New scheme will offer disabled people another fast track to leadership

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A new scholarship programme aims to fast-track disabled people towards leadership positions in the physical activity sector.

The Matrix LeadAbility Scholarship Programme will offer at least four bursaries worth £6,000 each in its first year, the second new scheme in just a month designed to support disabled people into leadership positions in different industries.

The programme is being run by the physical activity charity ukactive – which is chaired by retired Paralympian Baroness [Tanni] Grey-Thompson – and the disability charity Aspire.

Only last month, Arts Council England said it would spend more than a million pounds on bursaries for nine disabled leaders in the arts and cultural sectors, to help them gain the experience, knowledge, skills and confidence to compete for future posts as artistic directors, chief executives or other senior positions.

LeadAbility will fund £6,000 places for the four “brightest and best disabled up and coming leaders” in the physical activity sector to attend a week-long course at the IESE Business School in Barcelona, ranked as having the best MBA course in Europe by the Economist magazine.

Sport England’s Active People Survey has shown that disabled people are half as likely to be physically active as non-disabled people, and ukactive said that ensuring industry jobs were more accessible to disabled staff would be a “significant step towards rectifying this”.

LeadAbility aims to build on the success of InstructAbility, an award-winning programme led by Aspire, which provides disabled people with free and accessible training and qualifications in the physical activity sector, followed by an industry work placement, and which has so far trained more than 300 instructors.

Baroness Grey-Thompson said: “LeadAbility provides a fantastic opportunity to diversify our workforce by helping disabled people land senior positions in the physical activity sector based solely on merit.

“It also demonstrates another proactive step towards being the all-inclusive sector that we aspire to be, whether it is in our teams or growing our market by attracting new people through our doors who might have previously felt our services were not for them – both disabled people and the wider population.”

Steven Ward, executive director of ukactive, said: “LeadAbility will unlock the door to boardrooms across the physical activity sector, levelling the playing field and offering the most talented disabled individuals a route to the top.”

But he added: “It is only worth applying if there is total confidence that a candidate has the ability to one day serve as a CEO or senior director of one of the leading organisations in our sector.”

Penny Mordaunt, minister for disabled people, said: “Everyone deserves the chance to fulfil their potential and pursue their goals, and I’m delighted to see LeadAbility supporting young talent and creating opportunities for more disabled people to reach senior leadership roles.”

Jon Johnston, managing director of Matrix Fitness UK, which is sponsoring LeadAbility, said: “These bursaries will give disabled people access to a fantastic training programme that will fast-track them to senior positions and hopefully support their long-term career goals and aspirations.”

Research by Disability Rights UK (DR UK), which runs its own Leadership Academy Programme, has found that non-disabled people are three times as likely as disabled people to earn over £80,000 a year, and twice as likely to be board-level directors.

Sue Bott, DR UK’s deputy chief executive, said it was too early to say if there was a trend developing of organisations offering such leadership schemes for disabled people, but she said the two new schemes were “definitely a welcome development”. 

She said: “As with other groups, disabled people do face a glass ceiling when they get into work, but unlike race and gender this has yet to attract a lot of attention.”

She added: “One of our key priorities is that disabled people should be able to get into work, stay on in work and thrive in work. 

“We therefore welcome this initiative from ukactive that will give disabled people an opportunity to train to be leaders in sports organisations. 

“As with a similar programme for the arts, funded by the Arts Council, Change Makers, this is welcome recognition that not only do these organisations need to be employing more disabled people but that we should be able to get on and reach the top in our careers. 

“This is also the underlying principle behind our own Leadership Academy Programme.”

Picture (from left to right): Hilary Farmiloe, InstructAbility manager for Aspire; Steve Ward, ukactive executive director; Penny Mordaunt, minister for disabled people; Joe Townsend, Matrix ambassador; and Michelle Smith, Matrix marketing executive

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