Why I hid my disability from my bosses
I would like to say I came up with this headline. But the credit goes to a recent article in Management Today.
It is about an uplifting story of Caroline Casey who hid her blindness from her employer (Accenture), but still managed to work as a high-flying global consultant for several years. Remarkable.
But then, she is obviously a remarkable person: she went on to raise £0.5m to fund 600 six hundred cataract operations with Sightsavers International; set up a not-for-profit disability organisation called Kanch; and has recently launched #valuable, a new global campaign to put disability on the business agenda.
Her campaign is backed by top businesses, and calls on 500 big business to commit to tackling disability in the workforce.
You can read the full article here: Management Today.
The underlying key issue here is how many people may not be revealing an illness to their employer? One can speculate, but I suspect it would be a significant proportion of the working population.
There would be many reasons why this would be. This could range from, as with Ms Casey, her lack of knowledge about her illness and her initial reluctance to face up to it; to being labelled with a condition which still carries a stigma in society; and being apprehensive about the reaction of the employer.
We can all think of many instances of employees who have not been treated well because they have developed a physical or mental illness. It may be the business has been reluctant to make the necessary adjustments to accommodate, or else there is a low-level frustration by managers and colleagues that the employee cannot do what they did previously.
Unfortunately, there are also cases where employees take advantage of their illness to make life difficult for the employer, or even (sadly) to line themselves up for a disability discrimination claim without merit.
One fact is certain, however: the number of working people who have a disability or an illness which impacts on their work is only going to increase.
This is down to a number of factors, such as the working population getting older, increasing levels of depression and stress (or, at least, increasing recognition of these illnesses), more awareness of disability rights. Perhaps also there are simply more work opportunities for people who have disabilities, whereas previously they would have self-selected themselves out of the workforce.
As important as initiatives such as Ms Casey’s are, it is not just the remit of big business to deal with this. We are all either managers, colleagues, business owners, parents, relatives or friends, and any one of us will almost certainly be affected at some stage and at some level about disability and illness in the workplace.
Have you challenged your own perceptions of how you would react and deal with it?
© Ben Thornber, Thornber HR Law