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Why Inclusion Matters to ME

Inclusion for all?

My eyes were opened to a different world on 10 August 2009. That was the day I gave birth to my youngest daughter Eloise.

Eloise has Downs Syndrome.

You could say that was the day my life changed forever. My life changed for the better.

Parenting a child with extra needs is a challenge – you never ever stop battling, and many parents are crushed by the responsibility, pressure, and ensuing stress.

But I’ve yet to meet a fellow 'special needs’ parent who doesn’t laugh, love, and live with that extra bit of something that comes from adversity, exclusion, and the absolute requirement to become resilient to all that life throws at them.

I often say that Downs’ is an easy disability to live with for me – because everyone can see that Eloise is different and they often make allowances based on what they see. Managing complex or hidden disabilities as a parent or carer is in my opinion far more difficult. During COVID my eldest daughter became very unwell and was subsequently diagnosed with autism. This is more of challenge for people to accept and understand, and we have faced more negativity, doubt, and exclusion from people over her condition than we have with Eloise.

Whilst judging a person based on how they look isn’t acceptable, and every single person has individual challenges, strengths and needs - I appreciate that people tend to approach Eloise with compassion and kindness and a willingness to help. She will very quickly let you know whether you’re in or out of favour, often brutal with her comebacks and rebuttals, which are however, always delivered with sass and good humour.

Two young people standing on top of a skate ramp smiling and posing, one has Downs Syndrome the other is autistic.
Eloise & her older sister.

Over the past 13 years I have advocated for Eloise to be included – at school and in society. There are times where we are excluded, and this disables us as a family and Eloise as an individual.

As she is becoming a more independent young person I have started to reflect on her future.

My experience in the world of work as someone who is different (I have ADHD) has been challenging at times and I have been excluded and discriminated against because of this. It doesn’t end there however – I am also female, and have found myself working in male dominated industries which have compounded my challenges. Add to that the fact I’m a single parent of two ‘different’ children, and I look out for my two elderly parents, my exclusion and need for flexibility is greater than most.

As and advocate for all people who are see themselves different I have heard time and time again stories from people who have been excluded and how this impacts them.

I’m lucky enough to work for myself – which allows me flexibility to manage my health and wellbeing around my caring responsibilities. I work with clients large and small – individuals and corporations, to help them to reach their potential.

I do this by working closely with them to establish their market position - creating strategies to differentiate them from their competition by identifying, developing and capitalising on their strengths, and helping them to see things from a different perspective.

One of my clients who I’m happy to also be able to call a friend and mentor, is the CEO of an AIM listed wealth management business. One day during one of our catch-up sessions he said to me “Anna – I’m really struggling with this whole focus on diversity and understanding what I can and can’t say. When I’m in meetings or doing City presentations I dread questions relating to diversity.”

Two people - a man and a woman - in front of a Mattioli Woods red backdrop, with two microphones recording an interview. They are both laughing.
Anna & Ian Mattioli in conversation

We went on to discuss the issues and how his fear of saying the wrong thing actually meant he was saying nothing for fear of getting it ‘wrong’. I know this man is kind and compassionate, but he’s also an ‘old school’ leader in a male dominated sector who hasn’t always been afforded the time, space and opportunity to discuss difficult topics which relate to diversity. And, as a founder and leader there is often nowhere to turn for guidance. And leaders are – whether we like it or not, the key to creating inclusive organisational cultures as their example sets the tone for all employees and wider stakeholders.

Together we worked on some ideas which lead me to imagine a future where senior leaders had a place to discuss difficult topics and ask fear-inducing questions. Being able to do this without fear of reprisal, offence or being cancelled and where both personal and brand reputation could remain intact and ultimately be enhanced.

But where and how? I researched EDI consultancies, coaches and influencers. And whilst help and answers are out there if we look hard enough, there is no real single point which educates, informs and inspires Leaders (and all those people who aspire to be more inclusive) to explore their understanding or lack thereof of exclusion, inclusion, diversity, equality and equity.

I realised that I have the opportunity to combine my skills, and my purpose to facilitate big bold conversations that change the world of work.

I believe that the world of work should include everybody. I believe Eloise has a part to play, and that she, and every single other person who has been excluded has value and skills which if identified and nurtured can add value to an organisation.

Ensuring that the world of work includes everybody is the responsibility of our business leaders.

Most of us as some point in our lives have been, or felt, excluded.

From that feeling of exclusion comes our ability to empathise, to draw upon those lived experiences to ensure that others do not feel excluded because of our actions or words.

At our highest commonality we are all human, the world is desperate for more compassionate and openminded (and hearted) leadership. Being open to sharing our experiences, and fearlessly having Big Bold Conversations will change the world of work.

I want to create safe spaces where we remove our ego’s and our unconscious, subconscious and obvious biases and talk. With candour, empathy, humility, and strength about what divides us and what unites us.

My vision is that together we facilitate a future where Eloise and every single person who has felt excluded because they are ‘different’ can undertake paid work, as a valued and contributing member of society. For every person who thinks the world of work is not for them and for every leader who doesn’t know where to start, if we work together we can make a difference.


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