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Invisible disabilities in the workplace: A Q&A with Kerry Huntley

As someone who lives with an invisible disability, this topic is one close to my heart. In my latest blog, I discuss the importance of fostering an open and diverse workplace where people living with disabilities feel they can be their best selves, and how Siemens Financial Services is striving towards greater inclusivity.

Could you tell us a bit about AMBITION and its work?

AMBITION is a new network within the diversity and inclusion (D&I) group at Siemens UK, and stands for Acquired or congenital disabilities May BInvisible TIndividuals, but let’s make it Our Normality.

After an internal Diversity and Inclusion survey we understood there was more to be done in the inclusivity space for both visible and non-visible disability. Together with colleagues from across the Siemens businesses, our first AMBITION workshop was dedicated to defining our initial objectives — specifically: education, awareness, and support. Now, we have split off into groups, each taking on a key objective and meet up regularly to share what we’ve been working on.

This network is a place to feel included, connected and supported, for everyone effected by a disability.

What do Siemens do to make sure that the workplace is an inclusive place for those with disabilities?

This is something that we strive towards but will always be a continual process; there will always be more ways we can improve. The first step is having an open culture. We encourage feedback through regular surveys and conversations through regular events.

A major focus for the AMBITION network is support. This includes implementing policies that provide support if you acquire a disability whilst working with Siemens, creating a safe space for carers to connect and talk about their experiences, or an area of support for people to talk openly about their own disability.

We invited guest speaker and diversity coach Yasmin Sheikh to speak at one of our WinterFest events. It was a very eye-opening talk and led to a lot of internal discussions by employees about what they had learnt. This is something that AMBITION hope to continue, as talking about these topics allows for an environment of inclusivity.

Accountability is also an important step and for that reason we have recently updated the recruitment process to make it more inclusive for people with disabilities and SFS have begun to advertise job vacancies on Evenbreak, an accessible job search site for disabled people. We are also part of the Disability Confident scheme, an external award for employers who make the most of the talents disabled people can bring to the workplace.

Does a diverse workforce which includes people who have a range of disabilities, make a better workforce?

Of course, diversity within the workforce more generally is what makes a business thrive. Different skillsets and a variety of perspectives leads to better decision making. A lot of the time, we will be sitting around the table and have no idea that a team member has a disability. Having them at the table means that they can share experiences from their own life that someone else may not have even considered.

Do you think that the word ‘disabled’ has negative connotations — why is it vital to change this?

Definitely, the prefix ‘dis’ makes it sound negative, as if we’re disadvantaged when actually people with disabilities are often resilient, solution finders. Having to manage a disability day in day out pushes us to be innovative, navigating spaces that are not built with us in mind.

That’s why “Disable the label” has become our slogan. Instead of a label, people may just need adaptations or support. They’re just as capable at doing their jobs. The network represents a celebration of the people who live with a disability.

Why do you think it is important for a company to talk about both visible and invisible disabilities?

Look at the statistics: 1 in 5 in the UK are disabled, with 86% of those people acquiring it throughout their lifetime. If we isolate disabled people, we’re losing out on a huge amount of talent. Talking about disability is the first step towards creating an environment of inclusivity. For a start, this allows companies to offer them the right kind of support that enables them to reach their full potential. All too often people don’t feel like they can talk about their disability, especially when it is invisible, and this can lead to feelings of isolation.

Personally, I have great support from my manager and colleagues who understand my situation. They know that sometimes I might simply have to adjust my ways of working to get the job done.

It is important to us as a company that we provide the right support for our employees to allow them to excel. Our people matter. If we share stories internally about disability and mental health, we normalise this conversation.

Photo by Marc Mueller from Pexels