Disabled high-fliers need mentoring to succeed, finds survey


A ground-breaking national survey has revealed a significant talent pool of high-flying disabled managers despite the “massive disadvantage” disabled people face in developing such careers.

The survey, by the disability campaigning network RADAR, uncovered many high-achieving disabled managers, with 110 earning at least £80,000 a year and another 186 earning from £40,000 to £79,999.

These high-fliers tended to be male, middle-aged and working in the private sector.

But disabled senior managers were still a third as likely to earn more than £80,000 a year and less than half as likely to join the board of directors as non-disabled counterparts.

Those who had succeeded – across the private, public and voluntary sectors – said the most important factors were having a senior mentor and ongoing support from senior colleagues.

Despite this, disabled people were half as likely to have a mentor as non-disabled people and less than half as likely to receive support from senior colleagues.

Liz Sayce, RADAR’s chief executive, who wrote a report based on the survey – the first to look at disabled people in senior management roles – said employers and skills agencies needed to “spot, mentor and support talented disabled people”.

She said she hoped that “increasing our understanding of those who have been successful will help add to the pool of disabled role models”.

The survey, supported by Lloyds Banking Group, compared 911 disabled and 550 non-disabled respondents.

Those with mental health conditions were significantly less likely than other disabled people to earn more than £80,000 or become board-level directors.

And disabled women were significantly less likely to achieve such salaries and positions as disabled men.

The survey also revealed that three-quarters of senior disabled people who could keep an impairment hidden at work sometimes or always did so.

Those with mental health conditions were nearly four times more likely than other disabled people to keep their impairment hidden.

Sayce said: “It is alarming that so many people in this survey feared that if others at work knew their ‘secret’ their careers would be jeopardized.”

And she said the survey showed there was a need to “raise expectations” and “break down fears”.

The survey was part of RADAR’s Doing Seniority Differently research project. 

A final report will be published in December, with a network to be launched early next year to enable senior disabled people to pool experiences. 

23 September 2009