Inspiration from Eileen Townsend, Head of Organisational Development in the IAASA, to celebrate National Women’s Enterprise Day 2020

When we support each other, we’re Stronger Together. We asked Eileen Townsend, Head of Organisational Development in the IAASA to share with us some insights on her experiences and how she draws inspiration from the environment around her, role models she had during her careers, the best advice she received since Covid-19 hit the world, and what does the slogan “Stronger Together” means to her.

IAASA is responsible for the supervision of the accounting profession in Ireland, comprising 40,030 members of Prescribed Accountancy Bodies (‘PABs’) in business and practice in the State. IAASA is the competent authority for the oversight of statutory auditors in Ireland, including oversight of the manner in which the five Recognised Accountancy Bodies (‘RABs’) perform the functions assigned to them in law in respect of statutory auditors, namely approval and registration, continuing education, quality assurance systems and investigative and administrative disciplinary systems.

Voltedge: What is your current role and how long you have held this position?

Eileen: I am Head of Organisational Development and Standards & Policy in the Irish Auditing and Accounting Supervisory Authority (IAASA). It’s a varied and enjoyable remit with responsibility for innovation, communications, adoption of auditing standards in Ireland and a range of policy issues in accounting and auditing regulation. I’ve been Head of Standards & Policy for 2 years, Head of Organisational Development for 1 and was previously Head of Regulatory & Monitoring Supervision for 6 years.


 Voltedge: Where do you draw inspiration from?

Eileen:  I draw inspiration from a wide range of sources. People – my colleagues who bring different viewpoints and challenge me to improve daily, my children with their fresh perspective on everything and joy in simple things, people who’ve achieved great things and others who’ve overcome significant challenges. Books – I love reading, particularly books presenting new concepts (Brené Brown, Adam Grant, Tasha Eurich are current favourites). Podcasts – I listen to a variety of topics from wellbeing to leadership to documentaries and they often spark new ideas.

Voltedge: During the course of your career, was there a role model or mentor that stands out for you?

Eileen: I’ve been lucky to have had several significant mentors in my career, who valued my strengths, gave me insightful feedback and advice, and invested their time in my professional development. Working in regulation has its own unique challenges and when I was new to it, Helen Hall (now CEO of the Policing Authority), was instrumental in guiding me to clarify my purpose and values around regulation and also in developing the perseverance and resilience needed to achieve the vision.

Voltedge: What is the best piece of advice you received since Covid-19 hit the world?

Eileen: I read an article early on during lockdown about accepting the impact of a pandemic and not to judge ourselves (or others) by the standards we set in normal times. That advice resonated with me at a time when I was juggling work with home schooling, childcare, supporting cocooning relatives and feeling that I was dropping at least one of those balls daily.

Voltedge: Can you share with us 2 or 3 positives in your personal life that you have discovered during the pandemic?

Eileen: I’m spending a lot more time at home, with no commute and fewer places to go, so the pace of life is less hectic. I’m also expanding my family’s culinary experience, although with mixed success! I’m getting out for a walk most days and despite living in the same area for the past 14 years, I’ve discovered new places to wander, even within 5km.

Voltedge: In light of so much remote working and social distancing, what practices or approach have you taken to try to communicate and collaborate effectively during this time and to support employees?

Eileen: All of our people have been working from home since March and we put a focus on staying connected and prioritising wellbeing. We’ve been using video conferencing to chat day-to-day, for weekly team meetings, to schedule virtual coffee breaks and to check-in regularly with each other. We introduced an online social networking tool to encourage and maintain our informal interactions. We surveyed staff to assess their needs, developed our intranet to provide wellbeing resources and made external wellbeing supports available also. Flexibility is essential for many employees at the moment, so we’ve implemented increased flexibility around working patterns too.

Voltedge: What does the slogan ‘Stronger Together’ mean to you?

Eileen: It means that the whole is greater than the sum of the parts – that when we support each other, collaborate, share our time, knowledge and experiences, when we value our differences, when we amplify each other’s voices, then we build a community that can achieve real and impactful change for the better.

Voltedge: What is your favourite quote and why?

Eileen: Maya Angelou said ‘You can’t use up creativity. The more you use, the more you have’. I love the possibility in this idea, the call to encourage and nurture creativity, to build the creative muscle. While innovation requires more than creativity, building creative capability at individual and organisational level is a vital precursor to the implementation of innovation. Taking the perspective that doing it leads to more of it, is empowering and inspiring.