Are we doing enough to support inclusion and diversity?
That’s a question that comes up often in my work on the conference circuit. I guess it’s because at heart, events are all about ideas, and to get the best ideas, we need to tap as wide and diverse a network as possible, which makes inclusion and diversity key concerns for all of us.
These days, these terms are buzzwords, and rightly so, with many formerly under-represented or oppressed groups finally finding their voice. And people are listening, too.
Effecting change from the top down
Caroline Casey has been speaking about diversity and inclusion for years through the prism of disability (she is legally blind), but today she is tackling it from a different angle – from the top down.
With the slogan ‘If disability is not on your board agenda, neither is diversity’, The Valuable 500 is a campaign (led by Caroline) to get the CEOs of 500 leading companies to put disability at the heart of their business agenda, because doing so makes sense financially and ethically. As Caroline says, it simply makes good business sense to acknowledge, engage and tap into a cohort that makes up 15% of the global population (yep, that’s one-five, fifteen).
Look past your limits
Eight years ago, Caroline gave a TED Talk urging people to look past the limits we place on others when we see only their disability, not their ability. She spoke from the heart, from her own experience (she is legally blind). That talk has since been viewed over 20 million times.
Don’t be ‘divers-ish’
Her work today with Valuable also comes straight from the heart. And it’s striking a chord with people across the globe, from Colombia to Iceland. Caroline believes it’s because real inclusion and diversity are about something far bigger than box-ticking or using the right pronouns. As Valuable campaign puts it so well in its hilarious video, we need to do far more than being ‘diversish’.
Be yourself – and belong
Ultimately, we need to be fostering a sense of belonging – a belief that we are all part of humanity, but also that we are free to be ourselves, and are valuable just as we are.
Caroline and Valuable are travelling the world to find remarkable people willing to commit to this new vision of diversity. She’s barely had time to sleep (except for a nap before a gig, caught on Instagram), but we did manage to get a few words from her as she waited on the runway for yet another flight.
I’m sitting on the plane to Canada ahead of a ten-day whirlwind trip that includes stops at Israel and Iceland via London and back. It comes after an extraordinary ten days in New York and London where it felt as if something had shifted. Finally, it feels as if the time is “now”.
I have a deep sense that everything in the past 19 years has prepared me for this time. Every disappointment, failure, pivot, celebration, success, idea, heartache, mistake, reset – all of it has brought me to this extraordinary place where I have the capability and capacity to lead the Valuable 500.
People who have watched my 2010 TED talk believe that my grit, my trademark characteristic, is a result of living with a visual impairment (I can’t see beyond the end of my hand). But while it may play a part, it is a very small part.
My work, not my disability, is my story
My ferocious tenacity comes from surviving much more complex and painful life experiences. I have chosen not to make them my story, and instead channel the learning and survival of them to progress this work I feel so passionately about. No one can tell a survivor to “give up”, especially when they see their survival in the rear-view mirror.
Don’t choose one category over another
The Valuable500 goes far deeper than our clear call to action to 500 global business leaders to put Disability on their board agenda. It is a roar from my belly about human belonging and the complete injustice that has made it acceptable to choose one category of humanity over each other. This tendency – and it’s a common one – is played out beautifully in our #diversish film.
Valuable is a cry for the invisible to become visible; a plea to acknowledge that we are all equal and have the right to be seen and understood as ourselves. It is about being believed and taken seriously.
Keep going, keep the faith
In the process of building this movement, I’ve learnt that it is all the “trying” and “failing” that has been a potent tool for change. I’ve learnt, too, that you cannot timetable change. You simply keep going, head down in the snowstorm, having faith.
Find the ‘Head-Heart’ leaders
I’ve learnt that in the beginning, you don’t have to change everyone. You just need a handful of risk takers: visionaries who will bet on you, leaders willing to stand up in empty rooms and keep their word, those who will stick by you until the job is done, those willing to start, to say they don’t know, to admit when they’re wrong. I call them Head-Heart Leaders. And somehow The Valuable 500 have found them.
But mostly I have learnt that I needed to let go of my ego – my disease to please; to trust my heart, instinct and intention; work on my demons; and dance with failure and joy in equal measure.
Do better with diversity – it’s better business
I am on the most extraordinary journey of my life. And have never felt so alive. I want to deliver The Valuable 500 more than anything I have attempted or done to date, and somehow I have the complete faith it will happen.
I have been training for this moment my whole life. It’s been a long time coming, but it’s happening. And I believe we will all be better people – and do better business – because of it.