Creating an inclusive environment

Patrick O’Driscoll, Ireland

Director, Assurance, EY EMEIA Financial Services

In December we mark International Day of People with Disabilities, a day where we celebrate the contributions and achievements of those who have visible and non-visible disabilities. We also recognize those who are doing incredible things in the disability space and building a more inclusive culture. We sat down with Patrick to talk about his involvement in the disability space and the support EY's given him.

Tell us a bit more about yourself and your journey to EY.

I am a director in our Aviation Financial Services team. I joined EY as a graduate in our Dublin office and I have stayed since then. I have moved around within Financial Services and as the Aviation Financial Services team has grown, I was able to continue working with the team. I’ve now been with EY for 11 years.

Looking more closely at the disability agenda at EY, can you tell us about your experience mentoring a colleague with a disability?

My counselee was a very positive trainee who was a great asset of our team. When he joined us, he was quite open about the physical difficulties he had and during the interview process, he was saying that he didn’t fully understand how we would make it work. He had cerebral palsy, epilepsy and was partially sighted , which impacted him in his day-to-day role. For me, when I took over as his counsellor, I was struck by how courageous he was. He was one of the first people that we had in the team with a visible disability, and he really championed the calls and meetings that he was a part of. He also ran an event for our group to explain his disability to us and to discuss how it impacts him in his role. My counselee was so positive, always open for a challenge and open to how he will manage his disability so that he can do his job to the best of his ability and at the same level as everyone else.

As his counsellor, my main role for him was to help him with his exams. He couldn’t get through them like the other students due to some of the issues he had. His epilepsy was triggered through stress, so coming up to exam periods he had to be extremely careful as his episodes really knocked him back in the days and weeks before due dates. The main thing for me was to make sure the organization understood that we had to alter our expectations a bit in regards to his abilities and how long it would take him to get through his exams. My main role was to make him feel comfortable and make him understand that there wasn’t the same expectation as to what we expect in his day-to-day job. As a team, we had to try and de-stress any situation as much as possible for him so that he could flourish in his role. It was a very different relationship compared with other counselees. I caught up with my counselee on a more regular basis to see how he was going and to see if I could be more of an assistance to him. He doesn’t let anything hold him back. He is an extremely positive and vibrant person.

What did you get personally out of working with this person? What did this experience teach you?

It’s probably a bit cliché, but working with someone like my counselee makes you realise that you shouldn’t take things for granted. Sometimes, we think we have it tough, but if you think about it, we are all quite lucky. His attitude toward life was definitely something that I took away from this experience. He was a really positive person and was someone who wouldn’t let anything slow him down. When someone has a disability, everyone in the team has to consider how they support them, how they react and how we can adapt their role to make it easier for them in their day-to-day activities.

How did the team work with your counselee? Did you look anywhere for support?

Everyone was aware, when we were hiring him, that things would be different and maybe a bit difficult at the start. The Learning and Development team were extremely helpful when it came to his exams, how they could assist him, what they needed to do to make it a smooth process and so on. The partner and manager group were great also. They understood that we needed to set different expectations. As a group, we made sure that we discussed the expectations and agreed with him on these to make sure he felt comfortable and able to do the best he possibly could. We understood that he may not progress at the same rate as his peers, but he understood that we had different expectations from him and to ensure that he understood that he wasn’t an underperformer. It was just that the expectations meant that it may take longer for him to progress in his role, but he had the opportunity to get there one day.

What advice would you share with others in a similar situation?

For both the counselee and the counsellor, it’s important to make the time to sit down and let your colleague explain their disability and outline what adjustments, if any, need to be made. My counselee did a great job of understanding how he could work around it. So, from my perspective, it was great that he was open about it all and we were able to talk honestly about it. We have to understand that some counselees may not feel comfortable sharing their whole story. Having that open conversation enabled both parties to understand the difficulties that someone may be having. It allows you to figure out the best approach in order to assist them in order for them to perform to the best of their abilities. I was very lucky that I could do that with him. To summarise, I would say: have the open and honest conversations; understand and discuss their wants and needs; determine whether the expectations you would have for someone else in that role need to be altered to meet the needs of our counselee; and use HR and other support services to make your counselee feel comfortable and supported in their daily role and to be able to achieve their goals.