career, what is it that has allowed you to do that, and what traits have helped you to succeed the most? 

Being honest, I feel like I’m still knocking my way through that ceiling, and have a way to go yet! 
I’m not as far as I want to be just yet, but I’ve always set high expectations for myself, been persistent, and have taken responsibility for my career. I was lucky to work for a manager at the start of my career who made me confident in my abilities and pushed me to take on new challenges. As such I have always sought to push myself, which I think helps to get you noticed before promotions are decided.

Like most people, I’ve faced setbacks in my career, however I have made sure to take every ounce of learning I could from those situations. From a leadership perspective, I think it is so important to be authentic and create a supportive environment where your team feel safe to try new things, learn and grow.

The most rewarding part of my roles has been seeing the amazing work my teams have achieved when they have been provided with the right conditions and support to flourish. It’s just an added bonus that when your team succeeds, you do too!

Who are the people that have inspired you during your career? What influence did they have on you and how you work? 

Those that inspire me from the business world tend to be those that hold values I consider to be important, such as integrity, respect, credibility, humility, authenticity, tenacity. I am inspired to be a better version of myself by others that demonstrate what great leadership should look like, and those that are driven to succeed and go about it in the right way. I’ve learnt a lot from the people that have inspired me, and also a lot from those that haven’t! 

I have been lucky enough to work for some inspiring people in my career. The biggest influence over the development of my management style was my first line manager in practice. He was personable and authentic, was professional yet able to make work enjoyable, and he supported and challenged me to take on challenges and progress early in my career. Whenever I think about how to get the best from my teams, I still refer back to my own experiences, and think about how engaged I was by that manager so early on.

I have also been really inspired by Sheryl Sandberg’s ‘Lean In’ mission. Despite being quite a few years old now, I highly recommend her ‘Lean In’ book and famous Ted Talk, as they are real eye openers for everyone, not just women. What I find especially inspiring about Sheryl, other than the fact she is a great advocate for women as leaders, is that she has been very successful in her career yet has done so in a way that is authentic to her and makes time to bring others along on the journey with her, despite her own personal difficulties. 

In my personal life, my husband, who also works in Finance, genuinely inspires me every day to be the best I can be. I would not be where I am now without his support.

What are your personal motivators? What do you do outside of work that keeps the pressures of work at bay? 

I’m motivated by achievement, continuous learning and progression, helping others, and feeling that my input is valued and adds value.

Outside of work, I think it’s healthy to switch off completely and recharge, and we should all allow ourselves and others to do this more often than has become the norm. We’re in the process of renovating our new home, so that is currently taking up a lot of my spare time, but I keep reminding myself how nice it’ll be once it’s complete! 

I enjoy keeping busy with a healthy mix of quality time with family and friends, comedy and music gigs, going to the gym, and travel. However, I also find it quite calming having days spent in the garden and cosy nights in on the sofa too. It’s good to mix things up!