Black History Month 2021 | “One promise I made to myself was that I would be the representation that I didn’t have when I started.”

University of Bristol alumna, Vona Aghoghovbia-Ezichi, (BSc Accounting and Management, 2005)

To celebrate Black History Month, (this year’s theme being, ‘Proud To Be’) we spoke to University of Bristol alumna, Vona Aghoghovbia-Ezichi, (BSc Accounting and Management, 2005) Global Director of Accounting at JLL to discuss her role-models, the importance of representation, and what more needs to be done to address the lack of diversity at senior levels within the accounting sector.

(On early life, and having strong role-models):

I knew I wanted to be an accountant at 13, I am not quite sure what that says about me. But I was resolute about this objective as I enjoyed business studies, commerce, and accounting subjects at school; I got very excited when my balance sheet ‘balanced’.

I was raised by extraordinary parents; surrounded by family, love, and strong role models. We were always encouraged to shoot for the stars and empowered with the tools needed to thrive.

My father, Godfrey Aghoghovbia, always says, “My daughters are enough for me”, and he is proud of us. Whenever I was making educational or career decisions, he always encouraged me to explore my options and aim for the best. My father is an extremely hard-working man. Holding an MBA, he worked relentlessly as an importer of paper and newsprint to provide my sisters and I the best he could afford. His values of hard work and resilience were instilled in me from a young age.

My mother, Ese Aghoghovbia, is an economist, a chartered insurer and a Fellow of the Risk Managers Society of Nigeria. She rose to an Assistant General Manager (AGM) position by the time she retired while having her hands full with the incredible task of raising four daughters with my father. My mother is full of integrity, God-confidence, and compassion. These values were instilled in me.

My upbringing has been fundamental in helping me explore the different paths I have ventured on.

Vona at graduation with her sisters in 2005.
Vona at graduation with her sisters in 2005.

(On the importance of diversity, and representation):

When an executive introduced me to a group of colleagues, I literally saw the surprise, shock and joy on some of their faces when she said I was the Head of Compliance. Several of them had assumed I was an Accounts Assistant. A few of them later came to me to say how proud they were that I was a director and wanted me to mentor them. I was reminded why representation is so important.

One promise I made to myself when I started was that I would be the representation that I didn’t have when I started.

I’m holding myself to this promise.

I have never experienced overt racism at work. However, what I have experienced is the insidious kind that rears its ugly head in the form of unconscious bias that influences decisions that facilitate the progression of some while requiring others to work harder, speak up, raise your profile, bring in more business, or jump through lots of hoops to move up. But I have also had great colleagues and experienced favour with mentors, allies and sponsors which has been pretty amazing.

Do we really care about diversity and inclusion or are we talking about it because it is trending? We really need to think about motives. Are diversity initiatives a tick box exercise; to be seen to be doing the right thing? Let’s call a spade a spade, a lot of people are tired about hearing about diversity. But we still need to move forward in an authentic way. So, for those that care and truly want to make a difference please continue listening to people speak their truth and don’t be afraid to ask how you can help. We need to have these difficult conversations transparently and not just talk. It is very clear that the system is ‘wonky’, the system doesn’t favour everyone, so lets work to fix the system; to offer equal access to both tools and opportunities. Let’s drive systemic improvements to workplace policies, practices, and culture.

I can testify to the power of representation, sponsorship and allyship.

(On the Black Bristol Scholarship programme, which will provide scholarships for 130 Black and mixed-Black heritage students over the next four years):

It is a great initiative. We should publicise these initiatives so that more people, especially alumni, can get involved in helping to make the University a truly inclusive environment.

To learn more about Vona’s journey, as well as her time in Bristol, watch the video below.