Disability in the Workplace:

Celebrating Disability recently designed and delivered a bespoke programme of talks and consultancy to support Biogen in their disability inclusion journey.

After working with Celebrating Disability, Biogen reported that the company is now more confident in its understanding of disability in the workplace. Additionally, employees feel better equipped to create the support needed for their disabled colleagues.

The Background

Biogen is a leading global biotechnology company that pioneers science and drives innovations for complex and devastating diseases. Asset Leader Hazura Isilay leads the company’s disability network.

When Hazura began to lead the group, she quickly realised there was a need to develop the conversation around disability inclusion at Biogen. She explained:

“The disability community [at Biogen] was small, and within the community, there was very little voice. Those with disabilities did not want to talk about their disabilities openly and it was uncommon to speak about accommodations. People prefer to keep the disability to themselves – including myself. I’m a person with a disability, but I didn’t want to be associated with it, I didn’t want people to see me differently and my career to be impacted by it.”

Hazura knew that increasing disability inclusion at Biogen would require a multi-pronged approach, “from the bottom-up, but also from the leadership-down.” For example, Biogen’s commitment to diversity didn’t yet include disability. Hazura explained: “The company website didn’t include disability and the company hiring process did not accommodate for disabled candidates appropriately. So where do we start?”

Hazura was determined to consider every aspect of disability inclusion, including “trying to hire somebody with disability, trying to improve the building, trying to improve the system, and trying to improve the training.”

She didn’t feel they had sufficient expertise in-house, so she decided to source external help: a disabled speaker expert in disability inclusion. Soon enough, she found Celebrating Disability through an online search.

Our Successful Proposal

When Hazura took over the role of leading Biogen’s disability network, she noticed that in the past, they had brought in speakers who were famous: “They were athletes, they were heroes, they were people who achieved a lot in their life.” As valuable as those perspectives can be, she felt that their stories were not always relatable or relevant to Biogen’s mission.

So Hazura began to search for a disabled speaker who was not so much a “superstar” as someone who had “lived a normal life” – someone who could understand the company, “address the issues globally”, and “work towards a common goal.” After coming across Celebrating Disability online, she watched a few of our videos and reached out to us to set up an initial consultation call. Upon speaking to Esi, she was quickly convinced that working together would be the right fit. She explained:

“Celebrating Disability were able to connect with the vision I was looking for.”

During Hazura and Esi’s first meeting, Hazura learnt that Celebrating Disability offers not only talks, but consultancy services as well. The idea of ongoing consultancy was appealing to Hazura and her team, because Biogen were committed to improving disability inclusion in the workplace in the long term. Hazura understood that shifting the company culture towards disability inclusion would require guidance over a period of time, and could not happen overnight:

“We couldn’t achieve it too quickly,” she said, “We had to do some groundwork to be able to get to that goal.”

Shortly after the meeting, we drew up a proposal which included two open conversations and ongoing consultancy hours. Hazura and her team were keen to proceed.

Disability Inclusion in the Workplace

“It was a complete package,” she said. “There was very little that I had to do. Esi said: “I understand your concept. I will propose something. I will run the show.”

Open conversations

We worked with Biogen to design and deliver two open conversations – one talk and one panel discussion – which we all agreed to call “Fireside Chats”.

Hazura was impressed by how much the open conversations “ignited a fire” in the Biogen team. She said: “They are feeling what I’m feeling: that we need to do this. This is our responsibility.”

In the first session, Esi shared her lived experience of disability and her own journey to empowerment, while explaining to the participants that every disabled person will have a different journey. She introduced the idea of disability disclosure, and the group discussed the benefits of self-identifying as disabled. The goal of the session was to create an environment of psychological safety, where the topic of disability could be freely discussed, and disabled employees would be reminded that they are not alone.

Once participants had an understanding of the issues around disability inclusion in the workplace, they were invited to formally share their experiences of being a disabled employee at Biogen in a second session.

The second session took the form of a facilitated panel discussion, called “What Inclusion Feels Like at Biogen.” Employees were encouraged to share their own thoughts and feelings about disability disclosure and what it means to self-identify as disabled in the workplace. The atmosphere was warm and interactive, with useful discussion about how line managers could best support disabled employees to feel included and accommodated in the workplace. There was also an interesting conversation about the “spoon theory”: an idea which describes the amount of energy that disabled or chronically ill people have available to complete daily tasks or activities.

Hazura described these open conversations as a “call to action.” Her colleagues at Biogen learned that “Disability inclusion is a journey. And when you have a journey, you understand that you’re not going to get that fast: you evolve over time.”

Ongoing consultancy

We also consulted with Biogen on ways they can measure their progress. This was critical for the company to develop a process of improving their approach to disability inclusion as this enabled them to create a benchmarking and measuring system.  This has supported them to track growth and spot weakness areas.

Hazura explained:

“Esi will come in, remember our journey to date, and help with the measuring process. Then we can benchmark and ask: have we moved to a better place?”

During these consultancy sessions, Esi “acts as a coach, laying out the guidance on where to go next.” This gives Hazura and her team a roadmap to implement changes at Biogen at their own pace, until they meet with Esi again to check in on their progress.

Key takeaways for Biogen

Biogen is left with a number of key takeaways:

  • Awareness of the benefits of disability disclosure in the workplace
  • Knowing how line managers can support disabled employees
  • Using a benchmarking system to measure process
  • Understanding that inclusion is an ongoing journey

Next Steps

Hazura insists that Biogen’s “disability inclusion journey is not over.” We are looking forward to working with the company again this September, as we deliver two more Fireside Chats, based around the theme of self-identifying in the workplace. Afterwards, we will be consulting with Biogen on their next steps.

Training sessions tailored to your needs

Designed around your specific goals and outcomes to empower disability inclusion

Designed and delivered with lived experience of disability

All trainers talk from a pan disability experience. We couple that with realistic recommendations for your workplace.

Immersive, interactive and outcome focused

Using a variety of engagement methods to encourage safe, open conversation

Resources to track your return on investment

Benchmarking and action plan tracking enabling you and your delegates to track progress

To discover how you can build disability awareness and confidence across your organisation, send us an enquiry or book an exploratory 45 minute call with Esi. We would love to discuss your goals, objectives and how Celebrating Disability can best support you and your team: hello@celebratingdisability.co.uk