I’m Mark Russell and I am a manager in the Inclusion, Diversity and Equity (ID & E) team at KPMG UK. I’ve been part of the team for over 6 years, and I’ve worked at the firm for over 10 years. I originally got into the area of ID&E through involvement with our employee networks; I chaired our disability network called WorkAbility for about three and a half years.
Through chairing the WorkAbility network, working collaboratively with networks within KPMG as well as other networks and organisations outside of the firm, and gaining exposure to programmes such as the Government’s Disability Confidence Scheme, I gained an insight into disability and inclusion which opened up my interest in the disability space.
I was seconded to a role in the central Inclusion, Diversity and Equity team and have worked my way up to become a manager in the team. Before this role, I always felt I was doing a job whereas this has opened up my career.
For anyone who has a disability one of the most important steps to take is to be able to have the conversations about this from the outset. Firstly, you need to ensure that you are comfortable and confident to talk about your own requirements and adjustment needs. Secondly, ensuring that when you’re applying to join a company or joining a team who understand the adjustments that you need. It is often these adjustments that can make the difference to the way you work and how you work effectively with the teams you will be working with.
When talking about your disability and requesting support you need to be confident. This isn’t always easy, and it certainly takes time; I used to be really unsure or slightly nervous about talking to someone about my visual impairment however what I have learnt over time is that is less about me telling someone I have a visual impairment and more about being open and sharing that information, so that there isn’t any awkwardness.
I explain that I have a visual impairment and I use certain assistive technology which helps me to listen to content through screen reading technology. I can explain some of the different ways I work and how to send me information in a certain way that is really helpful, so I can digest it. It’s less important to explain what my visual impairment is; the key when advocating for yourself or for others, is how those adjustments or changes that can be made can really add value to me, to other members of the team and make everyone more productive when working together.
2.Helping to remove the discomfort around disability for others.
The narrative around disability has seen a real step change over the years, certainly during the time that I have been working in the disability space. It is about removing the awkwardness and the fear that people may have when talking about disability, and using a positive narrative to focus on the things that people can do.
Removing the discomfort that others may feel when talking about disability is really important. It isn’t about calling people out but about calling people in. Many people may not want to talk about disability or join an event about disability, not because they aren’t interested but because they may be worried about how to talk about disability or how to have that conversation including what is the right language to use.
People need to know that they are in a safe space and inclusive environment where they can have those conversations. It really is just a conversation about how you can be more effective and productive as a team. It is the same conversation that you would have with everyone in your team, and it becomes a core part of how we talk as a team, and how we talk with line managers to create an inclusive culture.
3.Be confident in the way you communicate about your disability with others.
It may not always feel easy or comfortable to have those conversations or to disclose information about your disability. However, it doesn’t necessarily have to be done in a one-to-one conversation. There are so many different ways that we now communicate and talk to each other, and you need to consider how you want to communicate information about your own requirements and adjustments.
Some organisations will use adjustment passports, for example. An adjustment passport is simply a document to enable better communication between yourself, your manager and the teams that you work with. The added benefit is that you don’t have to have to same conversation over and over again you can let the document do the work for you, or if you do choose to have a conversation the adjustment passport it helps you to have that “elevator pitch” already prepared.
These conversations become an enabler to becoming more effective. For many people with a disability, some of the biggest barriers you may face in the workplace can often be self-imposed, often you can catastrophise and think of all the scenarios that could go wrong however if you are able to provide the right information to the right people at the right time you can mitigate a lot of those uncertainties.
4.Build your own networks.
In many organisations there is a willingness to do the right thing hence there is a real focus on inclusion, diversity and equity. A lot of organisations are keen to learn and do more however they may not have all the answers at the moment; often individuals and people with disabilities, long-term health conditions and impairments can be part of that solution.
Disability networks are very important and by getting involved you can help drive some of the solutions and support the organisation to come up with innovative new ideas, to ensure that adjustments are made in a more effective and timely way.
Networks are also a great way to meet new people who, whilst not having had the same experience as you, may have had a similar experience and are able to share some great insights and tips to help you become the most effective version of yourself.
5.The benefit of learning from other people’s experience.
The more people you hear talking about their experience, especially from different levels of seniority within the business and from different backgrounds, the more it becomes part of the normal conversations that people have, and the more comfortable you feel within the organisation. Learning from others helps to understand what adjustments are available and the support that is offered, you can also find out more about the adjustment policies and processes and who you need to speak to and where you need to go. It also helps you to feel part of a wider community and to understand how you fit into the organisation.
Often the most effective changes or adjustments that can be made are quite easy to implement and don’t require a physical adjustment to an office. In this modern, hybrid world of work there are technologies that are often being employed as business as usual, whether that is the way that we work or where we work. The pandemic has afforded a great opportunity to learn that many jobs can be done completely remotely, and the flexibility that employers can provide people has changed permanently.