Resilience, confidence & learning: One woman's journey into leadership

08 March 2017

On International Women’s Day Karen Finlayson, one of PwC’s most senior women working in health, reflects on her journey into leadership.

Karen Finlayson

I choose to work in the health industry because I care about the health and care provided to people in this country.  My mum and both her sisters were nurses and worked in the National Health Service for more than 30 years so I’ve always had links to the NHS.

It’s a job that I love but my journey to where I am today has not always been easy. Through hard work, resilience and patience, I have, however, achieved more than what some people might have expected from me.  

When I started out in professional services 20 years ago my route in was very different to many in terms of my educational background.  I left school at 17 undecided about what I wanted to do for a career but I was eager to get a job so I started my working life as an apprentice.  Over the years I did a number of jobs working in the accounts department in financial services but I realised that I wanted to achieve and learn more, so I went back to college.  

Focusing on evening classes to do my A levels, I then completed an Accounting course so I could go to university which, again, I did on an evening/ part-time basis and gained a post graduate Diploma in accounting and finance. I then joined PwC.

When I reflect on my leadership journey, there are three key things that I think have made the difference:

  • Resilience – because the leadership road can be a bumpy one. When things don’t go your way you need to pick yourself up, remain positive and optimistic that if you work hard and do the right things it will work out okay.
  • Confidence – have confidence in your own abilities and what you have to offer.  Be bold and don’t be afraid to step outside of your comfort zone and stand up for what you believe in.
  • Learning – The best leaders are always learning and developing themselves and others.  They are not afraid to make mistakes, learn and grow into better individuals and leaders.

The people who know me today may not believe that at times I have lacked confidence. But I found that when I did have the courage and confidence to take on something, I learnt and developed more.  I now look at such challenges as learning opportunities and over the years developed a mind-set that I am more afraid of not trying than I am of failure.

I’ve always had some good mentors and a support network who have helped me and guided me through some difficult career decisions and choices. It's key to have people you can trust and who will give honest feedback, even if at times it’s not what you want to hear.

Finally, in the words of Kevin Spacey, anyone who breaks through a glass ceiling has a responsibility ‘to send the elevator back down and give others a helpful lift’. Leaders must give something back, either through coaching or mentoring of others. However, in particular, women should find other women who are forging a career path and advise and support them to ensure they can be the best they can be. The best organisations are those where women are represented at all levels, including the top.


This is a summary of a speech made by Karen at the HSJ Women Leaders 'Sharing the Leadership Journey' event for International Women's Day.

Find out about our NHS Non-Executive Director programme of events. 

Karen Finlayson | Partner
Email |  +44 (0)1132894167

View Karen's profile on LinkedIn | 


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