There is an urban myth that a lack of competent disability leaders is the underlying cause of a continuing lack of disability leadership in organisations, yet the Disability Leadership Institute knows that there are numerous highly competent leaders across a wide range of fields who would be suitable for appointment.
Building a diverse workforce is a challenging goal. Building a diverse leadership seems even more challenging, particularly if aiming for disability leadership.
Perhaps disability leaders aren’t in the “right” networks, or prejudice continues to prevent recognition. Perhaps the pathways that disability leaders take are different to those taken by others towards leadership positions, so they are in unexpected locations.
Curiously, many organisations whose work is focused on disability, including service providers and those representing disabled people, do not have a strong presence of disability leadership. Many have none. Despite the average tenure for CEOs being less than 8 years, the levels of disability leadership remain low and have not changed appreciably over several decades.
In 2021 the Disability Leadership Institute (DLI) is challenging all organisations across all fields – companies, government agencies, non-profits – to actively build succession plans which result in the appointment of disability leaders to their boards and executive teams.
In 2021 the Disability Leadership Institute is asking the question: who will come after you?
Are you actively working to ensure the next person to fill your position is a disabled person?
Boards, CEOs, and political leaders can make a strong contribution by insisting that a disabled person must be appointed. It is a choice to make this decision, yet few are making that choice.
Everyone can make a strong contribution by asking who is with them in decision making rooms; by asking “where are the disability leaders”. Change will not happen unless people make a commitment to make it happen. It starts with you.
Ask who is in the room with you. If there are no disabled people, ask why not. Then take responsibility for disabled people being in the room.
Make sure disabled people are appointed to leadership and decision-making positions with a consistent operational presence, rather than only seeking their advice or undertaking consultation when it seems convenient.
Ask yourself why a disabled person is not doing your job.
By 2025 the DLI wants a noticeable shift in the levels of disability diversity as organisations proactively work to build disability leadership. This is particularly critical for organisations with a disability focus, although all organisations must take responsibility for improving their levels of disability leadership.
This starts now – make 2021 the year of your commitment to the DLI challenge.
How will you contribute to achieving disability leadership?
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