By Christina Ryan, DLI CEO
Its kind of strange, when you work alongside such impressive people every day you forget that the rest of the world still assumes that disabled people can’t do leadership.
Then there’s the assumption that we are all still at entry level and just lack confidence and training, that’s why we don’t get jobs or land board positions.
DLI member Jeanette Purkis highlighted some classic assumptions in a recent daily meme: “I have been told that as an autistic person I will always lack empathy, that I cannot have ‘proper’ friendships, will never feel love and will have to live with my parents for the rest of my life … and that was from the non-bullies!”
Then there was the conversation in the Future Shapers intensive workshop about a participant being sent off to “proper leadership training” after this if they were up for it. This to someone who was currently undertaking the same leadership development work that is compulsory for senior Federal Police teams.
What about the disability minister who referred me to the Paralympics Committee if I was looking for disability leaders to participate in the Future Shapers program. I wasn’t, I was suggesting that this minister might consider sponsoring someone from their jurisdiction to undertake the program, but apparently the only disability leaders they could envisage were elite sportspeople.
Oh, and the state bureaucrat who told me that “disabled people just can’t do most jobs in the public sector”.
Several leaders have contacted me recently after doing a well-known governance course. Their access needs hadn’t been well supported and they struggled to complete the training. It was assumed that they could manage if they just tried harder to overcome these access barriers, if they were genuine about their leadership development.
Then the Doing It Differently report noted that employees with disabilities are passed over for professional development opportunities while colleagues in their team are fast tracked for leadership, identified for development, or strongly encouraged to apply for senior positions.
Seeing a common thread here?
It appears that a major barrier to disability leaders achieving their aspirations is the attitudes of those around them, not a lack of ability or expertise or capacity.
Many people assume they are being inclusive, yet they are still making assumptions about disability leaders that act as real barriers to their leadership development.
Meaning well isn’t a solution, although it’s important, and it won’t overcome unconscious bias. For that we need disability leadership to be recognised and supported. Disability leadership is a thing and it is impressive and powerful and must be given the opportunity to flourish.
Subscribe for regular updates from the Disability Leadership Institute