Disabled lawyers and law students met this week to discuss working in the City.
In the aftermath of welfare minister Lord Freud’s comments on whether some disabled people “were worth the full [minimum] wage”, any discussion around disability in the workplace is bound to be emotionally charged and this was no exception.
“People who work in the City tend to be a little bit more clever, a little bit more ambitious, a little bit more determined and a lot more effing ruthless than the average person,” said one successful lawyer, while blind judge and No5 Chambers barrister Fayyaz Afzal opined: “Those who have a disability tend to be a bit bloody-minded. You have to be strong.”
The conference, organised by Aspiring Solicitors with support from Reed Smith and PwC, split disabilities into three groups: physical, sensory and hidden.
PwC’s asset management head and former tax lawyer Amanda Rowland was, like the vast majority of disabled people, not born disabled. Instead, she became severely visually impaired in her forties and was left with only peripheral vision.
“You have two options,” she stated. “Either you curl up under the duvet and cry, or you get up and decide to carry on.
In the first session, Clyde & Co associate Yasmin Sheikh told delegates about her story.
“I had a stroke at the age of 29 and suddenly found myself paralysed,” she says. “I already worked at Clyde & Co and came back to work having changed so much.”
“To be brutally honest, I think people did initially treat me differently,” she added. “They were not so sure of how much I could take on any more. I did have to tell them that I was capable, that I could still work hard.”
Hard work was a running theme of the conference. Every disabled professional said that they felt they had to work harder than the average person to compensate for any perceived disadvantage that their disability might give them, with one lawyer commenting that they did more than the average person at their place of work, adding “If I stopped doing that, if I said that I could not do that piece of work today because of my disability then I would soon find myself in trouble.”
Disclosure and reasonable adjustments were also key issues, with delegates asking speakers for their advice on when to tell recruiters that they were disabled and how to approach asking for reasonable adjustments such as accommodating candidates by making sure they could properly access interviews.
One panellist advised candidates against disclosure before interview, saying: “I would not disclose anything until I was in the room with someone. I think that somebody in HR would toss my application in the bin.”
Others expressed differing opinions, with the consensus that candidates should not lead on their disability within applications, but to disclose at a time that they felt comfortable with. “I don’t like the word disclosure – it seems like a dirty secret,” added Evenbreak founder Jane Hatton, who lives with a degenerative spine condition which restricts her ability to sit and walk.
Although disabled workers still face a harder path to the City than the average candidate, many of the speakers believed that the situation for those with disabilities was improving. “Clyde & Co uses my outlook on life in a positive way,” said Sheikh. “I think that good things have come from me being paralysed. I have qualities now which I did not have before and so I am grateful for that.”