Promoting Diversity and Inclusion in the Accounting Profession: An Interview with Elaine Boyd on International Day of Persons with Disabilities
The International Day of Persons with Disabilities (IDPD), which takes place every year on December 3rd, celebrates the achievements and contributions of people with disabilities in various fields.
This is an opportunity to remind us all of the importance of disability inclusion within the accounting profession. By breaking down barriers, fostering diversity and creating accessible workplaces, we can unlock the full potential of all individuals, ultimately strengthening the profession and society as a whole.
For the IDPD 2023 edition, IFAC, recognizing the immense value that comes from embracing all perspectives and abilities, is reiterating its unwavering commitment to play its part in building and fostering a more inclusive and equitable world for everyone, and encourages all professional accountancy organizations and firms to do the same.
A trailblazer in the accounting profession who has championed inclusivity and accessibility for individuals with disabilities, Elaine Boyd, Officer of the Order of the British Empire (OBE), FCCA, ACA - director of audit quality and appointments at Audit Scotland, past chair of ACCA Scotland committee, newly elected ACCA Council Member, and one of the UK’s most influential disabled people according to 2022 Shaw Trust Disability Power 100 list - has been a driving force in advocating for a more inclusive accounting industry.
Elaine is an inspiring example of someone who has achieved excellence in her professional career, contributed to her community and pursued her goals. Passionate about helping others to overcome barriers and achieve their potential, she talked to Cecile Bonino, Principal, Global Engagement at IFAC, about disability and inclusion within the accountancy profession, generously sharing her inspiring story and insights.
Cecile Bonino (CB) : Thank you, Elaine, for joining us today. Can you tell us more about your journey in the accountancy profession, how you got started and what motivated you to pursue a career in this field?
Elaine Boyd (EB): I had been good at maths at school and a careers advisor recommended that I considered working in a shop. I was disappointed with this response and felt I had more to offer.
I got a lucky break; my parents had a small family business and their accountant visited the house one day. I was interested in what she was doing, and asked her more about her job. I had been helping with payroll and bookkeeping and was familiar with what was needed to run a business. By the time she left, I was keen to find out more about a career in accountancy. I was fortunate to secure an accountancy apprenticeship with a small local practice, and studied part time at Glasgow Caledonian University.
CB: Elaine, you are a true role model and leader for the accountancy profession and for communities of people with disabilities. You have had a successful career in the public sector for over 20 years, overseeing reporting of quality standards on more than £50 billion of annual spending. You have also been an advocate for the accountancy profession and a volunteer for several charities. How do you balance your professional and personal life?
EB: I am a bit of a planner and try to manage my calendar wisely. I try to capture deadlines and build in time to complete the tasks. I always prioritise activities to keep me active as we spend a long time at our desks and don’t move around enough. I protect time available to take part in personal activities and I’m fortunate to have an executive assistant who holds me to account in keeping to my plans. Where possible, I avoid back-to-back meetings to ensure I get up from my desk and move around. I have a weekly check-in with my team which allows us to find out how we are all doing, and this was beneficial during lockdown, but we have continued with this as we have found it beneficial in managing our wellbeing.
When I completed my Flying Scholarship for the Disabled in 2018, a former scholar shared with me the Spoon Theory -a great way of managing your time and energy.
If I feel that I am not in control of my time I use the Spoon Theory to check in with myself and rebalance my commitments. I don’t always get it right and view it as an area for continuous assessment.
CB: You're a strong advocate for disability inclusion within the accountancy profession. Could you share some of the challenges that individuals with disabilities often face in this field? What are some of the challenges that you have faced or overcome as a disabled person in your work life?
EB: Sometimes peoples’ perception of what disabled people can do is the biggest barrier. At school, there were very low expectations of what I could do. I have found in my career that if people discuss with me what works for me, then there is usually a better outcome. Access to buildings is still problematic with lift access often limited. It is important to develop personal emergency evacuation plans to ensure you can vacate a building in case of an emergency. Public transport is very unpredictable: when things work well it increases independence and wellbeing. However, in my experience, when it goes wrong, it can have a detrimental impact on disabled peoples’ confidence and ability to travel.
I have been lucky in my employment to have employers that understand reasonable adjustments and actively ask me if there is anything that can be done to help me. I know that this isn’t always the case. Often people see my mobility challenges due to my unsteady walking pattern, but rarely do people notice the very limited use I have of my arm. I can be good at hiding it!
Disabled people are usually good problem solvers because we have to think creatively to take part in daily life. Equipment I have received includes a posture supportive chair, lighter weight and touch screen laptop and a desk armrest. My colleagues are very thoughtful with doors and making sure I am seated in an area that is easily accessible.
Flexibility is also important in managing a disability. This can be in relation to avoiding peak time travel, administering medication or attending medical appointments. Managing a disability doesn’t usually move in one direction, it can be a bit of a squiggle and needs check ins to ensure you are following the right path.
