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12/06/2023 IHG Careers Team

A Day for All: How Employers Can Support Colleagues This International Day of Persons with Disabilities

This International Day of Persons with Disabilities, our VP of HR Luxury & Lifestyle, Lindsey Shotton, shares the story of her Multiple Sclerosis diagnosis, and discusses how IHG has created a safe and supportive space for colleagues living with a disability.

 

I was diagnosed with Multiple Sclerosis nine years ago, and it honestly came as a complete surprise.  MS is an auto-immune condition which affects different people in vastly different ways, so the signs and symptoms aren’t always easy to spot at first, and that was certainly the case for me. 

I joined IHG 15 years ago as a Training Manager, progressing to roles in Global and Regional HR, Business Partnering and Centres of Excellence, and today I’m VP of HR Luxury & Lifestyle.  With all of that, plus four kids and a dog at home, it’s safe to say that life has been busy these past few years - but also very fulfilling. 

In the months leading up to my diagnosis, I’d had some tingling in my leg, followed by a three-week period where I had significant pins and needles in my hands.  But as quickly as they’d started, they went away and I thought nothing more of it, until sometime later when, unfortunately, I fell down the stairs and knocked myself unconscious.  But even at this stage, it was still some time before it occurred to me that anything could be wrong.   

 

In fact, it wasn’t until I went for my routine company medical that a clearer picture started to form.  At the medical, I was given a clean bill of health, but after discussing my accident and other symptoms, the doctor decided to refer me for some extra tests and an MRI scan, just in case. 

It was a couple of weeks before Christmas when I got a phone call from the neurologist, who confirmed it was Multiple Sclerosis.  With any diagnosis, once you get over the initial shock, you then go and do the worst thing in the world: you Google it.  And as you scroll through those pages and pages of worst-case scenarios, you find yourself on a rollercoaster of emotions, going from grief, to denial, to pragmatism, and back again.

 

"Eventually, when you’ve had time to process and come through it, you get to
the practical reality of what this all means for your life and your career."

MS for me is largely a ‘hidden’ disability, so I made the decision to keep my diagnosis secret from my IHG colleagues for the first four years.  I felt I needed that time to come to terms with this ‘new me’, and, truthfully, there were also days where I just wanted to put it in a box and forget about it.  But I knew IHG would be there for me as a support system when I was ready to use it.  

"The culture at IHG is one built on authenticity and trust, and the company truly cares about colleagues."

This - along with a massive investment in education and communication around disability, and a multitude of other topics - makes it so much easier for people like me to feel confident and supported.  

So, gradually, I came to find a space at IHG where I could open up about my diagnosis in my own time.  It was a daunting task, but it was all about starting small, telling trusted groups of close colleagues, and building the confidence to eventually share it more widely.

As well as the emotional support I’ve received, there's been an unquestioning level of flexibility and understanding when it comes to things like medical appointments, and I’ve also been able to access IHG’s Employee Assistance Program.

"The EAP is a fantastic facility which covers all manner of issues - from disability to
mental health, to any of the varied challenges that colleagues might be facing
."

It’s all about looking at how these things might impact you in your work, and how the company can support you in this, as well as educating your colleagues and Line Managers so that they can be there for you and create a space in which you can grow and thrive. 

And of course, IHG also offers a wide range of incredible Employee Resource Groups, including DAWN - our Disability and Wellbeing Network - which is particularly close to my heart.  I’ve seen our ERGs make such an impact in terms of opening up conversations, breaking down taboos, and celebrating diversity and inclusion, both for colleagues facing challenges like the ones I have, and those around them. 

By giving me the opportunity and space to tell my story, IHG is helping to inspire confidence in others to speak up and share their own experiences too.  Because ultimately, the more you share, the more you educate, and the more you build trust.  As a hospitality brand, it’s in our DNA to take care of people and nurture them, so it's no surprise that this ethos extends to colleagues working here too.

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