October 31, 2016

Matt Wells: On being inspired by a Paralympic legend

Baroness Tanni Grey Thompson

Baroness Tanni Grey Thompson, speaking to BNY Mellon employees in Manchester on October 19, 2016


An estimated 150,000 people in Manchester recently braved the rain to watch Great Britain’s Olympic and Paralympic athletes celebrate their record-breaking performances at Rio 2016.

It was an impressive and historic day for everyone. What struck me the most as I watched the parade was the diversity of our sporting heroes. It was hugely pleasing to see the progress made in the diversification of sport, and the breadth of inspiring role models for the next generation of potential Team GB athletes. 

Whilst watching the parade, my thoughts turned to how we in financial services can further accelerate the disability agenda in the workplace.

We recently had the great privilege of welcoming Baroness Tanni Grey Thompson to our Manchester office to speak about creating inclusive cultures to our employees. The 16-time British Paralympic medallist is a personal hero of mine and listening to her experiences as well as her views on diversity was inspiring.

Baroness Tanni spoke about her childhood in South Wales, the six Paralympics at which she’s competed and her work in the House of Lords championing diversity, inclusion and welfare reform. In particular, she highlighted the challenges she’s faced in respect of improving the rights and job prospects of those with a disability or long term health condition.

Her comments chimed with a report  I read a couple of months ago by charity Disability Rights UK which found that 1 in 10 business people do not feel confident that their organisations would be able to support an employee with a disability or living with a long term health condition.

This statistic is particularly troubling as anecdotal evidence suggests people with disabilities are Europe’s largest minority. Accordingly, businesses need to be flexible and ready to adapt quickly should an employee’s physical circumstances change. There should be no invisible barriers impeding talent with disabilities from joining a company or growing their careers. But if the many studies are correct, businesses have some way to go to address the issue.

It is something which we at BNY Mellon recognise as an important area in need of improvement within financial services. This is one of the reasons why we created our employee resource group known as HEART. Heart’s primary focus is to promote an inclusive working environment where all employees are valued based on their talents and abilities.

Perhaps the main lesson which businesses can learn from Rio 2016, and role models like Baroness Tanni, is its cultural legacy of diversity and how it is transforming perceptions of those with physical impairments.

Augusto Fernandes, a specialist in accessibility at Rio 2016 and who uses a wheelchair, says on the Rio 2016 website he remembers an occasion during the London 2012 Paralympic Games when a child was staring at him on the London Underground. Preparing to answer the inevitable question as to why he was in a wheelchair, Fernandes was surprised to be asked instead "what sport do you play?"

He is quoted as saying: "Seeing high performance athletes in action changes people's perceptions and inspires a new attitude”. 

Perhaps if we see more role models with disabilities within business, a similar transformation in perceptions and behaviours will occur too.

Did you see BNY Mellon’s Olympics coverage?
Jeff Pamplin: On his sporting achievements

Christine Berthold-Poje: On playing hockey for Germany and the importance of placing teams first, ego second
Sandra Blaschke: On what it is like to be a synchronised swimmer
Matt Cullen: On juggling being a pole vaulter and working in derivatives
Dimitri Ghuys: On becoming a champion 26 years after injuries cut short his promising athletic career
Cüneyt Uenal: On comparing the culture of karate with financial services