Disability leaders forge their own pathways

Monday, 06 February 2023


    In pic above, Joshua J Morley.

    Scholarships for people with disability were awarded for the first time last year under a new program launched by the AICD, in partnership with Australian Network on Disability and the Australian Scholarships Foundation, with funding from the Australian Government Department of Social Services. Those who received the scholarships hail from all over Australia, from Perth to Sydney and beyond. They have unique stories to tell and a handful of recipients here outline how the AICD board courses they are completing will help them in their governance journeys. Applications are now open for the 2023 round of the Disability Leadership Program. One hundred scholarships are available and applications close on 26 February. Click this link here to apply now.

    Perth-based Joshua Morley MAICD, whose hobbies include blacksmithing and Chilli farming, has his finger on the pulse of innovation in his role as  the Australian National Lead Director for the Internet of Things (IoT) and Digital Twins.

    The neurodiverse 29-year-old scholarship winner hopes to obtain from the Company Directors Course (CDC) a deeper understanding of finance, risk and governance from the perspective of a director and also build connections with other directors.

    “Ever since receiving the scholarship and posting a portion of my story online, I have received a huge amount of support and contact from people who were touched by my story, related to the story or had relief after hearing that somebody with these disabilities could go on to live happy, independent and very successful lives,” he told the AICD in an interview.

    This year and beyond, Morley wants to continue along his present path, serving the community as a board member of non-profit organisations as well as an advisory board member for innovative start-ups that catch his eye or serving as NED for organisations evolving their technology and diversity capabilities. He is also President Elect at Rotary of Elizabeth Quay and Executive Board Member at Rotary Means Business WA, and has just joined Crosslinks Disability Services as an honorary NED until he is sworn in as a board member at Crosslinks' AGM this year.

    Morley says the biggest barrier to career progression for people with disability is working with or for other people who have inflexible expectations. “Despite being a high performer, I have had to deal with discrimination a number of times throughout my career …"

    Morley believes the Disability Leadership Program shines a light on some incredibly successful, talented, and insightful people. “It is showing the world that a disability and a different approach to working doesn’t make us lazy or incapable.”

    “It makes us different. For so long, we have embraced and been pushing for diversity in the workplace and neurodiversity and diverse ability should be the same. I think the program can help society by continuing to highlight these incredible people, what they’ve overcome and what they have achieved, to build confidence in people with differing abilities and to give inspiration and hope to those earlier on the path, or with a loved one going through the journey.”

    Governance to address inequality

    Dubbo-based Wiradjuri man Cody Jones AAICD has worked since 2019 as a Local Area Coordinator for NSW social justice organisation Social Futures.

    The 26-year-old lives with a disability called central hypotonia. Through studying the CDC, he hopes to learn as much as possible and use that knowledge to help people.

    “Governance is a major component to addressing inequality and inaccessibility within the broader community and good governance starts with having people in the room who have lived experience of disability,” he told the AICD.

    “I want to use this scholarship to support myself to enhance my leadership skills, which in turn will support my community. People with disabilities are people first and by having this opportunity it means I am able to help others like me to achieve their potential and remove the barriers that individuals, organisations and society in general place on people with disabilities. 

    “It will also help me have conversations with businesses and the broader community about the true meaning of inclusion and accessibility.”

    He believes people with disability can be self-critical and face self-doubt, but he urges them to apply for the scholarship anyway. “Believe in yourself and go for it. I had serious doubts about applying for the program or putting my hand up and stepping into a leadership role. I questioned myself and if I had enough experience to take on a leadership role. 

    “But what I’ve discovered is we are our own worst critics. On a daily basis, I am already doing risk management, strategic planning and coordination in my own personal life and these are the same skills that allow me to take on leadership roles including on boards.” 

    The biggest barrier he has seen is community expectations. “It is still sadly a view held by some that people with disabilities cannot work or if they can then they are not suitable for leadership positions.” Other barriers come from not knowing what support is available through to challenges around organising suitable working conditions and flexibility.

    What he most enjoyed in studying the CDC was learning about risk management and strategic planning and how boards can take acceptable risks and manage risk factors for a positive outcome.

    Jones believes the scholarship program gives people with disabilities who want to make a difference an opportunity to engage in personal growth and skills and the knowledge they need to make a positive impact in our communities. 

    “I think this is a great area of growth for companies and boards to become more inclusive and accepting of people regardless of their differences or challenges.  It is very much about focusing on the strengths that the person has and how these can outweigh any challenges or barriers they are facing.

    “It is helping to create conversations about accessibility and inclusion of everyone regardless of their differences. It is helping people with disabilities to rise up to the challenges facing our generation and to answer the call when it comes to advocating for a better and fairer society.”

    Leaders with disability offer unique views

    The world needs more leaders with disability, according to Lillian Leigh MAICD, who is a lawyer by background and sits on the board of the Thoracic Oncology Group of Australasia and on the Advisory Council of Cancer Australia.  

    “I think we provide a perspective that society needs,” she told the AICD. “But often assumptions are being made about someone's ability or willingness to progress in their career, so they're not given the opportunities that others would get, for example, being seconded to a different position to get more experience or participating in courses.”

