Avanade Voices: After years of keeping it to myself, why I finally decided to be vocal about my disability in the workplace

  • Posted on March 29, 2021
  • Estimated reading time 4 minutes
Avanade Voices: After years of keeping it to myself, why I finally decided to be vocal about my disability in the workplace

“Avanade Voices” is our series in which we sit down with people from Avanade’s various Employee Networks. The series serves as a platform to amplify different perspectives about meaningful societal and cultural issues, from racism to education to mental health. As a global company, there are so many different backgrounds at Avanade, and we have an opportunity to learn from each other by bringing our different viewpoints and passions to the table in dialogue.

This entry in Avanade Voices is authored by Kaisa Lervik, co-chair of Avanade Europe’s new DiversAbility Employee Network.

In the time since I joined Avanade almost 14 years ago, I’ve been part of many Employee Networks. With few women in tech, of course we have a group for women. It’s also obvious to me the benefits of having a network of support for racial and ethnic groups, as well as our LGBT+ community. I’ve joined many of these groups as an ally, as well as my interest in the women’s group, but the first time I heard about the idea for a disability inclusion group, that made me sit up. I thought, “This is for me. This is a big part of me.”

That wasn’t always the case. I have systemic arthritis, and I have since I was 4½ years old. Many people aren’t open about their disabilities, and for a long time, I wasn’t either. That comes from my upbringing; from very early on, my parents reinforced that I needed to step up my game so I could compete at the same level as anyone else. The mindset was, “Your body has been through a lot and so have you, but you should be able to provide for yourself.” That stuck with me, and when I finished college and started applying for jobs, I didn’t mention my arthritis because I felt that as long as I was aware of my body and taking my medicines, I could do a job as well as anyone else.

A few times in my career, I’ve had horrible flare-ups that have put me on sick leave for a few months. I don’t want to be pitied, and I would feel ashamed that I wasn’t in control or that my body had failed me. But at a certain point, I realized that other people have burnout and hit a wall, or slip and fall, and also make use of that sick leave. It’s nothing to be embarrassed about. When this idea of a disability inclusion network popped up, I was in a more mature and self-secure place in my life where I could say, “Maybe I should open up.” The timing was right for me. And I realized that just because I can cope, a lot of other people can’t, and they might want the network of support. With this network, I can spend my energy on something that’s important and get it up and running so people who are struggling can benefit from that.

Being a part of this group has also made me reflect on my own experience and biases. My disability is very physical – there are times I’ve been on crutches on in a wheelchair. But I didn’t have as much knowledge about neurodiversity; I’ve never experienced reading challenges or ADHD or depression or anxiety myself. Connecting with those who have other sorts of disabilities has made me more conscious about a lot of things. For example, I’m much more considerate when creating my presentations. Am I making a conscious effort to make my presentations easily digestible for people with dyslexia or other reading challenges? I’m more aware of other accessibility needs.

As this group gets off the ground, we are conscious of the different purposes we want to serve. We want it to be a network for people with disabilities, allies, and then able-bodied people who have children or other family members with disabilities. But it’s also important to me that we work with our talent acquisition team to focus on hiring diverse talent – people with all kinds of disabilities. How can we be open to diverse talent without making people feel like they’re part of a quota? From experiences with previous employers, I know what a motivation killer it can be to think, “Yeah, I’m the token wheelchair person.” Through this network, hopefully we can continue to make strides to attract people to Avanade as they see us as an employer with a culture that includes everyone. Everyone is supported here, and everyone can thrive.

Annie Walsh

Very progressive! A great entry too! I like the  word neurodiversity! A broken leg can be evident but ME/CFS can be hidden, even by the member of staff experiencing it. In these days of "long covid"; and remote working, paths to potential can be achieved with forums like this.... Thank you.

April 18, 2021

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