close
Develop, support, promote disability leaders

Category Archive: Article

  1. Gaps

    Leave a Comment

    A river flowing through a gap in two steep cliffsGaps

    By Christina Ryan, DLI CEO

     

    Organisations striving to improve their disability diversity want to achieve substantive outcomes. Many are now attempting to measure inclusion.

     

    Unfortunately, inclusion is a highly subjective concept so measuring it is challenging. What exactly might measuring inclusion look like, and how can it be compared to inclusion in other organisations so that benchmarking across industries becomes possible?

     

    Rather than measure ephemeral concepts, organisations could achieve more tangible outcomes by measuring gaps. Disability diversity is either present or it isn’t. Measuring gaps across a range of key areas will indicate what progress an organisation has made towards inclusion, while also indicating specific areas for improvement.

     

    Openly identifying

    Most organisations run an annual staff census to gauge workforce sentiment across a range of areas, including whether people identify as disabled. These surveys are usually anonymous which means people can safely share information that they otherwise would not.

     

    For at least the last decade most of these workforce surveys return results showing a level of people with disability that is around twice that of people who are known as openly disabled in that workplace. In other words, approximately half of the disability workforce in most organisations is not being open about their disability. This gap is a key indicator of inclusion because it points to the level of psychological safety that is, or is not, present.

     

    Comparing anonymous reporting levels to openly known levels is a key gap to monitor. The target outcome is parity between the two figures.

     

    Recruitment

    How many disabled people apply for jobs with an organisation, compared to how many are recruited? This gap speaks to styles of recruitment, advertising, and interview processes; all of which can be adjusted to be more inclusive. Advertising often includes specific requirements which exclude disabled people, and which are often not necessary for the position concerned. Interview processes are held in inaccessible locations or present barriers which do not necessarily produce the most competent person for the job, for example speed writing exercises or rapid problem solving. Adjusting interview processes to reduce barriers has the potential to increase the numbers of disabled people who get recruited.

     

    Measuring the numbers of people who declare their disability prior to interview, with the numbers of disabled people who actually get a job is another key gap that can be measured over time. The outcome to achieve is application and recruitment levels equivalent to population density.

     

    Leadership

    A key workforce diversity building block is diverse leadership. It has long been understood that diverse leadership leads to a more diverse workforce.

     

    Organisations can measure the levels of diversity in their senior leadership teams and on their boards and work to build greater levels across all diversity cohorts. These levels should reflect the population levels of the various diversity cohorts unless the organisation works in a specific diversity area and then the levels would be expected to be much higher for that diversity cohort. The gap between population levels and leadership levels can be addressed through targeted recruitment and career pathway strategies.

     

    Another element of monitoring leadership is to understand the presence of disability in the broader workforce and whether that is reflected in the presence of disability within the leadership of that organisation. Is disability present across all levels of the organisation or is it clustered at more junior levels? For example, if an organisation has 5 per cent disability levels in its workforce, are 5 per cent of its leadership also openly disabled people?

     

    Monitoring gaps can provide substantive measurable indicators of how inclusive an organisation is. Monitoring these gaps over time will also indicate whether an organisation is improving. These indicators are not subjective, rather they are based on specific empirical evidence and can be used across a wide range of organisations and industries.

     

    Sign up for regular updates from the Disability Leadership Institute. 

    Christina Ryan is the CEO of the Disability Leadership Institute, which provides professional development and support for disability leaders. She identifies as a disabled person.

  2. Carpe Diem

    Leave a Comment

    Carpe Diem

    by Christina Ryan, DLI CEO

    2 big bolts of lightning are flashing down towards a city against a dark blue sky.

    In the wake of the Disability Royal Commission, many Disability Leadership Institute (DLI) members have been asking “what now?” Further conversations have recognised that the status quo is not an option, and that disability leadership is vital to the way forward.

     

    The federal government has declared its intention to establish a task force to examine the Royal Commission recommendations and develop a government response to them, but what will that look like?

