An interview with Liz Dawes, Trust Officer at City Disabilities

This originally appeared on The Careers Group Law Blog

City Disabilities is a charity set up to provide support and advice for students and professionals with disabilities, as well as employers. We caught up with their Trust Officer Liz Dawes to find out more about the Charity and get her advice for students.

Can you tell us a bit about your own background and career, and City Disabilities?

I studied Law at Oxford, and then went into private practice, where I met and worked with our trustee, Robert Hunter. I then moved in-house and worked for a number of banks and asset managers, ending up as Deputy General Counsel. When I decided to pursue a different career, Robert contacted me and offered me a job with City Disabilities. City Disabilities is a charity set up by Robert, Kayleigh Farmer and Kate Rees-Doherty. We offer a free mentoring service to students with disabilities entering professions in London, and to professionals with disabilities who already work here. We also work with employers to develop best practice in enabling staff with disabilities to do their jobs.

Some students with disabilities are hesitant about declaring this on their applications or at interviews. What advice would you offer these students?

There is no “one size fits all” answer to this question. Some employers will do all they can to make adjustments in the selection process so they can fairly assess all candidates. They genuinely do want to find the best person for the job, and to enable them to work as any other employee would. If you know you are talking to one of those employers, then disclosure will undoubtedly be helpful. Other employers are not so forward thinking, and disclosing to them may do more harm than good. You also have to consider that some disabilities are easier to hide than others, and some candidates find the strain of hiding them more wearing than others. It’s a personal decision affected by a number of factors. For a more detailed answer you can read my weekly round-up for City Disabilities where we discuss exactly this point in greater detail.

In your experience are the majority of firms committed to increasing the number of students with disabilities they hire, or do some position themselves as disability friendly to appear politically correct or comply with legislation?

In our experience the majority of firms are committed to increasing the number of disabled students with disabilities that they hire. Their motivation for doing so is, however, varied. Some do it because they want to appear disability friendly, but the experience of working for them is very mixed. Some do it because they feel they ought to, and don’t want to get left behind. But in reality their attitudes are slow to change, and unless the drive to be inclusive for the right reasons comes from the top, little will improve. And some do it because they are looking for the best candidates, and are well aware that without being inclusive, they will miss out on valuable talent.

Given the competition among firms to attract and retain the best talent, do you think proactively recruiting more students with disabilities can help firms meet their hiring targets and stay ahead of the competition?

Yes it can help. We know that employees with disabilities, who are treated properly, are more loyal, and just as productive, as other staff. They have faced additional challenges to compete for these jobs, showing exactly the tenacity, determination and commitment that many firms say they are looking for. And we also know that innovation and progress – in any profession – rarely come from a room full of people who are all the same.

What examples of “best practice” have you come across, in terms of firms offering support to applicants and staff with disabilities?

Firms have started to hire palantypists for deaf lawyers, which is a good step forwards. The use of other support staff to help, for example, a lawyer with dyslexia to organise their workload, can also be very helpful in reducing stress. Newer buildings tend to be far more accessible to wheelchair users, and offers of alternative transport to work, such as taxis, has improved the working lives of employees with mobility issues. Flexible working can also be very useful for a variety of conditions, and the use of technology such as Skype means that those who struggle to commute need not do so as often as previously required. A great deal can be done with fairly simple technology and support, much of which already exists. The real difference, however, is made in training all staff to understand different disabilities, and to think about how they treat colleagues, as well as how they can enable them to do their jobs. Employers whose inclusivity policy has real teeth, and who have given authority and influence to the staff who are employed to enforce it, are the ones who are making a real difference.

Where would you direct students with disabilities who are looking for support or advice during the application and interview process?

Try to find a way to speak to employees with disabilities who work for the firms you are applying to. Speak to alumni, friends, family, charities and disability awareness groups – anyone you can find who might know a professional with a disability who works for your chosen employer. Only by talking to people who work on the shop floor can you get a feel for what it will really be like to work there. You could start with the Law Society’s Lawyers with Disabilities Division. Also, get in touch with City Disabilities. We have lots of mentors with disabilities who are lawyers in the City and who can give you an idea of what firms might suit you best.

Paid Arts & Media Internships

woman at window - public domainWe’ve recently added a large number of paid internships in the arts and media sectors aimed at different groups who face barriers to employment.

Extend is a BBC-wide placement scheme which offers appropriately experienced and/or qualified disabled people a great opportunity to gain six months paid work within the BBC.

You can find all the current vacancies on JobOnline and can learn more about the scheme on the BBC website. The deadlines for these roles are this Sunday, 10 May so check them out now.

The Weston Jerwood Creative Bursaries programme has paid internships for recent graduates not in a financial position to do unpaid arts internships. These include positions at festivals, galleries, with other roles available in communications, events and digital.

We have a number of these vacancies currently listed on JobOnline and you can find role details and deadlines for them on the Reach Calendar. More information on the programme, including eligibility, can be found on the Jerwood Charitable Foundation website.


