Helen Waygood, an HR manager, contributed to research by disability network Radar, on the factors behind career progression to senior levels for disabled people, as part of its Doing seniority differently project.
“I have bipolar, it was diagnosed 20 years ago. I was a fairly senior, young HR director. I chose to go into interim work and being an HR director I knew that disclosure could potentially mean rejection and so I formed a company and that meant I only had to disclose to myself.
“Having done five years of interim work I went back into corporate life for an American multi-national and I had to fill in one of those questionnaires before I was employed by them. Three months later the doctor had obviously caught up with my disclosure and scrawled across this piece of paper was ‘Don’t employ this person’, but as I was HR director I just put it in my personal file. I haven’t disclosed since.
“In the public sector there is a real drive to help people with disabilities and a lot of that comes from the local government standards in which you have to reflect the community in which you work.
“I have worked with people on a one-to-one basis since. I have helped one person in particular. She has bipolar and they were trying to force her to leave and we ended up managing to save her job and now she has been promoted and is having a career with them. I advised her how to deal with HR and the issues associated with it. She had to be aware of her condition, because with bipolar you can come across as aggressive, impatient and irritable, which in companies is not good interpersonal skills. She got people to give her feedback on her behaviour and she worked with HR to put together a plan for her coming back to work after a period away.
“If you were recruiting somebody and you wanted to know that they had overcome problems you would see that as a positive but because people with a disability don’t disclose they can never show how much they have overcome as a result of their disability. I think there is a real need to shift the way we use our words because ‘disabled’ sounds like you are not capable.
“I might work till I’m 70, I would still like to work as an interim. At the end of my contract I tend to then disclose to people that I have bipolar and then hopefully they are able to make a judgement for the next person who comes along. I quite often use my success to educate.”