     

    Had the Royal Commission report been released more than five years ago, things would be different, but a shift has since occurred, and we now know that disability leadership is widespread, available, and capable of leading the response and implementation processes.

     

    Disability Leadership Institute members have been discussing what disability leadership must look like during this critical period and have determined two key areas of focus for the disability community:

     

    1. Expect to be at the forefront

     

    Historically, disabled people have been pushed into politely asking to be included. Disabled people have tapped delicately on doors and waited to be allowed entry to decision making and agenda setting rooms. Often those rooms haven’t even been accessible.

     

    Beyond the Royal Commission it is now time to move towards “expecting” positions of decision making and leadership, including the expectation that the government task force is led by a disabled person and most of its staff are also disabled people.

     

    This expectation extends to other governments and their responses, plus a wider expectation that disability services and other industries (like health and education) also have disability leadership guiding implementation processes. For many this will involve building levels of disability leadership as an urgent priority.

     

    Centuries of conditioning have told disabled people that anything beyond politely asking is aggressive or rude. These are deliberate mechanisms used by those in power to prevent marginalised voices from gaining access to the centre of things – to preserve the status quo. It is now time to turn to expecting to be in the room as we disrupt the status quo and design our own future.

     

    1. Language

     

    One major theme of Royal Commission recommendations centres on ending segregation.

     

    Many conversations, opinion pieces and lobbying efforts in the public domain since the Royal Commission report was released have attempted to qualify what segregation is and have justified retaining it in some form. DLI members, alongside many in the disability community, have been clear about the importance of ending segregation and ensuring that this pivotal moment to do so is not lost. Some DLI members have formed action groups and others have used their public profiles to raise awareness about this central aspect of ableism. Noticeable for its absence in these circles has been any argument to continue segregating disabled people.

     

    A key plank in the segregation of disabled people has been the historical development of an entire lexicon of euphemisms designed to soften segregation’s harsh reality, to make its continuation more palatable to those who wield it. Words like special, specialist, and sheltered have become synonymous with disability services. Those words must now disappear.

     

    Now is the time to cease euphemising segregation and start calling it what it is – deliberate separation that keeps disabled people away from mainstream communities and which perpetuates damaging attitudes and fear of those who are different. It is one of the root causes of ableism.

     

    Disability leaders have a role to play in using the language of truth and being unafraid to do so. Its time to cease protecting the sensibilities of those who have created and perpetuated separation, and the world of patronising protectionism, and start naming the ableism that it represents.

     

    Disabled people have a right to be in the world alongside everyone else. Disability leaders expect to take the lead and must be in the forefront in building the implementation of the Royal Commission’s findings. Given that many have suggested the Royal Commission’s recommendations might be viewed as conservative, as they stem largely from non-disabled voices, they should also be seen as a baseline rather than something that needs further negotiation.

     

    The time for disability leadership is now as we move into expecting outcomes and expecting disability leadership. Our days of tapping politely on the door and asking for permission are over.

     

    Sign up for regular updates from the Disability Leadership Institute. 

    Christina Ryan is the CEO of the Disability Leadership Institute, which provides professional development and support for disability leaders. She identifies as a disabled person.

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

  3. The view from first base

    Leave a Comment

    The view from first base

    By Christina Ryan, DLI CEO

    A gold medal with a windblown red ribbon above it.

     

     

    The Disability Leadership Institute (DLI) has just marked our seventh anniversary. Apart from celebrating our survival as a small social enterprise, this gives us a great opportunity to reflect on what we have come to understand about the practice and development of disability leadership.

     

    Over seven years at the DLI our members have had numerous conversations about the many facets of disability leadership. This has given us an ability to consider what disability leadership is, how it’s done, and how disability leaders are reshaping the understanding of both work and leadership.

     

    Where is disability leadership up to?

     

    We are still near the beginning. Australia’s Disability Strategy mentions leadership once, in passing on page 33, so there are no outcomes under the Strategy attached to leadership.

     

    There remains very little research into the experience of disability leadership; how it evolves, what pathways are most effective, what training and resources are required, what disability leadership looks like and why.

