What role does assertiveness play in speaking up about the need for change and asking for what is wanted and needed for people with disability to bridge the employment gap? Deloitte's 2011 report, The economic benefits of increasing employment for people with disability, suggests, “Closing the gap between labour market participation rates and unemployment rates for people with and without disabilities by one-third would result in a cumulative $43 billion increase in Australia’s GDP over the next decade in real dollar terms”. Unfortunately, however, not much has changed in the last ten years. With employment rates for people with disability at 53.4%, this contrasts with a participation rate of 84.1% for people without disability.
Further, the 2018 report, A systematic review of the benefits of hiring people with disabilities, highlights the enormous business and social benefits available when hiring people with disability. These benefits include improvements in profitability, turnover and retention, reliability and punctuality, employee loyalty, company image, competitive advantage, inclusive work culture, and ability awareness. Secondary benefits for people with disabilities include improved quality of life and income, enhanced self-confidence, expanded social network, and a sense of community.
This article explores the financial and social benefits of including people with disabilities in the workforce. Specifically, it looks at the demand for leaders with a disability to be at the forefront of causing this shift through who and how they are being. To create change requires assertiveness. So, I am calling out to those leaders to speak up about what they want and need. It requires bold leadership to be assertive, express yourself effectively and stand up for your point of view. When being of service to your community, it is paramount that you use your assertiveness to influence the reality and experience of those around you. The question is, how do you become more assertive, particularly as someone living with a disability? The best place to start is to consider what it looks like when we are not being assertive.
Know your behaviour when you are not being assertive?
When you live with a disability, being assertive in asking for what you want and need is paramount in having a life that works. If you are not being assertive, you may be going along with what others decide as a means to avoid conflict. You may also use inappropriate humour, sarcasm, teasing or underhanded comments to manipulate, bully, control or put others down as ways to force the outcome you want. While this may work in the short term, you will ultimately damage relationships and cause a lack of fulfillment, both for yourself and those around you.
Like 80% of the 1 billion people living with disability globally, my condition is hidden. Nobody would know I was disabled unless I told them. So I made a conscious decision in the early years of my career to keep it a secret for fear of being treated differently or pitied. Even though I received support from several government agencies and had a mobility parking permit, I preferred not to admit to myself that I was disabled. There were even times when I felt as though I was misusing the system because I was telling myself I was not really disabled. While many people would not know it by looking at me, the reality is I have a medical condition (Spina Bifida). It is considered a disability primarily because of how it significantly impacts my daily life.
As an ambitious young man, I ignored my medical condition and its impacts. And I never talked about it, particularly in work and social situations. I couldn't be with it myself let alone the attention it may have drawn from others. In maintaining the fake persona, I had cut off any opportunity to share what was going on with me and could never ask for any special treatment lest I be treated differently. At the time, being assertive was not even a distant thought or consideration.
Using the Being Framework™ to accelerate your mission
These days, I am a wellbeing and effectiveness leadership coach and work with the Being Framework™ and its associated Being Profile® assessment tool and Transformation Methodology. A pivotal exercise you receive when you are trained in the Being Framework centres around the 'Conception Worksheet'. In the exercise, you examine how your ways of being produce certain outcomes while also contemplating how those outcomes may have been different had you ‘been being’ another way.
I used to have an unhealthy relationship with assertiveness. It showed up as being passive-aggressive and belligerent. If I had a healthy relationship with being assertive when I was an employee, the outcomes would have been entirely different. I would not have suffered in silence, blamed myself, or acted out in the ways I did. I would have been able to tell people what it was like to live with my disability, and they likely would have gone out of their way to support me. Life might have been very different if I had been straight and unambiguous (assertive) in my communication with others. Instead, I relied on sarcasm, underhanded comments, inappropriate humour or teasing, manipulation and domination to get my way.
Perhaps the hardest part of having a disability is the concept of owning it. Over the years, people who knew about it have encouraged me to embrace my disability, take responsibility for it and accept it. But I met them with outrage and anger every time. I would think, “Be responsible? Who do you think you are? I didn't do this to myself! So how do you expect me to embrace it?”
The decision to finally take ownership of and claim my disability was the biggest breakthrough in my life. I subsequently founded Mighty Ability to empower other leaders with disability too. Although I am not certain I fully own my disability, I am accepting and more grateful for my life these days, including all of the things that come with disability. I now believe my greatest weakness is my number one strength, and by making it the focus of my business, there is no hiding or turning back.
Using the Being Profile, I was able to see the specific areas on which I needed to work. Assertiveness is one of the 31 Aspects of Being we measure in the profile. It's also one of the most challenging areas in which to become effective. As a way of BEING as opposed to something we do, becoming effective in assertiveness is beyond the tips and tricks commonly offered as a solution for being more assertive in the way we communicate with others. The Being Profile goes far deeper than just addressing the surface behaviours. Consider the courage, compassion, forgiveness, vulnerability, care, responsibility, and contribution that must be present when you want to effectively communicate your point of view or express what you want to say while also respecting the other person and their perspective.
When you are being vulnerable (open), authentic (the real you) and assertive (resolute, straight, and firm) with others, it will lead to a new level of effectiveness in all areas of your life. Having open, honest, genuine and assertive conversations will transform your work, personal life, and the matters you care about in a deeply rewarding and fulfilling way. This is true for anyone, regardless of ability. In short, there are significant benefits for you and your community when you choose to be assertive, responsible, vulnerable and authentic. You will find your contribution will know no bounds, even with physical restrictions or challenges in your way.