Disability & Leadership: What it takes, What it costs and Why it matters

This week I attended an event titled, ‘what it takes, what it costs and why it matters: disability & leadership’. The event was organised by Radiate which is a network for high-flying, senior and talented professionals with lived experience of disability or a long-term health condition.

Radiate, supported by Disability Rights UK, undertook the first national research investigating disabled people in senior jobs. They found that there was a pool of successful disabled people in senior roles, earning over £80,000. However, non-disabled people were three times as likely to earn over £80,000 and twice as likely to be board level directors.

Out of this research the Radiate network was born, to put people with similar experiences in touch with one another, share career experiences, network for the next career move, influence employment practices on disability – and to give something back to those at the beginning of their career journey.

In order to answer the questions posed in the title of the event Phil Friend OBE, Chair of Disability Rights UK and all round good egg chatted with Lord Holmes MBE about his leadership journey.

Chris is a former Paralympic swimmer (representing Britain at four Paralympics from 1988 to 2000), Director of Paralympic Integration at London 2012 and a former Non-Executive Director of the Disability Rights Commission. At the age of 14 he woke up blind having lost his sight to a genetic condition and having always been sporty he pursued his swimming talent. Alongside his swimming training he studied politics at Cambridge.

He is a Disability Commissioner at the Equality and Human Rights Commission and has recently been appointed a Conservative peer.

Within the on-stage conversation, Phil and Chris discussed aspects of Chris’s various leadership achievements and what it takes to make it happen.

I wish some of the participants at some of my recent work preparation workshops could have been present. Both Chris and Phil reinforced the message of my workshop session on what it takes to achieve success. Determination, regarding setbacks as learning opportunities and not taking ‘no’ for an answer were evident throughout the conversation.

In a nut shell, ‘what it takes’ is all the usual attributes and if you are disabled it will likely take doing these things more, not less.

Chris mentioned several times that developing the talents of disabled people makes good economic sense. He said if you only think of it in terms of ‘cold hard economics’ then the argument for greater access for disabled people to contribute to society, business and their communities is a compelling enough argument. I took this to mean that it costs us more as a nation not to do this than it would to do it, which has always been my belief.

The final part of the title ‘why it matters’ was covered less because I think everyone in the room knew why it matters. The Disability Rights UK research shows the underrepresentation of disabled people in senior roles. It matters that representation increases for a whole host of reasons. Some of these reasons include, the innovation that diverse boards benefit from, banishing misconceptions of disabled people generally and creating role models for future disabled leaders. Ultimately, I feel the focus should be on fulfilling potential. If we do this then everything else follows, greater representation will be a natural consequence and the natural consequence of greater representation is greater inclusion for future leaders.

For more information about Radiate go to http://disabilityrightsuk.org/how-we-can-help/careers/radiate-network#content

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