     

    We are still facing an uphill battle to access the same levels of professional development as our non-disabled colleagues, particularly specialist leadership development. When all other diversity areas have specialist development, disabled folks are expected to hack it in the mainstream where disability is poorly understood, and ableism remains widespread. We know mainstream leadership programs aren’t working because we are still waiting for them to produce tangible results.

     

    We are still in a world where over 90% of organisations say that disability diversity is important yet less than 4% of those same organisations have specific mechanisms in place to achieve it.

     

    We still have a push by all governments on entry level employment, when we know that it is diverse leadership which results in a more diverse workforce, not the other way round. There is no such thing as trickle up diversity. This has been understood by diversity practitioners for decades, so why is disability still getting the old treatment?

     

    We need commitments from government and the broader community to building disability leadership so that the cultural shift happens, and inclusion becomes a reality. Disability leadership will require reportable targets and substantive long-term commitment. Otherwise it won’t happen.

     

    However, we may have reached a tipping point. Disability leadership is now firmly on first base. Seven years ago first base was yet to be built.

     

    Mainstream conference organisers have added disability leadership summits to their suite of offerings. Only a couple of years ago this would have been unthinkable. Summits that are run by non-disabled people who have realised that there is something happening in disability leadership, and they want a part of it. Consider the progress that this represents.

     

    When the Disability Leadership Institute first put the 2 words disability and leadership into the same sentence seven years ago, nobody else was saying it. Now it’s a term used by governments, diversity practitioners and increasingly the wider community. Disability is increasingly recognised as a part of the broader diversity equation.

     

    It has also become clear that people will openly identify as disabled if there is something in it for them. When the DLI has run in house disability leadership programs, organisations have been surprised at the numbers of people coming out of the woodwork to participate, when previously those people had not openly identified at work. Why, because only disabled people could express interest in participating. In other words, there was suddenly a benefit to being disabled.

     

    The DLI CEO internship program, which is now expanding into a broader executive internship program, is attracting strong interest from all kinds of organisations. Still in its early stages this program uses a co-CEO model to bring an executive ready disability leader into an organisation right at the top to work alongside an experienced CEO. We have started in the disability services sector but hope to expand it to any organisation that wishes to participate.

     

    A growing number of organisations use the National Register of Disability Leaders to source talent for a wide range of positions, as there is an increasing understanding of the value of real diversity in executive and board rooms.

     

    The National Awards for Disability Leadership are now in their sixth year and acknowledge the outstanding work of disability leaders. It is the first time there have been awards by disabled people for disabled people.

     

    The increasing power of employee disability networks is testament to the increased awareness of major employers of the importance of disability leaders in workplaces and the contributions they are making to cultural reform.

     

    There is some progress, there are glimmers of excitement and hope that we can celebrate. What will disability leadership look like in another seven years? How much closer to equality for disabled people will we be?

     

    Sign up for regular updates from the Disability Leadership Institute. 

    Christina Ryan is the CEO of the Disability Leadership Institute, which provides professional development and support for disability leaders. She identifies as a disabled person.

  4. No Business Case Required

    Leave a Comment

    No Business Case Required

    An old grey suitcase with  gold coloured snap closures. It is sitting on a luggage rack.

    By Christina Ryan, DLI CEO

     

    When working to improve diversity in board rooms and executive teams disabled people are told to make the “business case” for being in these rarified environments.

     

    Yet, other groups, most notably those who created these spaces, and have been there all along, are not asked to make any business case to be present. Rather, they continue to be appointed to positions based on “merit” – that is, whether they are in the right networks and “fit in” to the existing culture. In other words, people who look like the people who are already there.

     

    If a business case was required our parliaments, board and executive rooms would lose most of their current population. Yet somehow people from preferred networks continue to be appointed without any business case to prove their worth.

     

    Why, then, are disabled people expected to prove our worth before we are allowed admittance?

     

    The “business case” is another gate that disabled people must pass through to get to a world where we are equal. A gate that is kept by non-disabled people. An ableist gate which demands that disabled people prove we can operate in a space created by non-disabled people where they set the rules and can be comfortable, and face no challenges to their status quo.