     On learning she had been selected as a scholarship recipient in 2022, she felt very “validated and empowered” and she urges people with disability to apply for the scholarship. “It's such a unique opportunity. The value of the scholarship is way more than just knowledge. It's also skills, connections and tools that will support the work that you do and the careers that you want to be in.”


    Next-level learning

    For Sydney-based Victoria (Tori) Haar, AAICD, applying for a scholarship was an exciting chance to take her ability as a director to the next level. She is an Engagement Officer at Autism Macquarie Uni, Learning Manager at Reframing Autism and non-executive Director at Aspect (Autism Spectrum Australia).

    “I'm a bit younger than a lot of the other directors on that board, so that brings its own experience and value. But it also means I haven't had the same level of management experience and understanding of putting together profit and loss statements,” she told the AICD.

    “I'd like to be able to contribute more and have a deeper understanding, particularly around strategy and risk, and also scrutinise the financial statements and know what questions to ask. I think this is a really good opportunity to start building those skills.”

    Boards for the future

    Ella Alexander, MAICD Sydney, is the co-founder of the Disabled Australian Lawyers Association (DALA), and she also manages the pro bono practice at Makinson d’Apice Lawyers in Sydney.

    Developing her understanding of governance will not only enable her to provide fuller advice to pro bono clients but also allow her to become a more effective director of DALA and any other boards she joins in the future, she says.

    Alexander has especially enjoyed the CDC seminars on financial literacy and performance. “The content has been comprehensive and engaging and it’s been very instructive to hear real world examples about directorship from the facilitators and other students,” she told the AICD.

    “I’d strongly encourage other leaders with disabilities to apply for this program. Not only will you gain the technical skills and knowledge that you need to become directors, but you will also become members of the AICD and have access to resources and networks to help you on your directorship journey.” 

    Attitudinal barriers can greatly impact career progression for disabled people, she says. “These barriers include beliefs that disabled people are less capable than their non-disabled peers, which limits opportunities. Attitudinal barriers are also often behind failures to provide any reasonable adjustments required for disabled people to participate equally in employment and broader society.” 

    The scholarships program will now aim to ensure there is a whole cohort of board-ready disabled leaders. “Boards which are more representative of communities in which our organisations are working will lead to better decision-making.”

    Advocating for change

    Newcastle-based Eliot Shaw MAICD, is the former City of Newcastle Access and Inclusion Advisory Committee co-chair, but he is also a mental health youth advocate.

    “One of the things that's really close to my heart is not just disability advocacy, but also an awareness that young men need good mentors. And so I'm involved in a number of community groups whose purpose is to connect established men with young men and show them how to conduct themselves and be a good mate.”

    The 27-year-old applied for the scholarship because while he has been active in organisations and an advocate during his life, he had never obtained any official credential which adequately demonstrated his leadership abilities.

    He especially enjoyed the course sessions on risk and strategy and finance and learned how much risk he had inadvertently exposed himself to while supporting his communities. “I had no idea  what the [legal] obligations were in a lot of these roles.”

    As the former City of Newcastle Access and Inclusion Advisory Committee co-chair, he saw many great initiatives achieved, including local civil developments being made more accessible, implementing social programs which actively celebrated that people with disability can take part equally with able people, and adapting to the needs of COVID and staff working from home. “I love being a person who can contribute in these sorts of capacities and provide insights that may at first not be apparent in a lot of people's workflows.”

    Many people with mobility issues were working from home even before the pandemic and businesses that employed them benefited when lockdowns came. “Those businesses that adapted early to make sure that these workflows could exist were significantly more agile when all of a sudden everyone had a mobility issue, because we had quarantine and we didn't want to have people coming into the office.”

    With his new credentials, Shaw says it is really important for him to continue to support his community, both locally and then potentially in future, perhaps at state or national level. “I think in an organisational and potentially even corporate capacity, there's a lot of room for understanding there's potential to hear other perspectives that can be enlightening to [other leadership] who don't have to deal with those particular barriers.”

    By completing the course, he has learned that boards of directors have always relied on diversity to function effectively, particularly with NFP and community organisations. “Ultimately, a good director is someone who has a completely different lived experience to the people around the company because that is required for the act of being able to see the blind spots. And you need people with different positions in society.”

    Shaw has found that unless people have an obvious disability, their needs can be overlooked. “A lot of people with neuro-atypical disabilities including developmental cognitive disabilities can be forgotten.”

    The beauty of the disability scholarship program is that it will enable particular people to have access to positions when otherwise they wouldn't even know the pipeline, he says.

    Change will come when people with disabilities can influence decisions in their organisations. “So patience and goodwill are invaluable to anyone who's going to be involved in an organisation, because I think that's the bedrock of what professionalism means.”


    Applications are now open for the 2023 round of the Disability Leadership Program. One hundred scholarships are available and applications close on 26 February. Click this link here to apply now.

    Latest news

    This is of of your complimentary pieces of content

    This is exclusive content.

    You have reached your limit for guest contents. The content you are trying to access is exclusive for AICD members. Please become a member for unlimited access.