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Can you see me? The power of allyship

Prioritising disability inclusion through visibility

Increasing the visibility of people from underrepresented groups and making sure they are seen, valued, and celebrated for who they are, is key to achieving true inclusion in the workplace. This is something I have found to be true and incredibly powerful, both in my various leadership roles at Deloitte and as an ally to colleagues and friends.

Visibility means providing role models for people who haven’t always felt able to be their whole selves at work, helping increase representation, and raising career aspirations. Having increased visibility helps remove barriers to inclusion – from collective social ‘norms’ to our own innate bias. And ultimately, it paves the way to equal access to opportunity for everyone, which often leads to more diverse, innovative, and vibrant workplaces and societies.

This is why I am proud of the focus we place at Deloitte on sharing the stories and unique journeys of our people. We do this to celebrate the rich diversity in our organisation; to help our people truly see, understand, and respect each other; and to send a clear message that our organisation has respect and inclusion at the heart of our culture.

A particular campaign we launched earlier this year – our ‘Can you see me?’ films – has caused me to stop and think about the importance of giving a voice to underrepresented groups. While the characters in these films are fictional and are played by actors with similar lived experiences, the films represent the authentic stories of many people and were created to demonstrate that we are all a sum of our parts and experiences—and that our words and actions have an impact on others. I found one story particularly moving: Thiago’s.

Thiago is a young man with an infectious smile, a Maths degree, a talent for guitar, a passion for football, and a partner who shares his love of tango. He is also a wheelchair user. Despite everything that makes him who he is, Thiago explains how he feels ‘invisible’ to others - with his chair often being an unsurmountable barrier to conversation or connection. Considering the strength Thiago has had to find to be able to thrive after a life-changing event, hearing of the non-inclusive behaviours he still faces on a daily basis is heartbreaking.

But Thiago’s story is all the more important because people with disabilities are too often missed from the inclusion agenda. So much remains to be done to increase their visibility and empower them to fully participate in the workplace.

It is estimated that 1.3bn people live with a visible or non-visible disability worldwide[1]. For Deloitte this would translate to about 15% of our workforce – making it imperative that we tap into this diverse talent pool. Sadly, in most companies, some people are choosing not to declare their disabilities, perhaps finding it challenging to bring their whole selves to work.

I believe that lack of visibility leads to both low representation and low levels of disclosure.

Even as we mark the UN’s International Day of Persons with Disabilities, many people with disabilities are still facing prejudice and daily micro-aggressions, with a lack of role models to empower them to succeed or share their whole identities. There are still not enough corporate leaders with lived experience of disability making important decisions that influence the workplace experiences of people with disabilities.

Thiago’s story is one amongst many. And while I am proud of the progress we have made at Deloitte on diversity, equity, and inclusion, hearing it has strengthened my resolve to do more, as a leader and as a vocal ally.

I have committed to promoting disability inclusion with Deloitte leaders globally and ensuring that it gets adequate focus. We are stepping up our work as an Iconic Leader of the Valuable 500, working alongside Google to focus on helping create work cultures where people feel they can disclose their disabilities, visible and non-visible, and contribute their unique talents and perspectives.

And at a personal level, I commit to championing authentic and inclusive leadership every day - calling on everyone, in and outside of Deloitte, to reflect on the impact their words and actions have in making people feel seen and respected for all that they are.