"My key belief is that best practice is there as guidance, and it is only best practice because the better way of doing it is yet to be discovered. As leaders we are all responsible for creating an environment where our teams feel engaged, empowered, and equipped to look for that better way.

 - Laura Gaudion, DASS, Isle of Wight Council

 

Intro

Laura was appointed Director of Adult Social Services (DASS) for the Isle of Wight Council in July 2022 after holding the role on an interim basis for 10 months. A lawyer by trade, Laura has worked in Local Government for well over 20 years, striving to make a positive difference in the lives of all of us who need care, support and safeguards.  

In her late teens, Laura experienced a life-changing accident that resulted in a disabling health condition and a prediction that she'd be wheelchair-bound by her mid-20s, and unable to work or live 'normally' again. Through hard work, dedication and the support of family, friends and colleagues, she is able to tell a very different tale today. 

 

What does diverse leadership mean to you, and why do you think it's so important? 

Diverse leadership provides the opportunity to draw on the experience, knowledge, and unique viewpoints of people from different backgrounds, and who might have differing beliefs. These unique differences enable a more accessible and inclusive work and service delivery environment, fostering unbiased and equal growth.

 

What were the biggest barriers you faced in your journey to a leadership role? 

The biggest barrier I faced was my own assumption as to how I would be treated due to my disability; and what impact it would have on people that knew.

I was always worried that ‘people’ would think that I had benefited from positive discrimination rather than achieving promotion and career progression on my own merits. Or that they might think my disability could impact my ability to do my job. Aligning my thinking and fears to the actions of others was challenging.

 

What would you say are the biggest challenges you now face in a leadership role? 

The challenges I face now are not at all dissimilar to other DASSs up and down the country. I am not challenged in my current role because of my disability or gender. I am accepted and the unique viewpoint I bring from my own experiences is valued by my organisation and my peers. My caution remains, but I am judged by my actions and not by my disability, or gender.

My biggest challenge is in ensuring that my own team embraces diversity; a challenging task on an Island where the population is not particularly diverse.

 

What is a simple but often overlooked change senior leaders could implement to create a welcoming and inclusive work environment? 

Leading by example it’s vital to ensure diversity is celebrated and equally ensuring that celebration is seen as such and not labelled as ‘favouritism’. If you don’t represent what you believe in clearly and daily, it may divide the workforce you represent, and increase discomfort for the individual.

 

What piece of career advice would you offer those of us from traditionally marginalised or underrepresented backgrounds? 

Keep pushing at the door! As hard and frustrating as it can feel, at times, there are good people out there who are routing for you to succeed! Seek support from someone who has been there as their experience can help you to shape your own approach.

 

Can you give us an example, or a moment time that really cemented why diversity and inclusion is so important? 

For me …. It is a very personal experience. I recently wrote the following bio for inclusion in a leadership programme booklet for which I am a sponsor:

 

I am the newly appointed Director of Adult Social Care and Housing Needs here on the Isle of Wight, having held the post as an interim for the past 9 months. I have 20 + years in experience working in local government. My time (and roles) have been varied, challenging, and hugely rewarding. Having originally been a lawyer by trade my day job has changed. However, I am very clear that one thing that has not is the opportunity I have to make a difference, to have a real impact and to make life better for local people. This is the reason why I chose to work in Local Government, and this is the reason that I chose a career in Adult Social Care.  

My roles within Adult Social Care have provided me with the opportunity to look at things from a little less traditional perspective than would be expected – a more forensic analysis of social work has enabled me to focus on what really matters and I frequently say that this means I have felt able, and encouraged, to challenge constructively ‘the ways things are done’.

My key belief is that best practice is there as guidance, and it is only best practice because the better way of doing it is yet to be discovered. As leaders we are all responsible for creating an environment where our teams feel engaged, empowered, and equipped to look for that better way.

My personal journey has not been without challenges. Having experienced a significant life-changing accident in my late teens, which left me with an acquired brain injury and consequently being diagnosed with a disabling health condition a couple of years later.

I was told that I would not be able to work or hold down a job in adult life, that I would need significant support to live normally, and that I was likely to be wheelchair-bound by my 21st birthday.

My future was forecast for me by several well-meaning professionals, and I had little involvement in shaping my own predicted destiny. Through determination, huge efforts on the part of my amazing family, and the support of a truly inspirational and forward-thinking clinician, I got lucky! I was able to work hard and ensure that I had another path.

This has influenced me greatly and has driven me to ensure that no other person feels that deep sense of loss linked to someone else’s perception of what they can and can’t achieve.

I strive through my leadership to support my team to always put the person first, to challenge the ‘norm’ and to be brave enough to look for alternative solutions.