Jun 2024

​Emma Cody – Partner, PwC

I’m Emma Cody, a Partner at PwC, and I wanted to share my social mobility story.

Growing up, I lived in a pretty deprived area in north London with my parents and six siblings. It wasn’t until I got older that I truly understood the extent of the challenges and poverty we faced. It became quite obvious to me that we were a lot poorer than other families living on the council estate around us. I didn’t always have a clean uniform or neatly brushed hair, and that made it hard for me to fit in and make friends. We often had to share meals, and there were times when we didn’t even have electricity.

Later on in childhood, I managed to get into a ‘good’ secondary school and the contrast between myself and my classmates hit me like a ton of bricks. Holes in my shoes and ill-fitting uniforms made me stand out. It wasn’t that I didn’t want to learn, but the environment made it hard for me and I’d never really been taught socialisation skills.

At around 15, I was sitting in my bedroom and I realised that if I wanted a better future, I had to take control of my life and do my exams. I taught myself as much as I could by sneaking into libraries and pretending to be older to borrow more advanced books. I got the courage to go back to school, where my teachers saw my struggles and gave me the support I needed in my final year. I worked hard, passed my GCSEs and got into a local college to do my A-Levels.

I was juggling a full-time job but I worked hard in college and tutors saw my potential and encouraged me to go to university. Nobody I knew had ever taken that path, so I decided to dive straight into work after college, landing a temp job as a secretary at another Big Four firm.

After being made permanent, I worked for a Director on my team who became my first ‘career role model’ – she suggested I do my tax exams so I could join as a graduate, so in my own time, I started studying again.  Studying tax was like learning an entirely different language, but I had never worked harder in my life. That moment when I passed and received a letter declaring my associate status and salary was nothing short of emotional. It was a validation of how far I had come.

It wasn’t easy after that moment though, it was tough building relationships with people who seemed to have little in common with me. Despite the initial hurdles, I thrived in my role. After 18 months, I interviewed for a senior associate position at PwC. Nobody knew my background, and it was incredible to be recognised for my abilities alone. From there, I kept climbing the corporate ladder, becoming a Director at 30 and a Partner at 34.

Programmes like Access Accountancy weren’t available when I was at school, but engaging with students that might not see professions like this in their future is so valuable. A career in professional services and accounting brings so many opportunities. Businesses like ours can only thrive with people from diverse backgrounds that bring such a broad set of skills and experiences. I’ve had some amazing career mentors over the years and the more people I meet, the more I realise I’m not alone in my upbringing and struggles. That’s why I felt compelled to share my story. We should all be kind to ourselves and those around us because you never know what battles others are fighting. Let’s hold up that mirror, have open conversations, and educate others about the realities faced by people like us.

Looking back, I wouldn’t change a single moment. I am immensely proud of myself and my family for how far we’ve come. My journey reflects the doors that you can pull open for yourself with hard work and determination, coupled with the kindness and help there is around you from others to help achieve your career goals.