As I detailed in a recent post, KCIC has been on an intentional journey since the summer of 2020.
Spurred by the murder of George Floyd, we began taking concrete actions to change our company’s relationship with race. We adopted a new Core Value: Diversity and Inclusion, and we challenged ourselves to have candid conversations about racism.
Leaning into conversations about race opened us up to address other topics frequently cited as important to building a more diverse and inclusive workplace — such as mental health and LGBTQIA+ issues. Indeed, when we as a society talk about welcoming all, we most often refer to race, gender, orientation, or religion.
We hear much less — if any mention at all — about differences in appearance and ability.
With that in mind, I recently invited Dr. Lise Deguire to present during a company “Lunch and Learn.” Our twice-monthly sessions are an opportunity to bring in guests who challenge our thinking and help us grow as a company and as individuals. Dr. Deguire did that to an extraordinary degree. In fact, the positive feedback I received from our team was beyond that heard after any other session prior.
About Dr. Lise Deguire
It all began when a relative of one of our team members recommended that I read Dr. Deguire’s award-winning memoir “Flashback Girl: Lessons on Resilience from a Burn Survivor.” I expected it to be a moving account of psychological resilience — a topic of interest to me as a result of my endeavors in endurance, particularly preparing for the World Marathon Challenge in 2017, and my recovery after a near-fatal bicycle accident in 2018.
The book is certainly that — and so much more.
In 1967, at the age of 4, Dr. Deguire was severely burned in a fire while on vacation with her brother and her gifted, but unsettled and iconoclastic, parents. Both product liability and parental neglect played a role in the accident.
Dr. Deguire survived against the odds, but she suffered immense pain with third-degree burns on 65% of her body, including her face. As a burn survivor, she has undergone a lifetime of surgeries. Often more painful was the bullying, social isolation, and exclusion she endured as a child, a teen, and later a young adult.
Now a wife, a parent, and a clinical psychologist, Dr. Deguire has triumphed. She ultimately found love, health, and life satisfaction. How did she get there? And what can her experiences teach us about acceptance?
Facing Disfigurement and Disability Bias
Dr. Deguire shared her personal story as an example of what is experienced by people worldwide who have physical disfigurement — from staring to being ignored, from not being hired for a job to intrusive questions, pity, and empty platitudes.
She noted that this kind of bias is mostly unconscious, but it stems from pervasive cultural messages — through literature, movies, media, and more — about what is desired and what is virtuous and good. She gave us practical tips for what to say, and not to say, when we meet someone whose appearance is initially shocking. (Hint: A smile and “Hello, it’s nice to meet you” is a good start.)
Though not the case for Dr. Deguire, a disfigurement or other physical difference is often an extension of a disability, whether congenital or as a result or illness or injury. And, differences in ability aren’t always as visible. How comfortable are you around someone with cognitive impairment or an intellectual/developmental disability?
I feel we don’t talk enough about this incredibly important aspect of diversity and inclusion. If we truly want our workplaces — and wider communities — to be more accepting, we must listen to and learn from the lived experiences of people and families that feel excluded in this way.
Celebrating any kind of difference begins with conversations from a place of honesty, interest, and inquiry. Progress is impossible if we pretend such differences and biases do not exist.
I am grateful to Dr. Deguire for furthering our company’s growth, and our personal growth, in understanding the struggles of people who live with disfigurement and disability. She did it in a direct, positive, and at times humorous way, as she does in her memoir. I cannot recommend her book highly enough.
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Jonathan Terrell is the Founder and President of KCIC. He has more than 30 years of international financial services experience with a multi-disciplinary background in accounting, finance and insurance. Prior to founding KCIC in 2002, he worked at Zurich Financial Services, JP Morgan, and PriceWaterhouseCoopers.Learn More About Jonathan