How much is authenticity truly valued in your workplace? I don’t think it’s particularly appreciated in the context of diversity and inclusion. In thinking about your own workplace experiences, isn’t it the case that the richest relationships are with people who are authentic, true to themselves and genuine? In other words, real people.

Sourced from an article researched and written by Michael McGrath (the author) & published by: ‘theHRDIRECTOR’ (the only independent strategic HR publication), reproduced with permission click HERE to read: ‘Poles Apart’, featured in theHRDIRECTORmagazine, Nov 2016, Issue 145.

A critical friend said many years ago that as a disabled person, I was ‘an inconvenient truth’. At age 18yrs in 1984, I was diagnosed with the muscle-wasting disease Muscular Dystrophy (MD). Twenty years later, I became the first disabled person to lead expeditions to the North and South Poles. The world today is an uncertain place and our values as a nation are being tested - in echoing Al Gore's film that makes the compelling case that global warming is real, man-made, and its effects will be cataclysmic if we don’t act now, my critical friends perspective is the driver of this speculative thought-piece. 

As such, I’ve chosen to share some insights on valuing difference, authenticity and why taking action around being disability confident makes robust business sense. Featured in this year’s 2017 Power 100 listing (p45) recognising Britain’s most influential people with a disability, I’m keen to challenge the diversity and inclusion (D&I) agenda by urging global organisations to be bold when shaping future D&I workforce strategies.

In today’s technologically driven world that’s all about immediacy, driving an integrated D&I strategy is less about the business defining the individual and more about the individual defining the business - the opportunity gaps will continue to widen if business continues to ignore this message. Research conducted by Catalyst and McKinsey (published in 2007) indicates a clear correlation between diversity and core organisational outcomes being positively impacted.

A year on from life-saving surgery and after uttering the words ‘I’m back’ whilst in recovery at Addenbrookes Hospital in Cambridge, a key and very positive milestone has been reached: seven months ago, I celebrated my 51st birthday. It’s a life that through a circumstance some thirty years ago forced me to face substantial change - a diagnosis that I refer to as my ‘Castaway moment’! For some, a ‘Castaway moment’ in their life stops them living and for others it energises them and starts them living.

Educated by the Jesuits, my adopted life credo (from my old school alma mater) Quant Je Puis, literally translated means As Much As I Can. This credo is underpinned by my five guiding principles of self-belief, preparation, focus, personal accountability and authenticity, in other words showing people who you are.

How much is authenticity truly valued in your workplace? I don’t think it’s particularly appreciated in the context of diversity and inclusion. I often share for example the capricious recruitment methodologies I applied in attracting the right skills and competencies that I was looking for in pulling together my expedition teams. Whilst in some ways, I was looking for people that would fit in, I was also looking for people that would not only understand the physical limitations of muscular dystrophy (MD) but also people that I could trust with my life. In thinking about your own experiences in the workplace, isn’t it the case that the richest relationships you have are with people who are authentic, true to themselves and genuine? In other words, real people.

For those that don’t know, muscular dystrophy (MD) is a muscle wasting disease; it robs sufferers of their mobility, their independence and finally for those with the most severe form, predominantly children (boys), their lives. It’s the single biggest genetic killer of children in our world today. 

“The more uncomfortable something is, the more we know we are driving change”
SOURCE: Harriett Green, GM, Internet of Things, Commerce & Education, IBM

There’s currently no known treatment to delay or reverse the progression; it’s a cruel and unforgiving disease. Whilst the word disability may well apply to me today, it will never ever define me. The reality is that it’s become a passport in enabling me to drive change. I try to do that in a number of ways:

  • By influencing the behaviours of others
  • Demystifying the ignorance that still pervades
  • Inspiring and educating young people as a role model
  • Trying to lead by example

Speaking of leadership, it’s my belief that leading is a part of the essence of humanity, as much coming from innate character as gained through knowledge acquisition, in other words ‘learning’ but also acquired through the experience of living life ‘differently’ – from many years of observation and engagement, this is where I feel there is a disconnect in establishing D&I strategies that seek to embrace the many positives that come from having a diverse workforce. Those that do this well will not only ‘lead’ the way in overcoming often challenging barriers by shaping future workplace attitudes but they will also reap the rewards.