     

    There is a wealth of research about the benefits of diversity; how it improves bottom lines, decisions made, productivity outcomes, and innovation levels. Yet each diversity group is required to prove its worth before being allowed admittance. Now, apparently, it is the turn of disabled people to prove our worth, to put our business case to pass through this gate.

     

    Business cases are reserved for those on the outside of the right networks, those who are hoping to be allowed in, not those who have the right friends and find themselves already on the inside.

     

    To require an entire diversity group to make a business case is systemic discrimination, otherwise known as ableism.

     

    To exclude an individual person because they are disabled is discrimination, also known as ableism.

     

    There are plenty of highly competent and qualified disabled people who should be appointed to boards and executive teams. It is not the lack of a business case that is preventing these appointments. It is the discomfort of those on the inside, those whose status quo is being challenged. Those who somehow feel that disability equates to incompetence and inexperience.

     

    Some of these people fear being upstaged by a disabled person who is more competent or qualified than they are. Unfortunately, many of these people also hold the keys to the gates of equality and they won’t let us in.

     

    No business case is required to advance equality for disabled people. Rather it is the willingness of those keeping gates to open them.

     

    Sign up for regular updates from the Disability Leadership Institute. 

    Christina Ryan is the CEO of the Disability Leadership Institute, which provides professional development and support for disability leaders. She identifies as a disabled person.

     

     

     

     

  5. Our Strong Space

    Leave a Comment

    Our Strong Space

     

    A large wave crashing over rocks.

    By Christina Ryan, DLI CEO

    Seven years ago the Disability Leadership Institute was established to address the yawning gap in disability leadership training and development in Australia. Previously, there had been about half a dozen “pilot” and once off programs, but nothing consistent and ongoing for disabled people to go to when they needed the development and support.

     

    As we celebrate this birthday it’s a great time to consider how far disability leadership has come, and to take stock of the DLI and its impact.

     

    The term “disability leadership” didn’t exist before we used it. At first it felt a bit awkward, but over the years it has become a descriptor, not only for disabled people doing leadership but about the way we do leadership. Within a couple of years the term was being used by the federal government, by the disability community and by a wide range of organisations.

     

    More importantly, the existence of terminology has also acted as a constant reminder that disability leadership is a thing and that disability leaders should be present. For a small, self funded organisation this has been a substantial impact which has spread ripples far beyond our immediate circle.

     

    From small beginnings, the DLI has grown to become a trusted source of expertise on disability leadership, disability diversity in organisations, and on disability leadership development. While we always intended providing some level of organisational development, our real purpose has been to develop and support disability leaders in their work.

     

    Membership has always been at the core of the DLI, and our members community and Member Groups are now seeing exponential growth as disability leaders across a wide range of fields find a space where they can relax and be themselves while working on their leadership development. Membership is only open to disabled people; it has become our own strong space. Within the last year the DLI’s premium membership has grown by 50 per cent, with more Member Groups being added including a new Network Chairs group to address a growing presence within the membership of chairs of employee networks.

     

    The DLI started with one Member Group, peer mentoring for mentors, to address the unmet need of experienced leaders for support in their work at the centre of succession planning for the disability movement. Member Groups now span the full range of career experience from Getting Started to Experienced Leaders and follow a group coaching model. Some of the Member Groups which started in the first year of the DLI are still going with the same membership – people who have very fully diaries and very little available time make sure that they attend every month because this is their “monthly berocca.”

     

    As a social enterprise the DLI has always drawn on our own community when recruiting for team members, consultants, and coaches. The DLI membership now spans all Australian jurisdictions plus disability leaders from around 20 other countries, so there are plenty of high quality specialists to be found. The DLI has become the go to place for locating disability talent with increasing numbers of organisations finding the National Register of Disability Leaders and using it successfully.

