Be That Leader
Be that leader
by Christina Ryan, DLI CEO
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?
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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.