I became a partner at Macfarlanes, a corporate law firm, relatively early in my career and was the firm’s first black female partner. I was quite focused on developing a career in tax; I did the Chartered Tax Adviser (CTA) exams before I’d even joined the firm which is quite unheard of! I applied for a position at the firm in 2007; I remember getting into quite an argument with a partner interviewing me about what type of lawyer I was going to be. He was absolutely insistent that I’d be a Mergers and Acquisition (M&A) lawyer. “I’m going to be a tax lawyer, mark my words”, I said. I now see him all the time at work and we always have a laugh about me proving him wrong – it’s become a running joke!
I think what’s ingrained in a lot of black people is the belief that in order to achieve anything, we must work ten times harder than our white counterparts, so I was very conscious about making my CV look impeccable. I didn’t want to give people any room to discriminate against me because of my race and gender.
One of the ways of making my CV look impeccable was by applying to Cambridge University. I managed to get to the interview stage. I was greeted by a black man and a white man. One of the first questions they asked me was if I like R&B music; I was taken aback as it certainly wasn’t a question I was expecting. Do I tell them I do because, well, I do, or do I tell them I don’t because I want them to see me as someone who fits in? I spent the whole interview pretending to be something I wasn’t. When I was waitlisted rather than given a place, I immediately started to question whether I would’ve gotten in if I’d just been my true self. So, whenever I’m giving advice to people about applications – whether it be for a job or university – I always tell them to be themselves. If you get it then it means they wanted you for you and, if you don’t get it, then you’ll never be second-guessing whether you would’ve got it if you’d just been yourself – or, better yet, it probably wasn’t the right environment for you! There’s nothing to be gained by pretending to be something else.