This guest blog comes from Kate Nash OBE, who is the world’s leading authority in how employers set up disability networks or special interest groups. She has 20 years experience in working strategically to effect long-term attitudinal and major social systems change in relation to disabled people. She has worked extensively with the business community in their becoming more ‘disability smart’. This is vital information for organisations running a Disabled Employee Network, or those considering starting one. There are more ueeful resources lower down.
Towards the end of last year Kate asked some of the most experienced leaders of disability networks what their eight top tips would be for anyone wanting to run a really successful Network / resource group. This is what they said.
Never assume that a workplace Network is a service for disabled employees and/or line managers, unless of course the organisation is resourcing you to do just that. One of the most valuable aspects of a Network is its capacity to support cultural change and pose good questions – the ‘good questions’ might be about how the business responds to the adjustment needs of disabled talent or how it retains and mines their talent. That said the ‘good questions’ might be about how disabled employees can themselves overcome some of their own self-limiting behaviours that we all have from time-to-time. A network is a process, not a destination. Asking good questions is a vital role – sometimes more important than giving the answer.
Engage with all the key stakeholders that have a role to play in ensuring disabled employees have the adjustments they need and a culture in which to flourish. Don’t just email – pick up the phone once a year to call someone who stands out in this regard – the doorman that goes out of his way to support someone with mobility impairment – the trainer who routinely asks what adjustments she can make for anyone in the room – the communications team that comes to you for advice about ensuring their work is accessible for all. And then once you have thanked them, send a follow-up email to their line manager and copy them in. Cheesy? Unnecessary? No, we all need positive feedback about how others have spotted our efforts to improve our interaction with disabled employees. Getting a thank you lifts us up and makes us want to do even better. It also lifts the person who offers the thanks. It is a Win-Win.
Try new ways of doing things if something is simply not working. Do you only have 5 people turn up at an internal event – even though you have been doing these for 5 years? Does your Disability Champion keep cancelling your scheduled meetings? Do you feel let down by people who say they will do something, and then don’t? If something feels wrong it probably is!! Change your behaviour and approach to get things moving. You know what they say – if something walks like a duck and sounds like a duck then it very probably is a duck. Note to self – don’t be a duck.
Work hard to position your Disability Champion as customer. Yes, that is right – your key number one customer. If the key priority of a Network is to support the process of change then who best to pass on that message loud and clear? Let them know of your work, ask what they need from you and the Network, provide good statistics and positive stories and stand ready to serve. If they are not committed they will soon get the message that the role of Champion requires passion, knowledge, time and a partnership relationship with the Network. If they are committed it won’t be long before they ask how they can help even more.
On those days that feel like you are pushing treacle up a hill, turn away and stick to the day job. That is what you are paid for. That is the job to which you were appointed. Do it, enjoy it and when the sun shines again take another shot at the Network. Failing that, buy a jar of treacle and eat it.
Remember to delegate to others in the Network. Very few extra words are required for this top tip. If you don’t delegate, you don’t have a network. You have one frustrated individual with the world on their shoulders. You.
Keep your eye on the prize – a disability-smart employer.
Here is a really good video on leadership and the value of Disabled Employee Networks to businesses.
And here is a basic toolkit in how to set up or refresh a Disabled Employee Network or Disability Interest Group.
I’d like to thank Kate for sharing her knowledge and expertise with us.
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