International Women’s Day: Breaking the Bias – The Sustainable Accountant

Dr Abby Efua Hilson is a Senior Lecturer in Accounting at Kent Business School. Her research covers the accounting implications of the environmental and social impacts of various industries, including detailed projects on the oil and gas and mining industries in developing economies and work to support female gemstone miners in Africa.

“My dad was an Accountant. I loved numbers as a kid, he made them seem exciting,” explains Dr Hilson, who grew up in Ghana and later moved to Canada. “I went into finance and really wanted to break the mould by becoming an investment banker, then the 2008 crash happened and the sector just wasn’t the place to work at that time.

Luckily, during my MBA education I realised that accountancy and finance wasn’t all about big bank balances, but it could be used as a means for good. That’s when I decided to delve into academia, to research areas that might make a positive impact on society.”

Dr Hilson studied a PhD at Aston University,  Birmingham at the time that commercial quantities of oil was being drilled inGhana, her home country. Having seen the devastation on local communities famed for oil drilling, such as Nigeria and Angola, she didn’t want to sit back and watch the same thing happen there.

“I wanted to ensure that the companies coming into Ghana could do things differently and it started my drive to work on sustainable projects. I went to the oil communities to gather data on what was informing CSR reports of the companies. What I noticed was that the oil companies were recruiting people from Ghana’s mining industry to drive their CSR activities, that meant they were benchmarking against a sector notorious for failed CSR projects,” She explains.

“When I compared the companies’ published sustainability reports with my research findings, they were significantly different. My goal then was to increase awareness and say: ‘this is unacceptable, and something has got to change.


Now Dr Hilson is a Senior Lecturer in Accounting and Finance at Kent Business School, she makes it her mission to demonstrate to students that all businesses are consumers of the natural environment, and that consumption should be captured in the very same way that other values are noted and accounted.

She says: “The world is changing; we all have to think dynamically. You can’t just think about the numbers because behind the numbers there is an environment and a person. We may think that a lot of companies use their accounting processes wisely and that they will have disclosure reports on the environment, which they do, but they are not always what’s really happening on the ground.”

Dr Hilson also received funding from the British Academy in 2019 to go to Zambia and Ghana to engage with women who worked in gemstone mining and selling. Her aim was to help these women, often impoverished and living hand-to-mouth, to scale up their businesses but in a way that kept their actions environmentally friendly.

“These women are admirable; they are tough and capable, but they haven’t had the education and tools to scale up,” explains Dr Hilson. “I wanted to access their impact on the environment and then also introduce them to an accounting system for reporting their transactions.”

In her latest accolade to the net zero effort, Dr Hilson, alongside Kent Business School’s Dr Matteo Molinari, in response to the government’s call for evidence, investigated ‘natural capital’ in the UK, which looks at accounting for the economic health of a nation across all areas, not just GDP.

Dr Abby Efua Hilson is Senior Lecturer in Accounting at Kent Business School.

Imagine a gender equal world. A world free of bias, stereotypes, and discrimination. A world that’s diverse, equitable, and inclusive. A world where difference is valued and celebrated. Together we can forge women’s equality. Collectively we can all #BreakTheBias.

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