Embracing this year’s Black History Month UK 2023 theme, ‘Saluting Our Sisters’, we pause for a meaningful five-minute conversation with Totum Consultant Carolyn Beckford Balogun.

What is your Background?
Over the past 20 years, I’ve worked in recruitment, spending much of that time in finance, specialising in Financial and Professional Services. My expertise encompasses temporary, contract and permanent recruitment. I am currently working as the Finance Operations Specialist at Totum.

What did you want to be when you were growing up?
I dreamt of being an air hostess before watching episodes of Oprah Winfrey, which then shifted my interest to psychology and the long-term hope of becoming a guest expert on her show.

How did you get into recruitment?
After graduating in psychology and a brief foray into marketing, I pursued a merit-based career that steered me toward sales, blending my curiosity about people into a recruitment path. I researched and gained insight from friends already in the profession and proactively marketed myself to consultancies.

What is the biggest challenge you have faced?
A huge challenge for me arose during the Global Financial Crisis of 2008 whilst recruiting for finance & accounting roles across the banking sector. Many big, large banks implemented recruitment freezes, and as a result, smaller and retail banks became the new focus for many competitors – which was my client base.

Even with a healthy client base, it now became even more competitive, and many of my peers left the sector to work in internal recruitment. Seeing the opportunity, I made a business case to set up a new interim Risk Consultant desk from inception, capitalising on the growing need and carving a niche market for myself at a difficult time.

Why did you choose to specialise in the legal finance operations space?
I like working with the unsung heroes of law firms—the finance operations teams. They are the backbone of the firm, responsible for keeping revenue flowing effectively. During my interactions with numerous Heads of Finance Operations and Revenue Managers, I’ve gained a deep understanding and appreciation for ongoing challenges and the importance of reducing lock-up.

What is your top tip for candidates?
The recruitment process is an interactive consultative experience, not just transactional; work with us as partners in your job search. The more we know your skills, experience, and expectations, the more effective we can be in finding you suitable positions. Honesty and transparency are key, always ask questions for clarification, and be open to all feedback. When writing your CV and applying for a job, remember to include the key skills and experience that are relevant to that role.

You’ve been doing some fantastic work around Black History Month. Tell us more about your work.
Black History Month UK 2023 theme is ‘Saluting Our Sisters’. At Totum, I have created an internal newsletter to celebrate the occasion, which includes an interview with a Solicitor Apprentice at Dentons LLP, Tawana Robertson, who is also a Social Media Officer at the Black Apprentice Network. My newsletter also provides recommendations for things to do, watch, read and listen to, enabling people to dip into black history, and readers can take part in a quiz to win a meal at a Nigerian Tapas bar supported by Beyoncé BeyGOOD foundation.

Towards the end of October, we are also hosting an internal ‘Totum Talks’ knowledge-sharing session with Adrian Lock, founder of Deeper Leaders, who will share insights into the importance of White Allyship and his decision to create the network after the murder of George Floyd.

Many firms are organising BHM external events for clients, but it’s also crucial to deliver events internally.

Why is this work around Black History Month so important?
Inclusive celebrations and acknowledgement of diverse histories enhance feelings of belonging among minority staff members, increasing productivity, enhancing morale, reducing turnover, and improving well-being, all of which are linked to a firm’s bottom line but often are overlooked due to lack of straightforward ROI.

There’s a perspective that Black History Month shouldn’t be just a month but should stretch all year round. Appreciating that there’s still an absence of equality and this critical history isn’t part of the national curriculum, spotlighting African diaspora achievements and contributions is crucial. Black women navigating through both racial and gender bias deserve this spotlight, too.

It’s essential to address the subtle, deep-rooted stereotypes sometimes experienced in the UK. Rest assured, Celebrating Black Excellence consistently remains a priority on my agenda.

What do you think a truly inclusive workplace would look like?
I’m not a diversity specialist, just a black female recruitment consultant navigating as a minority in professional services. To me, genuine workplace inclusivity is more than ticking the diversity box – valuing everyone’s experiences and culture equally is essential. A place where cultural literacy is so heightened that accepting diversity at every level is seen as a strength, not as a weakness. Yes, there’s much to do in shifting mindsets and culture, and let’s keep moving toward a genuine, inclusive future together.

What do you like to do to switch off? Or tell us something people might not know about you?
Enjoying live comedy has always been a treat, especially when seeing legends like Dave Chappelle, Chris Rock, and Judy Love. I’m partial to reality TV and enjoy observing unexpected insights into human behaviour and social dynamics. Here’s a little-known fact: I’ve been an avid knitter since I was five, though I pass the assembly task to my sister! I took my first life coaching course over two decades ago, long before it became fashionable to be a coach.

If you would like to find out more about Totum’s work around Black History Month, or to discover more about roles and opportunities in the finance operations function, contact Carolyn at [email protected]

Carolyn also recently authored a feature on the development of working capital teams: ‘Firing on all cylinders: How working capital teams fuel business success’, which you can read here.