Given the right conditions, we can all thrive

30 March 2021

Marking the start of World Autism Awareness Week, we look at how Leonardo’s new Enable network group is working with the company’s senior leadership to overcome adversity and improve the experiences of all ability groups within the workplace

According to Government figures published in 2020, 19% of working age adults in the UK have a reported disability. Leonardo values the talent that people with a disability bring and is committed to enabling everyone to succeed. To support that aim, Leonardo has established a new network group, Enable, to drive positive change across the UK business, providing a welcoming and supportive working environment for all. Enable will focus on how to best support staff with a disability, both visible and non-visible, and our neurodiverse colleagues.

We spoke to the new Chair and Vice-Chairs of Enable to get their views on why they are leading this activity.

“I have two fantastic sons with additional needs,” says Wayne Breaker-rolfe, the Chair of Enable and a Programme Manager at Leonardo. “In the future, I want my children to work in an environment that respects, nurtures and champions all abilities, which is why I chose to support the Enable group. The goal is to improve the environment, communication and prospects of every employee of Leonardo – both prospective and current – with additional needs, and to bring change within the company to support our workforce.”

Jo Meek, one of Enable’s two Vice-Chairs, explains that she has had epilepsy from the age of 14, but it is only in the past year that she’s had the confidence to talk openly to colleagues about it.

“I’ve been with the company for 26 years, during which time there have been occasions when although people have tried to support me, they’ve not known how to. I’ve now got the confidence to talk about it, although it has surprised some of my colleagues who were unaware of my epilepsy. Therefore, I want other people to have the confidence that when they’re working within or joining Leonardo, they are assured the support is there when and if they need it; not just for epilepsy, but for any disability or hidden disability.”

Ensuring managers are well-equipped is also essential, adds Jo. “Giving them information makes them feel more confident when employing new starters. There’s a lot to be gained for everybody through understanding and support, which can come in and out the workplace.”

Her fellow Vice-Chair, Bethany Colburn, a Support Engineer based in Yeovil, echoes this. “We all have different abilities, and these change all the time as we experience and navigate our lives. By creating an accepting environment and facilities that enable, we can all succeed and enlighten each other.”

Bethany has not let her cerebral palsy stop her pursuing various high octane activities, and is determined to open doors for everyone. “We all choose what we use; some use diaries to help with dates, phones to help communicate, wheelchairs to help navigate, stimming to help with sensory input and colours to help control. These are tools of life. Let’s make sure that everyone has what they need to succeed.

“I can’t run, but I can bungee jump and my wheelchair doesn’t stop me wing walking. We can all challenge perceptions, adapt and overcome.”

As part of its activities, Enable is encouraging people across Leonardo UK to create their own ‘Taskmaster’ sensory challenge within the comfort of their home, whereby they can stop and think about how they feel, for example, when a TV, radio, laptop and smart speaker are all switched on and transmitting information simultaneously. “It would give them the opportunity to try sensory overload and see how they would cope, especially with the working from home situation,” adds Bethany.

Disability Confident Committed logoIn line with the establishment of Enable, its Executive Sponsor, Olly Manning, has signed Leonardo up to the Disability Confident scheme.

"Leonardo is committed to the benefit of true diversity and inclusion within the workplace to ensure that all people living with disability and neuro-diversity are able to work with the dignity and support that allows them to flourish in our organisation. To demonstrate our commitment to this goal we are very keen to seek the external certification of our culture, behaviours, processes and procedures to deliver our vision and principles of the Enable Network Group. The core focus of seeking to achieve the DCC is to have the certification validate the changes we need to make to achieve our vision, as opposed to be a framework that seek to get a tick in the box from," explains Olly, who is VP Mission Systems at Leonardo UK.

“Throughout my life I’ve been surrounded by family members and friends who would be termed as ‘living with a disability’ in some form, due to the physical and / or psychological aspects of their lives. I’ve also been very fortunate to work and engage with a broad spectrum of people from across the world in the delivery of programmes and initiatives during my 20-year career in Leonardo.”

Olly says Enable’s aspirations “really resonated” with him, which is why he put himself forward to try and help. “My main commitment as the Exec Sponsor of Enable is to ensure we drive awareness, provide support and facilitate change into the work environment and working practices to ensure a fully inclusive, accessible and safe working environment for all employees.

“I have been hugely impressed by the level of support on offer, and at times touched by the emotional stories of my colleagues who have detailed some of the challenges they face on a regular basis. Enable’s pledge is to offer support and to be the voice for the neurodiverse community within our current and future Leonardo workforce.”

Looking ahead, Head of Inclusion & Diversity at Leonardo UK, Nerys Thomas, hopes the new approach will create new opportunities: “A key part of our I&D strategy is doing more to support our current employees, and working with Enable to attract more applications from people with disabilities, so they know, when applying for roles at Leonardo, that they’re in safe hands when they come through the door.”