Nargis Yunis CA: ‘My South Asian values have helped shape me into the person I am today’
As we celebrate South Asian Heritage Month, Nargis Yunis CA joins our Championing Unique Perspectives series to discuss her connection to Pathan culture and passion for diversity mentoring.
Can you please tell us a little bit about yourself?
I’m a Partner and member of the Global Financial Services leadership team at Mazars. Since training for my CA qualification with PwC, I’ve spent the last 21 years as an asset management sector specialist, mainly working within the Big Four. I also have industry experience, gained through my time at global asset manager, BlackRock.
I am based in London and a massive foodie, so enjoy trying the latest restaurants in the city, as well as hosting dinner parties. I've also read almost every professional development book under the sun!
What’s your connection to South Asia?
My heritage is quite niche as I’m from the Khyber Pakhtunkhwa (KPK) Pathan culture, which is specific to the Northwestern frontier province of Pakistan. It’s originally a tribal community with very strong values, which centre around integrity, honour, respect, hospitality, pride and fighting against injustice. My family are Muslim Pathan, so I am influenced by Islamic culture, which also brings with it a range of values. One of the Islamic values I have been most impacted by is that of ‘ihsan’ or excellence.
The values associated with this combined heritage have shaped my own personal value system, and I have always strived to carry them through into my life and career.
What was life like for you growing up?
I grew up in the Midlands. My school was a real melting pot, so I absorbed a lot of cultural learning from my surroundings.
My parents were heavily involved in community work. My mother would interpret for local women at doctor appointments, and I often remember being sent round to my Sikh neighbour’s house to help make samosas in advance of big religious celebrations. This gave me a great appreciation and respect for the multi-cultural community I was raised in.
Often when your South Asian parents or grandparents have come to the UK during the labour migration there is an element of social mobility at play. My parents didn’t have a university education and couldn’t guide me through the unchartered waters of becoming partner in leading multi-national financial services firms, but they were able to teach me other valuable lessons. I was aware of my heritage because my parents instilled South Asian culture and values as a core part of my upbringing. They placed a big focus on reading and education, we wore traditional Asian clothing to family celebrations, and spoke in our native language at home.
Has your connection to your heritage altered over the years?
Although I had a positive multicultural childhood, I was still aware that I was a minority. Feeling the pressure to assimilate, I remember being shy to share with my classmates that I was one of five siblings. On reflection, being part of a big Asian family was a blessing. My parents passed away when I was relatively young, and my brothers and sisters became a powerful support system.
Now I’m older, I can really appreciate that I’m a unique person with a rare combination of Pathan, Islamic, and British values, absorbed through my environments and experiences.
My South Asian values have helped shape me into the person I am today and I’m proud of my cultural identity. I would encourage others to embrace and celebrate who they are too.
You are a passionate advocate for workplace diversity and the power of mentoring, what sparked your interest in this?
As I was climbing the career ladder, there weren’t many partners that looked like me in the profession. I had to find my own path, and invested heavily in self-development to ensure that I had the right skills to succeed and progress as a female, South Asian leader.
I’m very mindful that there are not enough minority leaders in FTSE boardrooms. Although the Parker review and corporate governance are encouraging change and greater diversity in the workplace, we need to have the right people in place to fill these senior positions. I still see diverse candidates missing out on opportunities to progress because they come from a background where they haven’t been taught the softer skills required in a leader, like confidence, networking, and public speaking.
Closing this skills gap has been a driving force for me and ignited my involvement in diversity mentoring. With access to the resources and guidance needed to work on themselves, my hope is that women and people from minority backgrounds don’t have to put in the same amount of time and effort that I did to get to where I am today.
Can you share some of the work that you have been involved with in these areas?
I have provided one-on-one mentoring to women on their journey to leadership (both in the UK and Pakistan) and established group and speed mentoring programmes in my roles within EY and Mazars.
These programmes allowed people from minority communities or social mobility backgrounds to have access to impactful leaders, be inspired by their stories, and ask them questions. Seeing a role model in a leadership role can really help to sow the ‘if they can do it, then maybe I can do it’ seed in a mentee’s mind.
Often the desire is present within firms to improve diversity, but there is a lack of investment in leadership training programmes directed at minorities. Many of these skills can easily be self-taught, which led me to create a bespoke workshop which I piloted on the Muslim network at Mazars. Initiatives such as this provide a toolkit that can be used to develop personal leadership skills, and I’m currently working to share these resources on a wider scale through my projects.
What can organisations do to champion different cultures and celebrate South Asian Heritage Month?
From a South Asian perspective, no two stories will ever be the same because there is such a range of sub-cultures and generational differences within our heritage. Giving people the opportunity to share their lived experiences is so important for diversity of thought. Listening to different perspectives can even benefit an organisation, because too much homogenous thought in a work environment leads to risk.
I wasn’t aware of South Asian Heritage Month before ICAS reached out to me, which I think shows how important it is to spread the word and share our stories, in and out of the workplace.
Get in touch if you would like to share your story - and join the celebrations on social media with #SouthAsianHeritageMonth