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Smashing the glass ceiling for disabled people

Every year, The Shaw Trust produces a list called ‘The Power 100’

It’s a list of the 100 most influential disabled people in the UK. Last year, I read the list with interest and noticed that most of them were entrepreneurs or worked in the public or non-profit sectors. There was hardly anyone from the corporate world. I was disappointed but not surprised.

I’ve been working in the corporate world for over 30 years and I’ve met only one (just  recently) disabled person at C-suite level. In collaboration with The Valuable 500, Ernst & Young recently carried out a study, which revealed that just 7% of the world’s leaders or C-suite have a disability. More striking was that four out of five hid their condition.

Why is it that 80% of the world’s disabled leaders hide their condition? Perhaps they fear their disability might disadvantage them and that people would focus on the disability and not on their expertise or their potential. 

I remember hiding my deafness when I was younger. I had long hair to cover my hearing aids and pretended I could hear everything. I refused to classify myself as disabled because I felt it would hinder my career. 

Now, I don’t care if I’m seen as disabled or not. It’s just a label. What’s important is what I can do and how I can overcome any barriers in the way.

For many years, there have been campaigns against the glass ceiling for women and members of the LGBTQ and BAME communities, among others. And that’s great. But there has been no reference to the glass ceiling for disabled people. If the figures are to be believed, this ceiling is lower. And in the corporate world, its glass is thicker.

Disabled people are almost a third less likely to be employed than non-disabled people. This rate has remained consistent for more than a decade.

There are organisations trying to change this including Business Disability Forum, PurpleSpace and Scope. 

The Valuable 500, for instance, encourages companies and leaders to put disability inclusion on their business agenda. They mentioned nine out of ten companies claim to prioritise diversity, but only 4% have specific programmes that are disability inclusive.

PurpleSpace also runs an annual global campaign called #PurpleLightUp which highlights and celebrates the economic power of disabled people.

Do you know anyone disabled, who has experienced challenges in their capacity as a leader and managed to overcome these challenges? If you have a story to tell - please share it by emailing PurpleSpace at getinvolved@purplespace.org and for stories of other disabled employees who are getting on at work take a look at the PurpleSpace blog [https://www.purplespace.org/blog].

Only through these stories can we raise the awareness needed to smash the glass ceiling for disabled people. Or at least put some big holes in it.

Disclaimer: The statements and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the positions of Thoughtworks.

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