4 August 2022

Delta Works!

Jane and Hormoz in front of a projected slide which reads 'Delta and its impact on you'

Delta participant Helen Jeffries writes about the effectiveness and impact of this innovative and powerful Result CIC programme. 

To those of us in the UK civil service, Delta means Disability Empowers Leadership Talent – it’s a strand of the Future Leaders Scheme helping civil servants with disabilities and/or long-term health conditions prepare for leadership roles. To viewers of RuPaul’s Drag Race (stick with me here), “Delta Work” is a contestant on the third US season of the show. Not an obvious segue, you’re thinking? But famously, RuPaul’s closing catchphrase is “If you can’t love yourself, how are you gonna love somebody else?” and I want to talk about how the Delta leadership programme has helped this civil servant get a bit closer to accepting herself. Still a clunky link? Well yes, but then few things in life are perfect, and doing the best with imperfect circumstances is exactly what a disabled leader needs to learn to do. Delta helped me do that and in that sense, truly, Delta does Work.

If after that opener you were expecting a blog about makeup and high fashion – sorry – I’ve pretty much used up my content on that. But – as with a TV talent show about presenting the most polished possible drag performance to the world – my life as a civil servant has been about presenting an appearance that isn’t exactly me in real life. I’ve always been autistic but only got a diagnosis well into my career. I’d always known I was different, a bit weird, a bit anti-social (sorry – I mean a lot antisocial), hypersensitive to light and sound, prone to misunderstandings. Those don’t sound like helpful characteristics for a leader so while my diagnosis was great in relieving me of the belief that my failings were my fault, it also led me to believe that leadership was beyond my reach. You might feel that’s a silly thing to say, but actually the academic literature and training on leadership could be summarised as “don’t be autistic”. Classically, leadership theorists say it’s important to be able to make eye contact, socialise and network, “read the room”, pick up on subtle cues from staff and adapt your leadership style and behaviour to those you’re leading. To some extent I can do those things, but “faking normal” is exhausting and also very bad for self-belief. So I thought I needed to maintain that façade full time at work, or else be a failure. Definitely not a “loving myself” space to be in.

Joining the Delta programme was a huge relief though. For once, I was in a group of civil servants all of whom had disabilities or long-term health conditions. There was so much that they immediately “got” that most people don’t. For example: agonising about whether you’re “disabled enough” to merit being on the Delta programme seems almost universal. And worrying about whether to disclose your disability for fear of being judged by disability stereotypes was common. We compared notes about managers who’d been good and bad, and told horror stories of when colleagues had just got it totally wrong, even though they’d meant to be kind. “Protecting us” from “challenging” (= exciting) jobs was a particular theme.

Added to that, the Delta trainers from CIC were completely authentic. The first group session we had began with them outlining their own lived experiences; we were being taught by other disabled people, and sometimes that can make a big difference. We also had one to one coaching which I found particularly beneficial. My coach had lived family experience of autism and was able to help me identify and name what was going on at work. Some of the time that was just giving me a safe space to talk through bad things that had happened. At other times we focussed on what were my “qualities” – I had got used to measuring my own worth in terms of what I could do since, using autistic logic, I couldn’t see why I would have any value beyond what was actively useful to other people. Identifying “qualities” though, meant pinning down something about me that had worth even if others didn’t recognise that worth. In effect, I was coached into accepting that I have intrinsic as well as relative value – and that’s a great thing because relative value can disappear at any moment if circumstances change. Another “aha!” moment for me was realising that I assume guilt for most things that happen as a way of trying to believe I have control of what’s happening. In my mind “this bad thing is my fault” is easier to handle than “this bad thing happened entirely beyond my control”. Autistically, I really want and need to feel control, and I hadn’t noticed how I had managed to turn that against myself. Finally, my coach helped me begin to realise that I’m more than my disability. From what I’ve written, you can see that knowledge that my brain is wired differently is a big part of who I am (I’ve referred to my autism a lot), and that’s understandable since it’s explained a huge amount of my life experience. But I also have “qualities” that are more than “being autistic”.

So – Delta has helped me understand more about who I am as a leader, and as a person. I’m beginning to recognise that I have intrinsic value, that not everything is my fault, and that I’m more than my disability. So much so obvious, you might think, but not to someone who has lived the majority of their life with an undiagnosed disability, and also not that far from one of those transformation stories of personal affirmation that you get on TV’s favourite drag show. Delta really is a great programme and highly recommended; “can I get an A-men?!”


Thanks to Helen Jeffries, Deputy Director for Refugees (Ukraine response)

NDA 2015 Power 100 iLM

We are Result CIC, a community interest company. We work with people who feel marginalised or excluded to become more confident about their abilities and to fulfill their potential. We also work with Directors, Managers and CEOs who need support to bring about positive change in terms of diversity and inclusion in their organisations. We each have personal experience of the issues affecting the people we work to support, including disability, immigration, mental health and sexuality. We have also worked in senior positions in industry and government.

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