You Are Not Alone – From One Disabled Lead To Another

People profile

A bit about me…

Hey, I’m I am Disabled. It took me a long time to come to terms with this label, because I used to think that to have the ability to work, drive, party, socialise, be independent, love, travel (and many more activities) meant that I was “just fine.” This was internalised ableism, which is putting the assumption that disabled people are less-than regularly abled people. This, combined with the imposter syndrome that comes with being disabled allowed me to forget that being disabled has a huge range of experiences, covering multiple facets, and attributing to the person’s own identification.

When I did come to accept my label, it was a “That’s So Raven” epiphany of what life could be like. I felt enabled to start to strive for equity, partly to make up for all the years I missed working at half my ability because of a self-inflicted lack of accommodations, and partly because I had a sneaky feeling this realisation was probably not a completely unique experience. Since I started in Wise in 2020, I have been an advocate for Disabled Wisers wherever and whenever I can.

But, what I wasn’t expecting (I don’t think anyone does) was to be hit with a secondary wave of imposter syndrome as my professional career grew.

Disabled Woman in Leadership

I am a disabled woman in leadership. For those who enjoy statistics: In 2023, the European Disability Forum announced that only 49% of disabled women are working. But when we consider what roles they take on, the United Nations shared in 2022 that only 2.3% of disabled women hold positions as legislators, senior officials, or managers.

With those statistics in mind, I am very blessed to be working within a team at Wise that understands the way I process and achieve, which may be slightly different from the rest of my colleagues. And, I hope to continue exceeding in Wise because “we get it done”, regardless of the route we take to the destination. I am proud of the Lead I have become, and I am proud of all other disabled Wisers in their journeys – whether their professional goals are to be leads, aspirations to be Product Managers or those who have simply found a comfortable career.

That being said, support from our leads and peers cannot drive individual success alone. There is no Subject Matter Expert on lived experiences for disabled folks, and no matter how much feminist literature we can read, we will always see differing opinions with unique nuances and intersectional perspectives. We also can’t expect that global 2.3% of disabled female managers to each write aguidebook to help disabled and non-disabled people understand how to navigate the workplace, when our needs can be diverse from the typical expectations in the office.

Advice

So, in the spirit of International Day of Disabilities, I want to share some advice, from one disabled female lead to whomever may be reading this article. If you are disabled, have a disabled team member, or simply want to know how to be more inclusive everyday, keep reading!

Normalising accommodations – if you haven’t been asked what would set you up for success (from ergonomics to working hours to presentations) then start the conversation. You don’t have to be disabled to have certain aspects of your working life that could be adjusted for you.

Finding the balance of sharing and adapting – not everyone needs to know exactly how I am disabled. And, I can’t expect my non-disabled lead to know the specifics of any of my conditions. That’s usually why offices have workplace teams, office teams, HR, and of course, DEI teams. These departments are the ones who can make these changes for you, and honestly, most of the time these changes are things that can help everyone.

Don’t be afraid to advocate yourself to non disabled people – there’s no denying that speaking up about your needs can be absolutely terrifying. But, if you are noticing that you are unable to participate at the same level as others in your team because of an accessibility issue, it’s time to speak up. Itdoesn’t have to be face to face, but speak-up processes, formal or informal ones, can be the exact saviour in this position. Remember points one and two, the more this is normalised and shared in the right way, the easier it’ll be for the adaptation to happen.

Your differences don’t need to be framed as blockers – every adaptation you make to your work day that helps you, should be a success. Your skills section on your resume changes every time you are able to advocate for your needs, you have proven that not only can you overcome challenges, but you can adapt and change for everyone who needs it. Accessibility accommodations have long-term benefits for the company (and people in it) at large.

And finally, you’re not alone – think of what I said at the beginning of this blog, there’s an imposter syndrome with being disabled and it’s a personal identification. You’d be surprised how many people are like me, and just don’t know where to

start to build their own network. I’m sure, whether you work in Wise or somewhere else, there’s a disability hub waiting for your input. You just have to find them.