I usually do not like to define myself by my disability but in this context, it has relevance. A car accident in 1990, when aged 17, resulted in me sustaining a spinal cord injury at the C5/6 vertebrae level, meaning I was paralysed from the chest down and use a wheel-chair. After my time in hospital, I returned to complete my A-Levels and went on to study Mathematics at Warwick University Business School. I later completed a Master’s degree in Industrial Relations at Warwick Business School, which enabled me to secure a career in HR. Having worked in HR for sixteen years for BT, undertaking numerous roles, I have recently left to start up my own business with my husband Paul, combining my business experience and passion for travel. I am also a trustee and previous Chair of the Back Up Trust, a charity supporting the independence of the spinally injured. In addition, I have previously been a trustee of the Spinal Injuries Association.
When I first started working for BT I managed a team of people forming an HR Helpdesk, taking thousands of calls from BT employees relating to their employment. I later moved into a policy role and held a variety of responsibilities, ranging from graduate recruitment and early leaver schemes to diversity and inclusion and more latterly the London 2012 people plan for BT. HR interested me at University and I was lucky to be schooled by some of the leading industry tutors at Warwick Business School.
How did you consider the type of employer you wanted to work for?
When considering what type of organisation or employer I wanted to work for, I wanted to lessen the impact of my disability and only applied to companies that openly demonstrated their commitment to equal opportunities. This decision was partly to make life easier for myself and prevent wasted time but also it was my belief that such companies would more likely share the same type of ethics as myself, so be the type of organisation I would like to be part of.
How did your employer help you to do well at your workplace?
BT was always very supportive of me at work and my disability was never an issue. I worked in accessible buildings and once at work, could be fully independent. Some reasonable adjustments were put in place, such as providing a car parking space at my London office (a benefit not open to all!), electric opening doors and a height adjusted desk. In addition, alongside Access to Work funding, BT supported my applications for new wheelchairs and the adaptations I needed on my car so I can drive independently.
The reasonable adjustments I needed were put in place at BT, so I was able to perform to the best of my abilities without hindrance. A culture of judging people by their performance and output meant I could contribute equally at BT. Working from home was also a great asset, meaning I could often be more productive without a daily two-hour commute.
What are your career aspirations?
Having recently chosen to channel my career in a different direction and after a period of ‘time out’ whilst my husband and I build a new home, I hope to make a success of our own business, enabling travel in the UK for more disabled people. Watch this space.
What advice or top tips would you offer?
It has always helped me to be confident and clear about what I need to be able to work effectively and be open about any limitations. If you do your homework and research any reasonable adjustments you may need and are clear about the benefits they will bring to you and your work in an organisation, you are more likely to be supported in getting them. You know your own disability better than anyone else. Become the expert and teach others. Also, use your networks and peers, to find out about the different support available that may advantage you. There is a wealth of information, and support out there, sometimes it’s just a question of finding it! Good luck and go for it!