Hey Peeps, how's it goin'? You good? I am so excited to bring you my third fantabulous, rad, cool, awesome woman entrepreneur - Jane Hatton. Jane is the founder of Evenbreak, putting employers together with disabled employees - driving forward for an equal and just world. Read on . . .
Describe your personal situation and your business?
I have a degenerative spinal condition which means that I have constant severe pain and very limited ability to sit or walk, and so I spend most of my life lying down. Unable to sit at a desk, I lie flat with a lap top suspended above me in order to run my business. If I go to conferences or business meetings I am transported lying flat, and will either stand, or lie down on a portable lounger when I get there.
I run a not-for-profit social enterprise – the only specialist job board in the UK run by disabled people for disabled people. Evenbreak (www.evenbreak.co.uk) has three aims:
1. To help inclusive employers attract more talented disabled candidates
2. To help disabled job seekers find work with employers who will value their skills
3. To promote the business benefits of employing disabled people.
What motivated you to start your business?
Long before I became disabled myself I felt very strongly about fairness and diversity in the workplace, and would travel all over the UK talking to employers about the benefits of having a diverse workforce including, of course, disabled people. I would receive two kinds of responses. Either businesses couldn’t understand why they would want to employ disabled people, or they were enlightened enough to understand why they should employ disabled people but found it difficult to attract disabled applicants. Disabled job seekers told me that they found it hard to find employers who were enlightened enough to look beyond their disabilities.
Having employed a number of disabled people and seeing firsthand the benefits of employing such talented people, and then becoming disabled myself, I could see this issue from both sides.
I set up Evenbreak, which helps inclusive employers and disabled job seekers to find each other, and helps other employers understand what they would gain from employing disabled people.
Two years on, and we have attracted thousands of extremely talented disabled candidates, and also a large number of national employers, such as the BBC, Network Rail, John Lewis, Unipart, Rank and many, many more.
How do you balance your personal needs with your business/work?
I spend most of my life lying in or on my electronically adjustable bed, which is also my office, so it would be tempting to work all the time. Because my pain levels can fluctuate, I organise my work schedule accordingly. On a very severe pain day if I need to take high doses of morphine I either don’t work at all, or I focus on routine tasks that don’t require much concentration or creativity. I might then work at weekends, or evenings or even during the night to make up the time.
I also make sure that I make time to do other activities away from the workplace, such as doing gentle exercise in the local swimming pool, and volunteering for a telephone helpline called Samaritans (where I lie down to take the calls!). This gives me some balance and variety in my life.
What is the toughest thing you have had to deal with in life/business and what got you through?
Learning I had a deteriorating condition which would not only never get better, but would continue to get worse was a huge blow. At the same time my partner left me as he couldn’t cope with my disabilities, and the business I had been running for the past 7 years failed, and I had to make good people redundant and start again.
My two wonderful daughters kept me going – I had to put a brave face on things for them, and that stopped me from giving up altogether. And I threw myself into the new business, Evenbreak, and also into my voluntary work, so that I felt I still had a purpose and something of value to offer.
What is the most “WHAM BAM” exciting thing in life/business that has happened and how did you celebrate?
I’ve won a few awards which has been pretty exciting, and I was thrilled to be asked to be a Patron of Inclusive Skills Competitions, which showcase the talents of young people with learning and other disabilities. But the most exciting moment was probably when our first candidate found a job through Evenbreak! She came onto our facebook page and said “Thank you, Evenbreak, you have saved my life!”. She had almost given up looking for work and was resigning herself to a lifetime of daytime television, when a job on Evenbreak caught her eye, and she successfully applied for it. She was over the moon – and so was I!
Which business/person has inspired you and why?
I have been inspired by so many people in business, both disabled and non-disabled, but the sheer determination and creativity of disabled entrepreneurs has to be the most inspiring.
Do you have any life/business tips you could give my readers?
When I first became disabled nine years ago, and faced the first of a number of major spinal surgeries, I was consumed by all the things I could no longer do. It was incredibly depressing. It was only when I started to focus on the things I can do that I realised it would still be possible to live a worthwhile and fulfilling life as a disabled person. We all have far more strengths and skills and talents than we realise. Just ask your friends and family!
Anything else you would like to add?
I’d like to remind people why employing disabled people is a really sensible business decision. Research shows that:
· On average, disabled people are just as productive as non-disabled people, and
· We have less time off sick, and
· We have fewer workplace accidents, and
· We stay in our jobs longer, and
· We bring additional skills developed to navigate around a world not designed for us like tenacity, innovation, determination and creativity – all valuable qualities for employers, and
· We can offer inside intelligence into the “disability market” (around 11 million disabled people spend up to £80 billion every year in the UK!)
It’s amazing that employers aren’t queuing up to employ us yet – but when Evenbreak has been going a little longer, perhaps they will!
I have had a very interesting two weeks. Two fridays ago I made my way to Santiago de Compostela in Spain to be a cheer-squad (with my niece) for my friend Tara, who was walking into Santiago - after completing her over 800km walk across Spain. You see, she was walking the Pilgrims walk, the Camino, which starts from St Jean de Pied de Port in France, goes over the Pyrenees, and then across northern Spain to Santiago. In talking with Tara about her six week trek I realised that, sometimes, inspiration can come from the most unexpected of places . . . you see, thousands of people walk the Camino every year, with no expectation of glory or renown. They do it, like Tara, for the adventure, for spiritual reasons, for the physical and mental challenge, to get to know one-self better, to understand life better, to celebrate life, to grieve for those that are gone, to feel alive in ones skin and learn about ones own ability to push past perceived barriers. It is an inspiration to me, and I love to feel inspired (THANKS TARA, YOU ARE RAD!!!). I am so inspired that I am now planning to attempt the Camino next year . . . probably on bike! The Camino, for me, will be a test of physical and mental strength, a time for me to push past my own perceived barriers, and a chance to contribute to the world in a positive, challenging way (by raising money for charity). It is testing of oneself that I want to address in this blog post, so let's get cracking . . .
(There I am, being squished by Tara in front of Santiago Cathedral)
I, like many people with disabilities (and many without disabilities), sometimes feels confined by the limitations that my body seemingly imposes on my life. Now don't get me wrong, I don't complain about my disability, I never feel sorry for myself, I detest pity, and I embrace life for all it's worth, but I do sometimes look at things that I would like to do and go - "huh?!?"
"Huh?!? How am I going to do this? How in the hell am I going to physically get my body to do this and my mind to feel the confidence to do this?"
I hold onto a strong sense of self belief and I firmly believe that given the time, space, and assistance I can sort out any problem to any thing that I want to do - it is ALWAYS POSSIBLE!
So for me, the Camino will be a test of my self, my body, my mind, my disability, and my self belief that anything is possible.
HERE'S THE KICKER!!
I believe that ALL people with various disabilities can test themselves . . . with the right support, positive self belief, and a firm "WHY?" they WANT to do whatever it is they want to do, anything is truly possible. Walking over 800km? Easy!! Starting your own business? A piece of cake!! Competing at the Paralympics? BOOM - Done!!! Waking up each and every morning knowing that you are a person of value and can contribute something fantastic to this world?
YOU have done that already!!
"Your Determination is Limitless"
- Elizabeth Wright