The topic of gender equality in the workplace is (still, even in 2019) rarely out of the news, and for young female students with ambitions of climbing right to the top of the career ladder, much of the coverage doesn't exactly put the odds of success in their favour.
Only last year, it was reported that the number of women in senior positions within some of the UK's biggest companies has fallen, with just 30 women in full-time executive roles at FTSE 250 firms, down from 38 the year before.
More recently, The Trades Union Congress (TUC) published analysis that showed a 17.9% difference in earnings between women and men, effectively meaning that, on average, women work "for free" for the first two months of the year.
It's only too relevant, then, that the theme for this year's International Women's Day is #BalanceforBetter. The campaign makes the case that gender balance is essential for economies and communities to thrive, arguing: "Balance is not a women's issue, it's a business issue."
One company who are actively seeking to balance out the opportunities for women and men is PwC.
Recognised as one of the four biggest professional services networks in the world, famously known as The Big Four, and voted the number one Graduate Employer in The Times Top 100 Graduate Employers survey for the last 15 years, PwC are proud to have a high number of females in leadership positions.
PwC offer audit, taxation, management consulting, advisory, actuarial (risk assessment), legal, corporate finance and other services to clients across the globe. They also offer an extensive, nationwide range of career opportunities to students and graduates alike.
Among those opportunities are their Women in Business and Technology Programmes, which aim to give ambitious young women an insight into what it takes to start a successful journey to the top of a business like PwC's.
Ella is one of many women whose PwC career started with a place on the Women in Business Programme.
Currently working her way up within the Assurance division, Ella took her first step onto the PwC career ladder back when she was in her final year of university by undertaking a week-long placement shadowing one of the company's female directors.
Ella says she learnt a lot during that short time. The Women in Business and Technology Programmes are paid placements, so rather than twiddling her thumbs, she was encouraged to put her skills to the test: "I did a mixture of Internal Audit, External Audit, and some Risk and Governance work as well."
On top of gaining a vast amount of experience early on, Ella was also able to discover the area of the business that she wanted to specialise in: Insurance Internal Audit. This meant that, upon graduating, not only did she know what she wanted to do next, but had the opportunity to secure a graduate role at PwC without having to reapply.
Ella credits getting a taste of real responsibility and being inspired by female leaders through the programme for helping to accelerate her career.
"PwC provides amazing opportunities, but they're not going to be laid out for you on a plate," she says. "By being proactive and taking advantage of those opportunities, that's what has enabled me to progress fairly quickly."
For Ella, programmes like this one at PwC don't just level out the playing field when it comes to the accessibility of career opportunities; they also provide female students with much-needed proof that not only can you progress through big companies, you can do it while achieving something you feel strongly about.
"I've always wanted to have a positive social impact," she says. "When I started at PwC, I was lucky enough to meet a director who also wanted to improve our engagement with social enterprises, build trust in society and solve important problems."
"I have always been given the genuine sense that a good idea can come from anywhere. If you want to be proactive and pursue it, go ahead and make it happen."
Want to follow in Ella's footsteps?
You've still got time to apply for one of this year's PwC Women in Business and Technology intakes.
The programmes are open to any and all female students, no matter what year of study you're in and no matter where you are in the UK. Like Ella, you'll complete a 3 or 5 day long paid placement during which you'll shadow one of PwC's female leaders within your chosen business area.
Click here to find out more and apply.
Alternatively, you can hear more of Ella's story here.