“Opposition is a natural part of life. Just as we build our physical muscles through overcoming opposition, such as lifting weights, we develop our character muscles by overcoming challenges and adversity”
SOURCE: Stephen Covey, Seven Habits of Highly Effective People

Taking the strand of disability for a moment, I recently read a report published by the Recruitment & Employment Confederation (REC) titled: "Companies still ‘fearful’ of hiring disabled people" (SOURCE: ). 

The REC report was a disappointing read. It continues to be my hope that the 'narrative' (some might prefer the word 'propaganda') by various governmental ministers over the past few months around 'improving life chances' and 'backing aspirations' starts to have much more of a positive impact on disabled people.

Current government data indicates that there are approximately 11 million people in the UK living with a limiting long term illness, impairment or disability and that there are now some 365,000 more disabled people in work in the UK than there were in 2014.

Some organisations have moved away from traditional recruitment methodologies, taking bold steps to enhance diversity - this takes organisational courage. You only need look more closely at the likes of Sainsbury’s, a previous Recruitment Industry Disability Initiative (RIDI) winner to see that progress is being made.

I'd like to see more of that positive impact especially for those most vulnerable - the work of The Muscle Help Foundation, a small Hertfordshire charity with national reach, is developing an innovative ‘person-centred’ pilot programme called ‘Inspiring Hearts, Engaging Minds’, funded by a BIG Lottery grant. Support is coming from a number of big name employers including in-depth evaluation and academic rigour from the University of Hertfordshire. The pilot will aim to help creatively explore work-based aspirations for young adults with Duchenne Muscular Dystrophy (DMD), the group representing over 95% of the charity’s beneficiaries ie. those furthest away from the world of work.

For employers, perhaps priorities are changing as a result of Brexit (sorry but I had to mention the B word!); I agree with Matt Brittin, the head of Google's Europe, Middle East and Africa business who said that Britain should not be distracted by Brexit (Source: Kamal Ahmed, BBC’s Economics Editor). I’d love to know to what extent strategies to support people with disabilities to access work are maybe being reviewed by employers (including Google). The Government’s ‘Disability Confident’ campaign focuses on recruiting and retaining disabled people for their talents and skills. With over 6 million disabled people (16%) of working age (myself included) in the UK, my real fear now is that the ambition to move 1 million disabled people into work by 2020 is highly improbable.

The commitment to halve the disability employment gap in just four years, let alone put in place sustainable employment opportunities that help disabled people (especially those furthest away from the world of work) become economically active, is not just uncertain but totally unrealistic.

And for those companies who still remain 'fearful' of employing a disabled person, I urge you to take action, step up and register with the DWP's 'Disability Confident' campaign that exists to help businesses not only recruit but also retain disabled people for their talents and skills - the first step is always the hardest!

“Education is the most powerful weapon which you can use to change the world”
 SOURCE: Nelson Mandela

Published in the Metro newspaper towards the back-end last year, 50 organisations that promote ‘inclusion across all protected characteristics’ and for whom the D&I agenda is a key part of their business was revealed. All strands of diversity were represented including Age, Gender, Disability, LGBT, Faith, Race and Religion. 100 companies nationwide responded giving evidence on training, recruitment and other D&I points.

The ‘Inclusive Top 50 UK Employers List’ (empowered by The Excellence in Diversity Awards) gives one of many positive platforms recognising and celebrating D&I UK leaders. The 2016 entries included organisations from both public and private sectors with one of the largest general insurers in the UK, Allianz Insurance, listed at No.50.

