Making everyone heard, and helping everyone to hear
The Inspirational Leadership Award in the 2019 Civil Service Awards went to Paula Holbrook-Witt of the Defence Science and Technology Laboratory (Dstl).
Since the age of 11, Paula has had 100% hearing loss in her left ear and 55% loss in her right. She knows how difficult workplace environments can be for people with hearing loss and is passionate about improving everyone’s lives through workplace adjustments and peer support. Rather than letting her own disability deter her, Paula draws upon her passion for inclusion to focus on serving others first. In spearheading Dstl’s first-ever hearing showcase, her confidence and abilities to bring people together shone through.
Paula tackled this enormous task with resilience and confidence, knowing the impact this level of engagement would have on those with hearing loss, galvanising a team of volunteers to support and coaching them through setbacks. Paula not only raised hearing loss awareness with senior leadership, but through her influencing skills also secured vital funding. Her inclusive leadership approach is coupled with tackling practical challenges head on. For example, due to the nature of the event, she had the unique challenge of ensuring that communication was as inclusive as possible, using hearing loops and a stenographer to provide subtitles and individual support.
After the event, in a letter to Dstl, the Head of the Civil Service Disability Network wrote that the network was “overwhelmed by the outstanding presentations and the facilities that you have to offer at Porton Down”, and “particularly impressed by the staff commitment and passion to making the Porton Down working environment as inclusive as possible for people with hearing disabilities”.
Paula said of her award: “Having a disability myself, I feel strongly that everybody should be able to come to work and do their job effectively and efficiently in the same way as others, irrespective of disability.”
Paula has contributed to enhancing the effectiveness of people with a hearing disability in the workplace. She finds it particularly rewarding to see positive improvements for people who had only recently noticed changes in their hearing and were feeling worried and isolated.