Enabling global change
Enable, our vision and strategy to raise awareness of visible and non-visible disabilities, the diversity of working needs, and to debunk the myths and stigmas surrounding the term ‘disability’, has evolved significantly.
Co-chair of Enable Ashika Patel and Translation Services Officer Teresa Reja explain why the work Enable is delivering is important to them and the firm.
Enable is our global affinity network which aims to create the right culture and environment for colleagues with a disability (visible or non-visible, including mental health), long-term injury or condition, or who simply require a workplace adjustment, to thrive, providing a safe, inclusive and open environment for them to talk about their lived experience.
Having started life as the UK Disability Action Group in 2019, the network rebranded as Enable in December 2020 and has since gone from strength to strength, with chapters being launched in Asia Pacific, Americas, Amsterdam and Spain. In just over two years, it has grown from a small group of individuals in the UK to a global network providing education and support worldwide.
Its strategy comprises four pillars: raising awareness, career development and opportunities, workplace adjustments and engagement. Over the last year, Enable has leveraged its partnership with disabled networking and professional development hub PurpleSpace to help the firm understand colleagues’ lived experience and to reposition its focus areas to help drive disability inclusion.
One of the key areas of focus – and at the heart of Enable’s strategy – is creating a safe space for colleagues to share their experiences, as Co-chair of Enable Ashika Patel explains.
“At Clifford Chance, we want to let people play to their strengths and that means creating the right culture and environment for them to succeed,” she says. “Enable provides the building blocks for us to continue to build disability confidence from the inside out. “So as part of our global strategy, we’ve been focused on understanding our colleagues’ lived experience and ensuring they are supported. To help us achieve that, we’ve led the most successful internal story campaign – Enable: My Lived Experience – which has successfully raised awareness of visible and non-visible disabilities and the diversity of working needs across our organisation.”
The storytelling campaign features people across the firm talking about their experience and what it means for them in their dayto-day role at Clifford Chance, and, more recently, has been launched externally as part of our 2021 #PurpleLightUp campaign. Translation Services Officer Teresa Reja, who is the Madrid office’s Enable champion, was instantly inspired when she heard of the campaign and contacted the network immediately to share her story.
“It took me around three seconds to get in touch,” she says. “A few colleagues in Madrid are aware of my story, but I really wanted to share it with the wider world and open people’s minds to the experience of living with disability.
“In my case, it is my son Alejandro who was born with Down’s Syndrome and suffers a long list of related issues including hypotonia, postural problems and speaking difficulties. Unless you’re living through it, you can’t really understand how challenging it is. Enable offered me the right place to share this at the right time for me.
The reaction I got from people around the firm was amazing – I got so many positive comments and emails, which was something I really needed so I’m delighted I got involved.”
Ashika explains listening has been a key theme for the network from the beginning.
“We started the network to listen to the lived experiences of our colleagues and drive positive change. We realised following some of our initial conversations with colleagues that there are many experiencing challenges on a day-to-day basis we never get to hear about and therefore are not able to provide the right adjustments to allow them to succeed.
“We are still on a journey, but the network has allowed us to change that for the better and start to address the processes and controls we have in place to support persons with disabilities. Even after the rebrand, listening and understanding remain key.”
According to Teresa, there is still a lot of work to be done to change people’s mindset and attitudes towards persons with disabilities.
“Alongside colleagues from other firms, we are working with the legal-economic Foundation Fide in Spain,” she says. “This includes reverse mentoring university students with disabilities who are attending to a two-year course in ‘Law assistance’. Through this work, we are gaining an insight into how persons with disabilities are treated, which is often with too much sensitivity when they just want to be treated as normal. At the same time, this is also helping raise awareness among our colleagues.
That’s why it’s so important people come forward and share their experiences through Enable. We can only gain a deeper understanding through listening and becoming more aware.”
Judging by the reaction internally, there is a real appetite throughout the firm to learn and understand more.
“Interest in the My Lived Experience initiative ballooned over the last year,” says Ashika. “And the feedback has been incredibly positive. For me, one of the most heartening things to come out of this is that we made a space in which colleagues felt comfortable enough to share and some have since contacted us with their personal stories that they’ve never shared before, including getting diagnosis.”
The campaign’s internal success has given the network the confidence to make further external commitments too. That includes joining #WeThe15, a global human rights campaign to raise awareness of the 15% of the world population (around 1.2 billion people) with a disability. This has allowed us to leverage the relationships we have with the International Paralympic Committee and Invictus Games, both of which are managed by James Cranston of our Sports Industry Group, and our partnership with The Valuable 500.
“We’ve also had several clients reach out to us to see how they can collaborate with us,” adds Ashika. “Over the coming months, we will be increasing our external focus because, if we can gain some influence in society through further partnerships, we have a great opportunity to have a real positive impact in this space. We’re still on a journey, but our commitment to disability inclusion is ongoing: a permanent campaign.”
Teresa is also enthusiastic about what the future holds for Enable and is hoping her experience can inspire others to get involved.
“We’ll be working with the global Enable network and hope to collaborate with other institutions to make society more inclusive,” she says. “My personal view is that sharing your experiences in a way that is comfortable for you has an enormous benefit to those around you and beyond, allowing them to understand what you experience on a day-to-day basis and things they can do to support you. If we want our society or our workplace to be a place where everyone can thrive, then we all have an important role in making that happen.”