The Q&A: Five minutes with – Mike Adams

Mike Adams is the Institute of Director’s Disability Employment Director of the Year and chief executive of Purple

LEAD You won the IoD’s Disability Employment Director of the Year Award. How did this feel?

MA This award is recognition of the work we’re doing to lead a national conversation around the value disabled people can add to business. I am thrilled the IoD has chosen to introduce a dedicated disability award. When we celebrate disabled professionals we show society what is possible. However, to truly change the conversation we need more leaders to follow in the IoD’s footsteps. I’d love to see even more nominees next year and hope your readers will consider entering.

LEAD How did you find your way to becoming CEO of Purple?

MA I went to a specialist school from the age of six months, which enabled me to have a good education and transition into a mainstream sixth form where I studied economics and geography. I’ve always wanted to be a business leader but a careers advisor told me I couldn’t do a business studies degree as it would involve placements and no one would take me. I ended up studying economics, but I was still determined to forge a career in business. After graduation I stayed on at Coventry University as Disability Officer, before leading the National Disability Team to support universities on their accessibility journeys. I then decided to take a part-time MBA, and on completion got a job as Director of Operations for the Disability Rights Commission. This then led me to the Essex Coalition for Disabled People, which became Purple last year.

“When we celebrate disabled people, we show society just what is possible”

LEAD What is it that Purple does?

MA First and foremost we are a champion for the value disabled people can bring to business and society. We provide a specialist recruitment agency to help disabled people find jobs, and support organisations to become better employers and to achieve the government’s Disability Con dent accreditation through training and consultancy. Our goal is to support 20,000 disabled people to find permanent jobs by 2020.

LEAD Have you ever felt held back in your career due to prejudice?

MA After graduating I went for an interview with a well-known retailer.

I was in the interview for 90 seconds when the Chair said there was no point carrying on because they were not going to choose me, before saying, “you must be used to disappointments!” It’s just an anecdote now, but we know disabled people still face similar struggles.

LEAD What are some of the key issues disabled people face re access at work?

MA There’s a wide range of issues, but two key themes are awareness and fear. Employers aren’t always aware of the physical and emotional needs of disabled employees and the support available through government such as Access to Work, which provides financial support for any reasonable workplace adjustments. But we also need to give people the confidence to have conversations around disability without fear of causing (usually unintentional) offence. Finally, from the perspective of disabled employees, there can be issues with confidence following the kind of rejection I experienced with the retailer.

LEAD What is needed to create a more level playing field for disabled people?

MA Simple – see us as people first! Disabled people want opportunity not labels. But this isn’t just about jobs, it’s about all aspects of life. For example, the collective spending power of disabled households is worth £249bn to the UK economy, yet three in four disabled customers have experienced poor customer service. The more we see people with disabilities in influential roles and in the media, the more we reinforce the fact that we are valuable members of society with a lot to offer.

This article first appeared in the Winter 2018 issue of LEAD.