Finding disability-friendly employers

Researching employers is a great way to help find out which company would be a good fit for you to work in. Finding supportive environments through targeted research can provide a good demonstrator of employers’ attitude to their employees in general and their corporate social responsibility aims.

Employer directories and reviews

There are a few employer rating sites around that can help inform you about the company culture.

TARGETjobs’ Inside Buzz  covers a limited number of employers but each has a rating based on answers to “How would you describe your firm’s commitment to diversity?”

Glassdoor  and The JobCrowd  are other such sites. These don’t have a specific rating for diversity information but sometimes equal opportunities issues are discussed in the reviews themselves.

Disability-specific resources

Our sponsor EmployAbility has worked with many leading blue-chip as well as public sector organisations, and match talented students and graduates to these prestigious disability-inclusive employers.

Great with disability has detailed information on how its listed employers approach disability along with case studies from disabled employees

Business Disability Forum’s list of disability-smart organisations can be downloaded from their website

Even Break advertises vacancies from employers who value diversity and are serious about looking beyond candidates’ impairments to identify what skills they have to offer.

The Employers’ own content

A clear way to see if an employer is disability friendly is if they use the “two ticks” symbol on their website and other materials to show they’re “positive about disabled people”. To get permission to use the symbol the employer needs to fulfill five commitments including guaranteeing an interview for any disabled applicant who meets the minimum criteria for the job.

Employers who are positive about mental health may also participate in the Mindful Employer charter. This isn’t accredited like the “two ticks” symbol so employers may claim more than they can prove but it is a pledge showing commitment to being positive about mental health so is useful in showing commitment to working towards best practice for their disabled employees.

Websites, recruitment publications and annual reports can also tell you a lot about employer attitudes. When doing your research, ask yourself the following questions:

  • Do they have specific information on diversity / disabilities in their recruitment information online?
  • Do they include any disabled staff in their employee profiles?
  • What do they say about diversity and inclusion?
  • Do they have a named contact in their HR Department for queries around disabilities / disclosure?
  • Are there networking groups for disabled staff?
  • What kind of language do they use when writing about disability?

Sometimes the messages can be subtle but it all adds up to creating an image of the employer. Being able to speak to individuals you find through employee profiles or named HR contacts will give you an even clearer picture.

Further Reading

The “Disability and Mental Health: Diversity Matters” section of the TARGETjobs website provides further useful tips on this topic…

LGBT inclusion in the Global Workplace

As businesses compete for talent, expand into new markets and accelerate innovation, diversity and inclusiveness is a source of competitive advantage.

Research shows that when organizations take steps to create a supportive work environment for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) employees, they achieve better business results.

To further explore this topic, EY will be hosting a webcast about the potential they hope to achieve as an organisation through LGBT inclusion at work and the practical steps that global companies more generally are taking to “make it real.”

This hour long discussion will take place on Thursday, 7 May 2015
at 11:00 a.m. For more information and to register, please visit the EY website

Enterprise: Is it different for girls?

An interesting post from our enterprise colleagues

Women-led enterprises contribute around £70 billion to the economy, but women are half as likely as men to be entrepreneurs. Last month, the Burt Report Inclusive Support for Women in Enterprise was published, outlining ways in which government can support women into business. Why is enterprise different for girls?

The Statistics

  • 19% of small and medium sized enterprises (SMEs) are majority-led by women (either run by a woman or have a management team that is over 50% women).
  • 49% of SMEs are entirely led by men.
  • In 2012 6.3% of working age women involved in entrepreneurial activity compared with 11.6% of men.
  • Despite the increase in self-employment among women (last year 70% of new self-employed were women) women’s businesses are likely to get less support and are less likely to survive.

Different motivation for starting a business

Women express different motivations to starting a business than men. According to research, women are attracted to starting a business that will fit around their family commitments. Men are more likely to be motivated by money and look for self-employment opportunities when they are made redundant. Women, and younger women in particular, are more likely to start a social enterprise.

Different Types of Business

Businesses led by women on average are likely to be smaller and be in specific sectors; generally women-led businesses are overrepresented in the service sector. The BIS Small Business Survey in 2012 found that women tend to stick with what they are familiar with and start businesses in sectors they had already worked or studied in. There is also a trend for women to transition a hobby to a business. Interestingly, women’s businesses may have greater job-creation potential than men’s because they tend to be more labour-intensive.

What are the barriers?

The Women’s Business Council, set up to advise government on how women’s contribution to growth can be optimised, identified three main barriers for women starting a business.

  • Finance Women perceive access to finance as a barrier to starting and are less likely to use external finance However, those that did apply were more successful in getting funding than male led SMEs. Women may be more averse to getting in to debt than men. In business performance, there is no difference between women and men, but women-led enterprises generally start with lower levels of resources.
  • Lack of skills Women are less likely than men to think they have the skills needed to start a business. Research in 2011 showed 45% of men believed they had the skills they needed to start their own business compared with 29% of women.
  • Fear of failure Women are more likely to be put off starting up their own enterprise because they are afraid of failure.


