Develop, support, promote disability leaders

Tag Archive: ableism

  1. No Business Case Required

    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.


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    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. Allies

    article by DLI CEO Christina Ryan

    Allies of disability leaders step back out of the way.

    A pile of corn kernels


    When asked outright, most people would claim to be allies for disabled people. Yet in practice it seems that very few are.


    One of the most intractable and widespread experiences for disability leaders is the power imbalance in our daily lives. There are so few disabled people in senior positions which means a constant requirement to work within the boundaries and expectations set by others.


    “This is really a five day job, doing it in four is going to be impossible.”

    “Can you stay back to get this done? We all need to put in extra effort.”

    “I worked ridiculous hours to get here, I expect my team to do the same.”




    “Yes, diversity is great, lets make sure we have more people with disability on our team.”


    Except, there won’t be more disabled people on your team if you expect them to think and act as you do. Disability means diversity, and that means different.


    Expectations that everyone on your team will operate the same way with the same hours and the same work style will override any diversity present because you are expecting everyone to be a clone of you.


    When asked outright, people think they are being supportive and inclusive, yet any expectation that disabled people will think and act as you do is ableism. It is exclusive. It creates an unsafe workplace for disabled people if they need to ask for adjustments or flexibility. It often results in bullying.


    Allies recognise that people, all people, are not robots. We all work differently, have different optimum operational times, different flexibility requirements, and different lives. Every member of every team will need different adjustments so that they can work to their best and be in a safe environment for them.


    Allies recognise that their roles as team leaders, supervisors and executive staff means they need to step up to initiate flexibility and create safe environments. Waiting for the less powerful person to ask is perpetuating the power imbalance.


    Allies step back and listen.

    Allies know they cannot know the disability experience and turn to those with expertise.

    Allies foreground the voices of disabled people.

    Allies never take senior appointments over competent disabled people, rather they ask “where are the disability leaders, appoint one over me” and step away to create space.

    Allies get out of the way.