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Inclusive Growth: No-one is Left Behind

Kamran Mallick is the chief executive of Disability Rights UK. In this conversation we discuss inclusion in the context of the workplace and the pandemic and the importance of keeping intersectionality in mind for any diversity and inclusion initiatives.

Speaker 1: Welcome to the Inclusive Growth Show with Toby Mildon, future proofing your business by creating a diverse workplace.


Toby Mildon: Hello there, thank you ever so much for tuning into this episode of The Inclusive Growth Show, I’m Toby Mildon. And today, I’m joined by Kamran Mallick, who is the chief executive of Disability Rights UK. I met Kamran years ago, ’cause we used to live in the same part of London, and he ran a disabled person’s organisation in the local area, but he’s gone on to bigger things, he now heads up a large disability rights organisation. So, Kamran, it’s great to see you again. How are you doing?

Kamran Mallick: Hi, Toby, really good to see you too. I’m well, thank you.

Toby Mildon: Cool. Kamran, can you just let us know a bit more about who you are and what you do and what you’ve done in the past?

Kamran Mallick: Sure. Delighted to. Who am I? That’s a big question. I came to the UK when I was about six years old. I was born in Pakistan and came to the UK really because I caught the polio virus when I was a young boy, and my parents came over a lot for treatment reasons, medical reasons, and so I’ve had all my education and learning in the UK and created my career in the disability rights movement, it’s something that I kind of fell into. I wasn’t really ever thinking that’s what I wanted to do when I was growing up, my dad was in the banking world, and I always saw myself going and following his footsteps, as many children follow their parent’s footsteps. And I remember doing a bit of work experience in a bank and had the worst week ever of sorting cheques into alphabetical order. That’s how old I am when people used to manually sort cheques, so that put me off a life going into banking. But yeah, so I found myself working in the disability right sector, and I’ve been there ever since and something that’s close to my heart.

Toby Mildon: So what is Disability Rights UK? For those of us who haven’t heard it.

Kamran Mallick: So Disability Rights UK, we are a not-for-profit organisation or charity, goes by different names in terms of the sector that we’re from, and we are a campaigning and influencing organisation here in the UK. What we’re trying to do is bring about rights for all disabled people, to make sure that our human rights are real and that we enjoy those human rights, and that we create a society in the UK that’s truly inclusive for all disabled people. What’s unique about DRUK or Disability Rights UK is that we are what’s referred to as a disabled people’s organisation, and what that means fundamentally different to other organisations is that we are led by the lived experience of disabled people in the country, so that means our board of trustees have to be 85% or more disabled people, and at any given time, more than 50% of our staff are also disabled people, so really everything we’re doing and the way we speak and what we talk about is from our own lived experience.

Toby Mildon: Cool, I think that’s great, ’cause one of my good friends is Baroness Jane Campbell who is prolific in the disability rights movement, and I know that she’s drummed into me the saying, nothing about us without us. So I think it’s great that disabled people’s organisations are run by disabled people and they are for disabled people.

Kamran Mallick: Yes. And Jane, of course, is an ambassador for Disability Rights UK, I know her really well. She’s been a lifelong campaigner.

Toby Mildon: Cool. So Kamran, what are some of the latest disability inclusion matters that you are aware of and that DRUK is thinking about in the work place lately?

Kamran Mallick: So at the moment, I think what’s really in the forefront of many people’s minds is as we have all had this global pandemic, and as there have been in many, most countries, many countries, most of us have lived a life in lockdown, working from home, working remotely, but also experiencing loss of employment, so redundancies happening as a result as businesses have had to close for periods of time. We have become incredibly aware of as we come out of the pandemic, how businesses are creating this new idea of the new normal, the way that we’re going to learn what we’ve learned during the pandemic and during the lockdown.

Kamran Mallick: So I think there’s a number of things. One, the first one is, we’re conscious that in order to create inclusive workplace, organisations need to be thinking about how they go about their business, so we don’t just revert back to this idea that everyone has to be in the office, it’s proven. It’s kind of like been a big experiment, hasn’t it? It’s been something that we as disabled people have been saying, this idea of being able to work remotely, to work more flexibly, that fits in both in terms of the business need, which is important, but also in terms of someone’s health needs as well. So what someone can do day-to-day, it’s really important that businesses are thinking, well what have we learned? And in order to create this new normal, it’s hybrid working that we may go into, what does that look like? And I always think that the best way to find out what that should be is to involve the very people that we’re talking about.

Kamran Mallick: So you mentioned nothing about us without us, so just thinking about that, for business to be really thinking about how do they engage with staff who have disclosed themselves as disabled people to say, “Well, what works for you, and how can we enable you to be a valuable member of our team and a contributing member of our team?” And no one can tell you that better than those individuals themselves, so we’re thinking about those kind of things, but also about some of the challenges that individual disabled people are talking about around returning to work and some of the risks with COVID still around so we’re obviously thinking about that as well.

Toby Mildon: So what are some of the concerns that disabled employees are telling you about?