 Why should more women be supported into business?

Aside from the financial contribution to the economy, the EY Report, Time for Diversity recognised the different skills that women bring to the workplace. Women have strong listening skills, greater levels of empathy and patience and are willing to understand the perspectives of others when making decisions. They are also more inclined to take a longer-term view of the business and be interested in issues such as sustainability and developing talent.

What support is available?

There is an array of support available to support women into business from networks, government advice and organisations to online resources. Here are a few. this is a huge online resource which includes links to information on skills, finance, funding and networks and includes a section specifically aimed at women entrepreneurs. My Business Support Tool is an online tool providing tailored information on sources of funding and guidance for wherever you are in your business cycle. This is a British Library IP and Business Centre partner providing training, resources and support services for women in business A community for women who want to start a business, or grow an existing business


Mentors can be invaluable guides and a source of useful contacts. There are many mentorship programmes that women entrepreneurs can access across the UK. List of business mentoring organisations across Britain. Support for anyone starting or running a social enterprise. Mentoring for entrepreneurs aged 50+. Find a mentor using this web-based networking community.

Networks East London Creative Business Women’s Network

All the Techie ladies

Here is a good news story, it shows that positive change is possible and it needn’t even take that long. Technology has long been a male dominated environment, but they have also been an industry that has been one of the most proactive in taking action to remedy the dire previous gender split, and are now reaping the benefits. It is also worth celebrating, as this progressive industry is also a fast growing sector which means the changes are here to stay and likely to benefit a wider number of people as time goes on

Keep up the good work IT world, we salute you (virtually of course)

International Women’s Day

Did you know International Women’s Day was yesterday? Well there were a number of interesting and engaging events taking place, highlighting serious issues affecting women across the world.

This was to encourage men to consider the world through new eyes, whilst challenging the norm.

It was a good opportunity to highlight serious issues affecting women across the world

It seems everyone had something to say…even Glamour magazine

In order for positive affirmation to have widespread support we need to be the change we want to see. This means challenging a stereotype, a way of working, a jokey comment that is never just a joke, pushing the glass ceiling, challenging unfair pay. This is something that both genders can do. As Professor Michael Luck, Dean of Natural and Mathematical Sciences said when asked yesterday why he was chairing an International Women’s Day panel, ‘this is not a women’s issue, there is a cultural shift that requires all of us be involved and support it’. From mentoring, to supporting careers breaks to raise a family, to flexible working, there are a number of things both genders can do to adopt a positive mindset and move things forward.

Ticking the Diversity box

Our last post focussed on the lack of diversity seen during awards season, and this is really a follow on from that, looking at current media and the small screen and whether the shows we are presented with represent the diverse societies in which we live.

Channel 4, in particular, have launched a Diversity Charter to ensure their leading roles reflect new diversity targets and represent a wider breadth of differences including; ethnicity, gender, sexuality and disability.

But does a tick box approach work, particularly when it is linked to pay? Channel 4 Chief Executive David Abraham said the targets, backed by a new £5m investment, had legal backing – “It is positive action, not positive discrimination”.

And whilst there may be disagreements about a target heavy approach to representing diversity , Channel 4 have, at the very least, thrust the issue into the spotlight. With the BBC and Sky pledging their own initiatives to tackle the lack of diversity on (and behind) our screens we are already starting to see the inclusion of fresh new shows ‘ticking the box’.

These following Channel 4 shows have all ‘ticked the box’;

Yes – Cucumber: Drama exploring the heartbreak and joy of modern gay life

banana and cucumber--(None)_A2

Yes – The Last Leg: Comedy series Celebrating inclusivity, equality and diversity

Last leg

Yes – Indian Summers:  Epic drama where India dreams of independence, but the British are clinging to power

Indian Summers

For further information take a look at The Independent’s article.

Increased job opportunities for marginalised groups are one outcome of these initiatives – but more diversity on our screens could have a wider impact – filtering through into an increasingly diverse workforce across sectors. Watch this space (literally!).

Image Copyright: Fair Use

Awards Season and Diversity


Hollywood sign by Florian Klauer - public domain

Awards season is upon us with all its glitz and glamour.

But amongst the sequins, plunging necklines and star studded selfies, has emerged a more serious issue; that of the lack of diversity in British filmmaking.

In an article for the Independent, Chris Bryant, shadow minister for the arts described the almost complete absence of black actors and directors at the top of the industry as an ‘insulting throwback to a bygone era’.

Worryingly, according to the Taking Part survey, there is a 10% gap between white, and black and ethnic minority participation in the arts , which shows an under-representation in this industry more widely.

Does this impact you as students or recent graduates looking to break into the creative fields?

Be sure to take a look at our events calendar available via the Reach website as we often advertise schemes, internships and events that can help you with your initial steps.