Our Strong Space
Our Strong Space
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.
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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.