By Glen Manners

Fleur Donnelly-Jackson achieved more than she could have hoped to on the International Day for Persons with Disabilities on 3 December 2020. She spoke at 3 separate events with audiences in the UK, France, Brazil and Russia. We placed Fleur in her role as Senior Disability Business Partner at the Disability Business Forum 11 months ago. I was delighted to catch up with her and learn about the impact she has made in her new role.

Tell us about the Business Disability Forum, and your role there?

Business Disability Forum is a not-for-profit membership organisation, with over 350+ Members and Partners. We exist to transform the life chances of disabled people, working through and with business to create a disability-smart world. We provide our members with a wealth of practical advice and support, thought leadership and networking opportunities so that they can share what works – and what doesn’t!

We bring business leaders, disabled people, and government together to understand what needs to change to improve the life opportunities and experiences of disabled people in employment, economic growth, and society more widely.

My role is as a Senior Business Disability Partner. I work with partners drawn from both the public and private sector, to provide them with tailored support and advice on their journey to become disability smart. I carry out Disability Smart Audits and consultancy such as recruitment or workplace adjustment reviews. I’m also invited to speak at awareness raising events, for example to employee disability networks, and chair the BDF Employment Taskforce.

How have you and the team found working remotely during this last year of being in and out of lockdown? Do you think this will change the way you work in the future?

Business Disability Forum as a disability charity already had flexible working arrangements in place, including some staff working from home, so the transition to home working during the first lockdown happened fairly smoothly. For me, joining just after the first lockdown started in 2020, it has been a new way of working. I have worked from home in a role in the past, but then I was not expected to use online platforms to stay in touch with my team. I suspect they hadn’t been rolled out then. One of the big and welcome changes for me has been not having to commute through London, and also having the company of my dog during the working day. In future I probably will continue to work from home, with possibly 1 or 2 days a week in the office.

It’s been 11 months since you secured the role there, what has been the highlight during that time?

I have really enjoyed being able to hit the ground running and being given large pieces of consultancy work to take on soon after joining. I’ve carried out several whole business Disability Smart Audits, and whilst they’re a big piece of work for all involved, it’s incredibly satisfying to be able to provide a business with a comprehensive report on how they are performing and where they may have areas of practice that they can look to improve. It feels like a substantial, rigorous report to hand over that you hope will be foundational to that organisation’s future plans on disability inclusion.

What are you most proud of during your time with BDF?

Business Disability Forum had to move it’s programme of in person events online due to the pandemic. As a result I’ve taken part in many more online video meetings than I ever anticipated. I’ve spoken at BDF network and taskforce meetings, presented to employee networks, and been invited to join panels of speakers for awareness raising days. On 3 December in 2020, which was International Day of Persons with Disabilities, I’m proud that without moving from my desk in my living room, I spoke at three events, with audiences based all around the world in the UK,  France, Brazil, and Russia. I also played a role in asking the Football Association to light up the arch at Wembley Stadium, purple to celebrate purple light up, on the same day. The whole day felt like a real achievement!

What is the biggest lesson you have learned along the way?

The biggest lesson for me is a growing confidence in the depth of my own expertise. Working across businesses from incredibly diverse sectors, means that I can spot trends, and apply experiences. When someone comes to me with a specific query I will have other examples to draw on, to advise them.

What has been the most challenging part of your role there? (and how have you overcome that?)

On occasion I have had to give critical or challenging advice to a member or partner about an aspect of their business or service, and about how it could be made more inclusive to disabled employees, or service users/ customers. It’s important to do so with tact to make sure that the trust in the relationship is maintained. My role is to be a critical friend and point out the pitfalls of a course of action, and also what the positive benefits are of making sure you have included disabled people. What carries me through these interactions, is the fact that I’m part of a wider team and we have a clear sense of mission, to improve the life opportunities and experiences of disabled people whether in employment or as customers/ service users of businesses and organsiations.

Finally, what are the team’s plans for the future?

There are a number of exciting projects in progress here at Business Disability Forum which will enable the organisation to continue to drive positive change across the membership we support.  We will be launching a new framework to help organisations measure and improve their disability inclusion performance, this will also see a number of resources developed to support this framework.

We have our first global symposium scheduled for April 2021 which will see us host a week of events for our global Members, the symposium will also see the launch of our global data research and our global workplace adjustment guidance.

We will also be carring out a significant research project this year exploring the experiences of disabled customers and helping businesses understand how to enhance the experience of disabled customers, a crucial piece of work aimed at supporting the retail and hospitality sector in its recovery from the impact of the pandemic.​