Kamran Mallick: So to say all people like naturally nervous about the risk of still being at risk of catching the virus and what may happen to them, even though many disabled people have had the vaccine certainly in the UK, but around the world, we’re hearing more and more people being vaccinated, but despite that, there’s just a sense of nervousness and so often it can be the commute from your home to the place of work that can be seen to be of a higher risk for individual, it’s often a perception, even if the reality may be different, but it’s a perception that’s really real for an individual. So that’s part of the risk. The other risk that disabled people are talking to us about is being in open plan type environments where there is lots of people where it may be difficult to distance yourself from others, if you, depending on certain impairments, you may not be able to distance yourself, so if you imagine you are blind, it can be quite difficult to know how far you are from someone, it actually really relies on other people being very conscious about that, that there are both the risks of getting to work and then some of the way businesses might be structured physically.

Toby Mildon: Yeah. I think some of my clients have expressed concerns around cliques being formed in groups and out groups that there’s gonna be some people that are eager to get back to the office, other people that would rather work from home, whether they have a disability or not, but what that means is that people that would prefer to work from home might be left out of the loop in Information and Decision-Making, and so these kind of in groups and out groups are going to be formed, and it might be that those that go to the office are more likely to get promoted. And I think that’s one of the concerns that my clients have certainly talked about. Have you come across that in your travels?

Kamran Mallick: Yeah, no, absolutely, I think those points that you raised they are really, really true and valid and so I think it’s down to leaders to make sure that they really tackle these issues head on and again, talk to the individuals who are feeling this way about how do we ensure that doesn’t happen. Leader should be thinking about how do we use technology to overcome some of those issues, the barriers, so we don’t have these cliques, people aren’t just favored because they’re physically there, but you’re promoted, you’re supported based on how you’re performing, the work that you’re doing, the outputs that you’re creating, the outcomes that you’re achieving rather than physically are you in the building?

Toby Mildon: Yeah. Yeah. And I think another area that employers tend to overlook is people who are disabled by association, so they could be the parents of a child with a disability, for example, and they themselves might be a bit hesitant in returning to work because they don’t want to expose themselves to any risk and take it home with them. What are your thoughts around that?

Kamran Mallick: I agree, absolutely. So we heard a lot, didn’t we, during the pandemic about how whole families were isolating because they had somebody in their families or one individual often a child or a younger person who was the one who was actually at higher risk of worse outcomes of catching the virus and so the whole family would take that decision, and therefore companies, businesses and leaders need to be sensitive to that, need to be aware of it, and again, it’s about creating kind of an open conversation and normalising this conversation, and so that it’s not down to the individuals to constantly have to raise it with their line managers, but that it’s a conversation that we’re all having. I often compare it to how… If you think about how the conversation about mental health has changed just over the last five, 10 years, there’s been a dramatic shift in how we talk about this idea of that we all have a mental health, and it’s kind of… We’re getting to a point where it’s becoming normalised to talk about that, and having initiatives. I think I want disability to be the same and it’s a normalised conversation.

Toby Mildon: Yeah. One of the questions that I encourage my clients to ask every member of their team, including disabled and non-disabled staff, is what is stopping you or slowing you down, ’cause it’s really about identifying the barriers that people face, and then your job as a line manager is to try and remove those obstacles so that people can thrive. And I think it’s a really good question to ask ’cause you don’t have to have a disability to have any barriers, for example, you just might not be a morning person, and getting to the office at 8:30 AM in the morning, doesn’t set you up well for the day, but if you have some flexibility in when you can start your working day, you might actually perform better in your role, whereas I know there are disabled people, for example, who struggle to access proper transport and again, having some flexibility in when they can start their day, it makes a huge difference to their performance.

Kamran Mallick: It just means that we can all just perform to our maximum and get the best out of ourselves and the business benefits because people are performing at the highest level that they can, and I think you’re absolutely right. And in our world, we talk about something called the social model of disability, which is exactly what you described was this idea that it’s not my disability or impairment or health condition that’s stopping me, it’s from these ideas of these barriers, so whether it’s physical barriers, people’s attitudes or perceptions about what someone can and can’t do and how we should be fitted into some existing model.

Toby Mildon: Yeah. So Kamran, what are your thoughts on intersectionality?

Kamran Mallick: Well, maybe people can’t tell from the audio, but I’m Asian. And so, intersectionality is really important because without it, I can’t really talk about who I am because I’m not just a disabled man, but I’m an Asian disabled man. And so therefore my experience of the world is a combination of the fact that of my disability and people’s reaction, but also of my color. And so I always think about people as a combination of everything. So my experiences are different to your experience as a White disabled man. And a Black disabled woman’s experience will be different to mine, and we will all experience these barriers that you talked about, the inequality and discrimination based on all of those different features about us. And so I think you can’t take disability out of that, it is part of a intersectionality is what we should be looking at and thinking about.