Scooping the top spot was Touchstone, an innovative health and well-being charity (based in Leeds) that more than thirty years on since being founded provides vital services to over 2000 service users a year. Manchester Metropolitan University took the No.2 spot, professional services firm PwC were No.3, with Circle Housing at No.4, Merlin Housing at No.5 and British Airways in at No.6.

The sponsorship decision by Channel 4 (for whom 2016 is the broadcaster’s Year of Disability and who are investing £300,000 in new talent initiatives) and Allianz Insurance who became the first of two core partners of the Rio 2016 Paralympic Games on 4 is rightly being celebrated following Team GB’s outstanding success in Brazil.

Tim Hollingsworth, the Chief Executive of the British Paralympic Association delivered on his promise that Team GB would win more medals than in London and Allianz’s support of the British Paralympic Team has undoubtedly achieved greater brand engagement for their UK customer base whilst reinforcing their D&I commitment in the workplace and in the world of sport.

Having been selected as a Paralympic Torchbearer, I will always remember the evening of Tuesday 28th August 2012 when I proudly carried the Flame in advance of my charity’s flagship 2012 Games Inspired Muscle Dream Programme that saw 75 muscular dystrophy beneficiaries and their families from across our nation be inspired by the power of sport.

The official London 2012 Games slogan was ‘Inspire a Generation’ and for our part, the experience was transformational; it gave hope, it changed lives but I remain skeptical that societal behaviours altered. I recall being interviewed on the C4 Paralympic Breakfast Show and being asked about the power of sport in changing attitudes.

“ is one of the hardest things to do to change people’s behaviour, change attitude, truly change attitude..”
 SOURCE: Michael McGrath, C4 Paralympic Breakfast Show

Less we forget what Chris Hyman the x-CEO of FTSE 100 global services company Serco Group Plc said speaking at the launch of Diversity UK in December 2012 (a think tank created to research, advocate and promote new ideas for improving diversity and inclusion in Britain) following on from the success of the London 2012 Paralympics.

“ leaders must do more to create a ‘level playing field’ on diversity within their own organisations”
 SOURCE: Chris Hyman, x-CEO of Serco Group Plc

The organisations on this year’s ‘Inclusive Top 50 UK Employers List’ are to be applauded for their outstanding efforts in driving diversity and inclusion, in educating their stakeholders, in ultimately valuing difference.

I don’t think we celebrate good practice in this area enough. If you celebrate and shout loudly about the positive impact that work related to diversity and inclusion has, it starts to take down some of the barriers that still exist”
SOURCE: Shaun Dellenty, 2016 EiDA Winner, Diversity Champion (Education)

On the subject of sport, I think it’s disappointing not to see at least one Premier League club blaze a D&I trail - after all, “we have the richest, most profitable league on the planet. That has to be the most inclusive league as well, otherwise it is morally bankrupt” according to a Special Report written by Jeremy Wilson in The Daily Telegraph (15/09/16) entitled: “Top clubs in ‘disgraceful’ betrayal of disabled fans” which found out that one third of Premier League clubs are failing to meet their promise to provide minimum recommended wheelchair access, resulting in the Equality and Human Rights Commission (EHRC) renewing its threat of legal action where clubs would be in breach of the 2010 Equality Act. Perhaps the EHRC’s Castaway moment has arrived.

I’m heartened by the messages of support from organisations like the European Disability Forum (EDF) but I'd like some clarity from my Government. Those in power need to start communicating a more action-orientated vernacular at this time of transition.

Recognition of the business case for workplace diversity is no new phenomenon - when having conversations about difference, the attitudes and behaviours of my 30-something daughter’s generation have I believe changed; there are grounds for optimism!

Nevertheless, whether an 'inconvenient truth' or not, I still come across prejudice, discriminatory behaviour and ignorance. Five years ago, I was characterised as a ‘technical fault’ by an East Coast Trains announcer as the train pulled out of Doncaster having made an unscheduled ‘call-of-nature’ stop. The words of my hero Sir Ernest Shackleton ring true: “Optimism is true moral courage”.