Pride 2021: An interview with a trans accountantby
In an interview with AccountingWEB, Paige Collins describes her experience with coming out in the accounting profession, and shares advice for any trans accountants considering taking the leap.
Paige Collins worked at a top 100 accounting firm for over 38 years and was a managing partner for 15 years when she began her transition. Now she has started her own firm, Warren House Accountants.
In April 2020, Collins wrote an open letter for members of the Brighton business chamber, sharing the new chapter in her life. The letter demonstrated Paige’s pragmatic and open approach to transitioning in a public facing role.
“I am under no illusion that the change in my presentation and pronouns will take a little while to embrace,” she wrote. "I will not take offence as this change takes effect and I will work with you all to make the change as easy and seamless as possible for us all.”
AccountingWEB caught up with Paige Collins to find out about her experience of coming out in the accounting profession.
During your transition, what was your first reaction or move regarding your career?
I worked quite hard with telling the story. I wrote about my personal journey and shared that with my fellow business partners. Then I engaged with staff. Having been a partner for 38 years, I didn’t consider it too big a risk, I suppose.
I wish I'd been more open sooner, but you don’t wake up and just decide to do it – so there’s a period of time worrying about how you will be received. There never is a right time, but once you have made a commitment to what you are doing, then that is the right time.
Once you have, you need to feel supported by your colleagues, as well as your family and friends, it is so important.
Were you nervous about coming out as a trans accountant?
Yes. Having been in a career that was very binary, transitioning completely changes how you interact with colleagues and clients, and the business environment by extension.
My clients and some of my colleagues have been fantastically supportive. Obviously, I had to communicate my personal journey changes with them but they were all supportive.
Only one of them struggled as they have Aspergers, so everything has to be in boxes and they felt it couldn’t work for them because of their challenges. But that was one in 500.
On the whole, how welcoming is the accounting profession to transitioning colleagues?
Generally, the profession is slightly behind the game, although the ICAEW was actually more engaged than I thought it was going to be. I’ve had several engagements with them regarding my journey and they have been very supportive.
What has the reception been like?
I think positive things happen to positive people. I’ve been blown away by the support from colleagues, business owners and partners. From a business perspective, 15 months ago I was in a top 100 accounting firm in the UK and now I’m starting my own firm and clients are happy with what we’re delivering. It’s early days, but it’s very positive and going in the right direction.
What advice would you offer to transitioning accountants?
It will all be OK. It’s a big life-changing experience, but surround yourself with the right people and your journey and can be positive – live the life you want to live and be who you are. You can do it. At my age, I’ve been lucky because I’ve built up a network of supportive people around me over the last 50 years.
Some days you wake up and wonder what am I doing? You obviously have days where you don’t feel as enthusiastic as the old days. There will always be people who will knock you back, as there is in life, but ignore those people and move on from it. You just have to remember that the majority of people are supportive, and out of that comes a great amount of security and wellbeing.
I would also advise people transitioning to seek professional assistance. That was an early part of my journey. There are counsellors there to help with this trying time and it’s important to seek advice. And find a like-minded and supportive community that will support you through what you want to achieve
How should trans accountants better navigate the profession?
The thing about being an accountant is you just keep doing the same thing because that’s what you did yesterday. Transitioning is about daring to be different and standing out, which goes against the nature of the accounting profession.
Be kind, be brave and tackle everything with a positive attitude. And if you are all of those things then the naysayers will fall by the wayside with their own insignificance. Often they haven’t challenged the binary elements of what they are doing and not dared to be different. Why fit in when you are born to stand out.
Why should accountants care about Pride?
Everyone should care about Pride. It’s not just about Pride but about engaging with everyone in society. Accountants are trusted and listened to by businesses, so we have a lot of agency. It’s important that we use that agency to make a positive impact for our future