     

    Over seven years the DLI has developed and delivered numerous training programs, including our flagship programs the Future Shapers and Foundations of Disability Leadership. The Future Shapers alumni meets every quarter, and the Foundations program has just graduated another cohort. Our coaching program continues to deliver outcomes for leaders working to use their disability as an asset, often in high pressure environments. DLI Entrepreneurs supports numerous disability owned and led businesses to thrive.

     

    Our new program, the CEO Internship, is rapidly gaining interest as the outstanding success of the inaugural placement with Yooralla unfolds. Using a co-CEO model, and drawing on wrap around support, executive ready interns are changing the way organisations approach disability leadership and the way their leadership teams operate. This program is a game changer.

     

    The drive to grow Disability Leadership is just beginning and still has a long way to go before we achieve equality and a presence that matches our population levels, but we have arrived and there is no going back.

     

    Sign up for regular updates from the Disability Leadership Institute. 

    Christina Ryan is the CEO of the Disability Leadership Institute, which provides professional development and support for disability leaders. She identifies as a disabled person.

     

     

  6. Be That Leader

    Leave a Comment

    Be that leader

    by Christina Ryan, DLI CEO

    A cluster of coloured pencils standing upright.

    Culture comes from the top, from the very top.

    Leaders intervene when they see something. They change the way work is done in their organisations. It is the leadership of an organisation that makes it an employer of choice.

    Leaders are responsible for generating a culture of inclusion, and for making sure that disabled people can get their work done on the same basis as their colleagues.

    Leaders send a strong message when they:

    insist that only one person speaks at a time in a meeting. Many meetings become a competitive solution sharing festival, with people talking over each other and interrupting when they have something to say. Such meetings are noisy and fast paced. They also exclude many people by confusing captioners, denying interpreters the ability to keep up, and by preventing an ability to focus because there is too much noise. Be the leader who insists that only one person speaks at a time. Use a talking stick to help if your team has fallen into the trap of competitive solution sharing. Diverse teams solve problems faster, but only if all team members get to participate.

    cancel the meeting because not all staff members can participate if there is no auslan interpreter or because the alternative format meeting papers weren’t distributed in time. If members of your team are unable to participate, they are unable to do their job. Make sure everyone is prepared for the meeting and has the mechanisms in place that make it possible to participate alongside their colleagues.

    insist on hearing the opinion of every person in the room. Loud raucous meetings are great environments for extroverts who are not disabled. For everyone else they are stressful and hamper thinking and collaboration. Not everyone finds it easy to loudly interject. By checking in with each team member for their views you are ensuring that everyone is part of the collaborative effort. Why are they on your team if you don’t want to know what they think?

    step in when overhearing ableist language. Employers now have a positive duty to prevent harassment in their workplace. For disabled staff, ableist language is harassment. There are many words about disability that are used widely as insults. Nip it in the bud and make it clear that this language is not welcome in your workplace. If your organisation has a revolving door for disabled staff, it is not unlikely that this is a contributor to their sense of being unwelcome.

    ensure workplace adjustments are in place. As soon as you know adjustments are needed make sure they happen as a high priority on your task list. Don’t ask once and assume it has been done, keep checking until they arrive. A team member without their adjustments in place is a team member who can’t do their job and can’t contribute. Make it clear to the team member that it is your responsibility, not theirs, to get adjustments happening and then take responsibility. Don’t exhaust your team member by questioning what they need. Most employees will know what it takes to set them up for success. Your job is to listen and promptly act on it.

    There are many ways that leaders can contribute to a culture of inclusion, a workplace culture that ensures all of their team are able to work effectively and comfortably. A culture that is safe. These are just some examples.

    When you are this leader the message you send to your team, and to the wider organisation, is that being disabled is part of how we do business here, not an awkward add on or the responsibility of individuals who have less power than you do. If your disabled staff don’t need to speak up about inclusion they can put their energy into their work, rather than wasting their valuable time and energy making your organisation accessible.

    Can you be that leader, or are you waiting for someone else to step in?

     

    Sign up for regular updates from the Disability Leadership Institute. 

    Christina Ryan is the CEO of the Disability Leadership Institute, which provides professional development and support for disability leaders. She identifies as a disabled person.