Survival in the City

survival.bmpby Elizabeth Harrin (London)

Women from every field of technology joined together last week at the new Deloitte office in New Street Square, London to talk about the issues of the credit crunch and cancer.

The Survival in the City event was organized by womenintechnology, a careers and networking forum for women working in the technology profession in the UK. The event paired the twin topics of cancer and the current economic downturn – two issues that would not normally be placed in the same discussion. However, the evening was cleverly framed to draw the two strands together.

Joanna LeVannis, the Deloitte account manager in the corporate supporter team at Cancer Research UK (CRUK), opened the evening by explaining about the partnership between CRUK and Deloitte. Staff members at Deloitte have chosen CRUK and the NSPCC as their two preferred charities, and Deloitte employees in the UK have raised £600,000 for CRUK alone so far – £100,000 over their Year 1 target.

Joanna thanked the hardworking community investment team at Deloitte, especially the 50 charity champions across the London campus who she said volunteered tirelessly above and beyond their day jobs to work to raise funds. She explained that she had seen them develop their skills in other areas such as making presentations, so she knew that they were benefiting from their work as much as the charity. The donations made by Deloitte employees have paid for a mobile health awareness unit, staffed by experts, which travels to areas with high incidence of cancer but low awareness of the lifestyle changes than can prevent half of all cancers. The latest initiative is to work in partnership with Deloitte on a brand new health message scheme: Deloitte staff will be trained to talk to colleagues about cancer prevention. This supports the aims of CRUK and also the strong commitment Deloitte has to the welfare of its staff.

Suki Gallagher, founder of, had the audience laughing and crying in turn as she told her own story of cancer survival and the events that led up to her creating her own business. “I’m proud to say I’m a survivor chick,” she said. “It wasn’t the end of life, just the start of a different one.” Unfortunately, 780 people a day are diagnosed with cancer and not everyone has the same positive outcome as Suki.

Mary Reilly, Partner at Deloitte and Head of Charities, spoke about the positive impact of charity work on the company as a whole. “As a firm we are very keen on developing our CSR program,” she said. Deloitte donates a significant amount of money to charity, upwards of £1m a year. Mary, who practices in the audit division for clients ranging from luxury brands to business services, said that she believed people worked harder to raise that money in a recession.

One of the reasons Deloitte works with so many charities, Mary explained, is because young people want to work on charity accounts as they see themselves moving into the non-profit sector later in their careers. People often move into the charity sector thinking it’s going to be an easy life, said Sarah Lyness, executive director of communications and information at CRUK. She then explained that this attitude was a myth, as is the belief that people working for charities do not get paid was also a myth. She recommended that people looking to work in the charity sector chose a charity that represented a good cause and that could provide career progression and structure.

If you don’t want to work full time in the non-profit sector Mary recommended setting up a good corporate social responsibility program, including things like mentoring for The Prince’s Trust. “You can combine charitable work with a career,” she said. Cancer doesn’t know that there is a recession on, and the need for research into prevention and cure doesn’t stop – although all charities are suffering from a drop in donations given the current economic difficulties. The panel passed on some tips for weathering the storm and making money go further, hence enabling some contributions to be made to charity.

“Cash is king,” said Mary, who also advised invoicing customers quickly and chasing for payment. She recommended keeping a good eye on cost control. Suki echoed this by saying it was necessary to get the maximum productivity from the people you employ – and for employees, recognizing the need to be as productive as possible can be a strategy for retaining your job.

Despite cutbacks in recruitment across the financial services industry Deloitte is still maintaining its graduate recruitment scheme. Mary explained that in three years they will need people who can manage the client accounts and cutting back too hard will mean a shortage of people once the economy pulls out of recession. It’s expensive to buy talent in, she said, and those people are normally not as good as those you train yourself.

After the speeches and panel discussion the audience was shown a video from CRUK about those lives that had been lost and touched by cancer. Thirty years ago 70% of cancer of sufferers died within five years. Today, nearly 75% of people with the disease survive for ten years or more. The stories shared that evening encouraged many people present to donate money or time to CRUK to support the research work the charity does.