Toby Mildon: And so what do you think employers need to be particularly aware of when it comes to intersectionality, especially the intersection between disability and other characteristics or identities?

Kamran Mallick: Well, I always think you should look at it as a whole and not try and pull those strands out. Often businesses will talk to us about, we’re tackling gender discrimination or gender inequality this year and next year we’re gonna do some other one, and then we’ll get to disability in year three. And I just think that it’s just the wrong way to do it because how are people who have multiple identities that you’re dealing with going to be experiencing that? Because it’s very hard for me to think about myself as just an Asian male in the UK, because that’s not just who I am, and well, I never experienced life just like that. And so you have to combine. And actually, what we found, and what I always find is that when you start looking at the barriers that those people with different identities experience, there are so many overlaps. So the feeling of being excluded because you’re a woman or because you’re a person from a particular cultural background, or you’re a disabled person, the end result is the same. And so that’s the things that you’re tackling.

Toby Mildon: Yeah. I think it helps us expand our thinking when we think intersectionally. So for example, if an employer has got a really thriving LGBT network, for example, and they are organising an event, if you think intersectional, then you can start to think, “Well, actually, there might actually be disabled people that once come to this event because they themselves might be LGBT, and are we being inclusive of disabled people?” I talk very openly and publicly about my intersections. I’m White, disabled, and gay. I’m also introverted and actually, I’ve talked quite openly about how I don’t find the LGBT scene in London particularly inclusive.

Toby Mildon: Soho is not a very accessible part of London. A lot of the bars are inaccessible to wheelchair users, for instance. And so we can start to think about how can we be more inclusive. And in a business way, we get economies of scale. It’s like what you were saying, it’s like a lot of organisations say, “Okay, we’re really focused on women in leadership right now, and then we’re gonna talk about ethnicity next year. And then the year after that, we’re gonna do mental health and mindfulness. And then we’re thinking of doing disability. We might do something about the oceans, we’re not sure yet.” And it’s like, well, actually, but if you think in an intersectional way, you can actually get great economies of scale because you’re thinking about the whole human experience in the workplace. And like you say, using that social model of thinking, thinking about the barriers that people face in trying to navigate the workplace and eliminating those is probably the right thing to focus on.

Kamran Mallick: Absolutely, that thinking has developed over the last five, 10 years. Exactly the idea of intersectionality is the one that we should focus on. And as you were saying, if you’re running an event for women, you have to remember that there will be women there who are disabled women, there will be women there who are from different, multiple kind of identities that they bring with them. And so you would fundamentally exclude people just by not doing that. You’re gonna leave people out.

Toby Mildon: Yeah, exactly. So one of the things that we’ve talked about previously is how to give disabled staff space to talk in the workplace. How do employers do that?

Kamran Mallick: So employers employ lots of different tactics. So we’re currently working with some NHS trusts that are setting up Ambassador Programs. So disabled staff members who will become ambassadors both for… Are the disabled people within the NHS trust, people they can go to and talk to about their experience or about any issues or problems they might be having with line managers or the way things are being done. So ambassadors, there are lots of organisations and businesses that have staff network groups, where there is open conversations of disabled staff networks. And then you also have the idea of creating champions at senior levels who effectively become the champions for a particular issue or set of issues.

Kamran Mallick: And so there are lots of different things you can do. And I just think the more we start talking about these points, so not waiting until disabled people raise the issue, but actually we as leaders saying, “We’re going to talk about this issue within our team meetings, within our staff work groups,” so that we’re starting to just create understanding and awareness amongst everybody. This idea of normalising the conversation through, whether it be staff networks or staff meetings, whichever method you choose to use, having the conversation is kind of what we often say.

Toby Mildon: Yeah, absolutely. So before we wrap up this interview, this is of course, the Inclusive Growth Show. And so what does inclusive growth mean for you?

Kamran Mallick: So inclusive growth to me is organisations and businesses not leaving anyone behind, benefiting from the wealth of experience and that diversity brings to their organisation, that kind of different levels of thinking based on people’s lived experience driving their growth. So not leaving anyone behind is what inclusive growth, for me.

Toby Mildon: Brilliant, I love it. Yeah, not leaving anyone behind. Yeah, I think that’s really well put. Before we go, Kamran, how can people get in touch with you if they want to talk to you further about disability rights or learn more about what Disability Rights UK does?

Kamran Mallick: I think the easiest way to contact me will be through LinkedIn. So if you just search for me, Kamran Mallick with LinkedIn, in Google, or a search engine and contact me that way, send me a note, that’s probably the best way.

Toby Mildon: Brilliant. Well, thank you Kam, for joining me today. It’s been lovely to catch up with you. And thank you for tuning in and listening to my conversation with Kamran today. Hopefully you enjoyed it, and there’s lots of things that you can take away and apply in your own organisation. Until the next time, I look forward to catching up with you again. Thanks very much.


Speaker 1: Thank you for listening to the Inclusive Growth Show. For further information and resources from Toby and his team, head on over to our website at mildon.co.uk.

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