CB: How can the accountancy profession, professional accountancy organizations and of course employers, work to create a more inclusive environment for individuals with disabilities?
EB: One in five people in the UK identify as having a disability. There is a shortage of skills in the accountancy profession, and making the profession more accessible could enable employers to work collaboratively with people with disabilities. Engaging with organisations such as the Shaw Trust and Business in the Community will enable employers to seek best practice options.
I am a firm believer in education and the opportunities that it brings. I was lucky to start an accountancy apprenticeship with a local accountancy practice. I attended Glasgow Caledonian University on a part time basis and studied ACCA. The ACCA qualification has many routes to qualification available which are flexible, the pace of learning can be adjusted depending on the time you available. This is particularly helpful for people managing a disability. Disabled Students UK can also provide helpful advice on study assistance and support.
Inclusive employment always starts with inclusive recruitment. Many organisations choose to adopt disability accreditation models. This is a good starting point, but it can be helpful to further commit to meeting reasonable adjustments during the recruitment process. Audit Scotland have a statement to this effect on their application documentation. Best practice would also suggest having disabled people represented on interview panels.
CB: Has the COVID-19 pandemic positively or negatively impacted your work and the work of other accountants with disabilities in terms of accessibility and inclusion? What are some of the challenges and opportunities that have emerged from this situation?
EB: Being able to work remotely following the pandemic is of benefit to people with disabilities. It can alleviate travel barriers and preserve energy that is expended during commuting. It is also more likely that a workstation could be tailored to an individual’s needs at home that is easily accessible and maximises adjustments available. Working remotely can also support the neurodivergent community as it can reduce anxiety and stress of adapting to unfamiliar environments.
Working remotely needs to be balanced though, to ensure it doesn’t develop into exclusion. If other colleagues are meeting in person, it would be beneficial to explore ways of also including disabled people. This might involve adjusting the timing or location of a meeting. At Audit Scotland, we have a disability confident working group with disabled people represented from all business groups. The group is forward-looking and considers ways of continually improving the working environment to support people with disabilities. An example of this is the creation of stoma-friendly toilets. To complement this, we have an informal virtual meet up group run by staff with disabilities to share experiences, and quite often, resolve problems.
Overall, I think that working practices following the pandemic are of benefit to disabled people, but it is important to consider inclusive working practices and checking-in with the disabled person to see whether arrangements are working for them.
CB: What are some of the benefits or opportunities that disability brings to the accountancy profession?
EB: Disabled people are great problem solvers. As we are unable to do things conventionally, we have to be creative in developing solutions to everyday challenges. We constantly have to think about things like how to operate equipment that is designed for people who have fully functioning limbs... We are always considering alternative ways of doing things.
We are meticulous planners. Access to buildings, travel routes, noise levels and assistance available- people with sight and hearing impairments are experts in developing and executing plans.
Keeping up to date with the latest technology can be an area of interest to disabled people. Technology has transformed many peoples’ lives for use in communication, mobility, limb functionality and confidence--from voice assistant technology to artificial limbs to mobility aids such as electric wheelchairs that are easily accessible.
CB: Could you share a personal experience or success story related to your advocacy for disability inclusion within the accountancy profession?
EB: I have recently shared my education and career journey on a webinar with students at Glasgow Caledonian University. I got great feedback and I hope it inspires others to join the profession. I explained how supportive GCU were in helping me to undertake and complete my studies. You can watch it at:
CB: As we wrap up our conversation, for those considering entering the profession, can you please share the opportunities that the accountancy profession offers for a person with disabilities?
EB: As one in five people in the UK identify as being disabled, it is important that there is representation within the accounting profession to support financial decisions made. The profession offers huge opportunities across the private, public and charity sectors. There are many flexible study routes which could fit around managing a disability. For me, the ACCA options worked well. An accountant’s role often involves problem solving, and as I’ve mentioned I would argue that disabled people are naturally talented in this area as solutions available often don’t fit well with our abilities.
I stand by the motto “don’t be pushed by your problems, be led by your dreams”. Always challenge low expectations. It is also good to build a network with other disabled people to learn from others and be part of that community. The Shaw Trust Disability Power100
is a great initiative that highlights what disabled people can achieve.
 Spoon Theory is a metaphor for the amount of energy someone living with a disability might have on a given day. A person has a finite amount of of spoons, and each spoon represents a fixed amount of energy. Each thing that the person does costs them some spoons—and each day, depending on their level of comfort, the amount of spoons they have to spare will vary. An good explanation can also be found here: https://www.washingtonpost.com/wellness/2023/01/14/spoon-theory-chronic-illness-spoonie/
Disclaimer : The views expressed do not necessarily reflect those of IFAC or SSBs.