Play Consulting CFO Thouraya Walker on swapping the corporate world for startup life
Hi, I’m Thouraya Walker, born and raised in south London. I grew up in New Cross and Peckham. I now live in Sydenham with my husband and two daughters.
When I went to York University I fell into admin work because there was a travel place and they were looking for an admin person. I was studying maths at uni and I managed to get some experience in VAT and cash flow.
I ended up looking for a path into accountancy. I had no idea how to become an accountant. My parents are first generation immigrants from North Africa and English wasn’t their first language. I didn’t know anyone who was an accountant to ask about the profession. I took on more and more responsibilities at that travel company and, after graduating, I started with them full time for a year or so. But at that point, I was just winging it and doing things like using new systems and creating basic budgets.
After, I had to apply to an accountancy company to get a three-year experience program. Whenever you go to these graduate centres it’s like you have to behave a certain way. It was very much their rules, and if you followed them then you’d be fine. But if you didn’t know the rules then you would be lost. It kinda depends on the school you went to and your background. I felt so out of place while doing my program, especially in the assessment centre. But I finally got a role as a traineeship with BDO and that’s where I did my three-year accountancy training. I stayed there for seven years.
I wanted to leave the corporate world so I left my job and did some freelancing work with a few startups. I got in touch with Marcus from Play, who was friends with my old boss, and he was looking for someone in finance. So we had a call and as we got talking everything he was saying was ticking all the boxes in what I was looking for - an organisation where you are part of something and able to grow as well.
Yes, I was the first finance person so I was able to put down the basics for the department. I then hired someone into my team and then it kinda grows and you notice what is missing and what needs to be done.
My advice is don’t be put off by the number of men in tech. I think our schooling system doesn’t help girls to feel like they are capable of maths or science, tech or coding. I still see it now with my daughters - boys do tech, coding and maths, whereas girls are good at reading and drawing. It infuriates me. I think that’s the key: don’t be scared because you don’t see yourself represented in that area.
In terms of finance, accounting is still a very male dominated job. When I was training it was almost 50/50, but after a couple of years of working, you start to see people progressing to leadership levels, and you see the women’s rate declining. Again, you shouldn’t rule yourself out in these conversations. Even if it’s hard, keep pushing to be heard.
I use Slack for work to talk to colleagues, but now I use it for networking as well. There’s a startup CEO channel where you can post questions and people can respond, and it’s really good to meet new people and learn. This year, that has been really valuable to me because having people in the same position as you has been really helpful as we’ve negotiated being a startup during a pandemic.
Yeah, we are planning to open the office up. We used to be Monday to Friday, 9-5pm, but that will change now. I think most people will be in the office for like two-three days. I think we need that human interaction again, to bounce ideas off each other and and to be creative together.