Despite being senior partner at accounting firm KPMG, Carol Nicholls has always managed to put her family above all else.
The widowed mother of three, armed with her faith, prayer and the support of relatives, has reaped numerous successes in the corporate world, as she remained driven, focused and disciplined – all while following the wise advice of her mentor and former boss, Kenneth Hewitt, that “family comes first”.
“Getting married and having children, you wondered how that might impact on your ability to perform on the job . . . your ability to devote the time required. I was very fortunate because [Kenneth] was a family man with very high morals and he was honest enough to say ‘I am married with children and family comes first, so really it shouldn’t prevent you from doing your work; just look at the timing of having your children and always remember that family comes first’,” Carol recalled.
In fact, she noted that quite often, women who have children return to the corporate world more focused and driven to achieve.
“My experience with female employees is that they take leave to have children, to raise families, and I find that they are so productive once they come back in,” she observed. “It is just better management of your time or continuing to manage your time, and I really see no difference in male or female performance based on gender or responsibility.”
Carol wed at the age of 26, but her roles as wife and mother did not slow down her fast-paced climb up the corporate ladder. Aware of the importance of spending time with her family and with a drive to fulfil her duties to the best of her ability, she made the necessary preparations to balance motherhood and being a modern business woman.
“After the birth of my first child, I came in and I spoke to the partners and I said I will need to be even more productive during the day because I can’t afford to do the late hours now. I just had to prioritize even more and also manage my time even better, but I felt comfortable approaching my superiors to say I do need some accommodations to be made so I can raise my child, and I think everyone should be made to feel comfortable that way.”
After she completed her studies at Harrison College, she was introduced to Peat Marwick – with which Klynveld Main Goerdeler (KMG) merged in 1987 to form KPMG – by her guidance counsellor who suggested she might be suited for a career in accounting.
The Barbados Scholar, who attended St Lawrence Primary School and Christ Church Foundation Secondary before moving on to Harrison College, highlighted that education opened doors that led to her personal and professional development.
“School really opened up the opportunities for me, and when you think about it, your guidance counsellor just channelling you along the way is something that many people really don’t attach enough importance to,” she reasoned.
After securing her Barbados Scholarship, Carol left the island and headed for Montreal, Canada to attend McGill University.
Before she returned home in 1997, Carol worked at the KPMG offices in Montreal where she faced discrimination based on her skin colour, nationality and her gender. So working in Barbados was a breath of fresh air when she came back.
“I was Anglophone, I was not Canadian, I was a female, and I was black so I had all those things lined up against me. So I more or less had to prove myself.
Working in the Barbadian business arena was less of a challenge than working in Canada so it strengthened me for my return to Barbados,” she said.
“My career progressed in that area . . . very much seen as an old boys club . . . . Therefore, as a female, clearly it was not acceptable to be reaching out to invite someone to lunch or to be socializing in the manner that males would socialize and build those relationships.”
While Carol acknowledged there was equality in her sector, she argued that there was room for improvement in flexibility, efficiency and aftercare programmes for employees with children.
“Right now, aftercare is apart from the organization, but aftercare for children should be within the organization. We really need to look at going to 24/7 business using IT so that time isn’t spent doing fundamental things like paying bills, etc. We are way behind where we should be.”
Broaching the theme for International Women’s Day, Carol suggested that as corporate Barbados pressed for progress, it should help to break down the stereotypes that have been perpetuated about women in leadership positions.
“Press for progress would be changing mindsets about what it means to be female, erasing what people see to be limitations in our ability.”