Blog: How many disabled leaders can you name?
Published: 3 Dec 2018
How many disabled leaders can you name? Probably not many, if you are being honest. In reality, you probably do know some, but maybe you haven’t realised they are disabled or have an impairment.
Today marks the United Nations’ annual International Day of Persons with Disabilities. I have been active in the UK’s disability rights movement since I was ten and I am currently a member of the Women’s Committee of the European Disability Forum. Each year, 3 December represents a great opportunity to celebrate and recognise disabled leadership - and thanks to my Churchill Fellowship, I will have a greater number of great leaders to celebrate.
In 2017, I embarked on a Fellowship to Australia and New Zealand to see what I could learn about inclusive leadership. I hoped that I would encounter ideas that could support the development of new disabled leaders in the UK.
Visiting 17 organisations and 64 individuals, I began to see that to successfully develop leaders, you have to be intentional about it, whether that’s through creating informal opportunities for people of mixed levels of experience to meet and learn from one another, or through explicit and overt mentoring.
It was refreshing to visit many places where there was an expectation that people would work inclusively, through meeting people’s access needs, for example, and that if you weren’t okay with that, then that was your issue to sort out. The value of each individual’s contribution was acknowledged, and it was accepted that while people might contribute in different ways, those contributions are equally valid.
Below: Zara (left) with Christina Ryan, CEO and Founder of the Disability Leadership Institute
One of the most awesome and ground-breaking people I met on my travels, and someone I will definitely be celebrating today, is Christina Ryan. In 2016, realising that something had to be done about the dearth of disabled leaders in Australia, Christina left a well-paid job and founded the Disability Leadership Institute. This organisation develops and supports disabled leaders through coaching, training, networking opportunities and a range of resources, not only in Australia but across the world.
Coming back to the UK was a bit overwhelming, because I had so many ideas and so much information to share. I’ve been passionate about disabled leadership for some time, but it feels like many people are only just waking up to this issue. I have been amazed by the amount of interest in my Fellowship (I’ve even been invited back to Australia and New Zealand to talk about it) and I hope my findings will help to support the development of many more disabled leaders in the UK.
Top picture: Zara with staff from Women with Disabilities Victoria