I joined the Civil Service Fast Stream aged 38 after 15 years spent teaching in comprehensive schools. I lost my hearing in my late 20s and whilst I battled on in the classroom, my employer did not go out of their way to include or develop me. I felt I was treated as a liability rather than an asset.
Deciding to leave the teaching profession was a huge decision for me. I have a young family and a mortgage, alongside my deafness and problems with my health. For some months after leaving the classroom I thought I may never work again. I had applied to the Fast Stream the day after leaving school, because I’d read how it was an employer who judged you on what you can do, rather than what you cannot. The application process was quite long (it has got shorter) but the further I got the more confident I felt. The application team worked with me to arrange reasonable adjustments so I could join the process as an equal, and this sense of inclusion made me realise that the Civil Service was the employer for me.
Upon joining the Home Office, the diversity team were helpful in ensuring that I had access to the support I needed to do my job. However, it is also important as a disabled person that you are proactive. I produced a handout for my team explaining how best to communicate with me, as it is unreasonable to expect everyone I meet to automatically know the best approach. I think that ‘fitting in’ will only really happen if you are prepared to open up and tell people what you need.
I’ve found the Civil Service to be an amazingly diverse place that really does value difference – but being diverse isn’t enough, the organisation has to be inclusive too. Diversity is about getting a mix, inclusion is about getting the mix to work. Inclusion is about all of us and I think that whilst we have a responsibility to each other to be inclusive, some of it is also about how we believe we fit into the organisation.
"‘...fitting in’ will only really happen if you are prepared to open up and tell people what you need."
After a year in the Civil Service, I’m starting to feel a bit more comfortable being me. The Civil Service has shown me that I am valued, that I can achieve and that it’s right to have high aspirations regardless of any disability I might have.
The Civil Service also recognises the importance of being a diverse organisation. Not just because it’s got a moral obligation to be diverse, but because it’s important to draw on views from people who think differently. Disabled people are amongst the most resilient and entrepreneurial people I’ve met – they have to be to get on in life. It makes good business sense for the Civil Service to welcome them, because those staff will think 'outside the box' and come up with solutions to problems that others might miss.
By being proactive and proud of my differences, I have been involved in the most stretching and engaging work imaginable. During my time on the Fast Stream I have represented the Cabinet Office at events helping employers to recruit disabled people; attended meetings on social mobility with Permanent Secretaries; and become the communication lead for an entire cross-government support network. This is in addition to my day job, where I offer strategic HR support to a core directorate of Border Force.
My advice is to seize the day. The Fast Stream, Early Diversity Internship Programme (EDIP) and Summer Diversity Internship Programme (SDIP) offer fantastic opportunities for those who want to make a difference, regardless of their background or disabilities.
Have confidence in yourself, because you are welcome. The Civil Service is looking for people like us precisely because we are different. Be proud of those differences and use them as a tool to teach others how to overcome adversity.