Culture, accessibility and flexibility all play a vital role in creating an inclusive workplace. Presenter, actress and consultant Samantha Renke has adapted the way she works to suit her needs.
Having previously worked as a teacher, now presenter, actress and activist Samantha Renke is a diversity and inclusion consultant, providing training to help businesses to improve their workplace culture.
After feeling like her mental and physical wellbeing were being affected by her working environment, Samantha made the decision to become a freelancer and is now her own boss.
“I needed to take a step back and I needed to have flexible working hours,” explains Samantha. “I was very guilty of masking and covering up my disability and not being vocal about it because I constantly had to offer up this information. It can be extremely tiring.”
Although this has been a positive move, it also comes with a new wave of concerns and considerations, especially for freelancers living with a disability.
“Freelancing is definitely the option for me, however, there can be quiet times and knowing that you might not have financial stability is quite scary,” admits Samantha. “I’ve written a lot about growing older with a disability, I’m only 35 but it creeps into your mind, especially because I understand that I’m looking at a couple of operations in the coming years.
For Samantha, the pandemic has further highlighted the ways in which flexible working can benefit her and other disabled people in employment.
“I think it has shown that reasonable adjustments are able to work: not having to commute; not having to worry about how accessible services like public transport are or getting into a black taxi,” reveals Samantha. “For me it was quite liberating and it just shows that you can be your best self when you work together to recognise different needs.”
While Samantha has benefitted from going freelance, she would like to see a cultural change in workplaces to ensure both employers and employees feel comfortable discussing disability and adjustments.
“I think it’s about getting organisations and senior leadership figures to recognise the needs of disabled people, but you’re only going to be able to do that if you engage with disabled people and if you recognise that disability has many different guises: disability doesn’t always look like me,” emphasises Samantha. “I think clear understanding of the law around disability support is the first thing because there’s so much help out there for businesses. We also need a culture shift in the way we talk about disability.”
Through her consultancy work, Samantha is helping to instigate change, but more needs to be done to show employers the simple ways they can adjust to ensure disabled employees are properly supported in the workplace.
Keep up to date with Samantha on Instagram @samantharenke