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Shining a Light on Hidden Disabilities in the Workplace with Harper Spero (Ep. #65)

The BetterManager Team
Building Better Managers Podcast Episode 65 - Harper Spero

Building Better Managers Podcast Episode #65: Shining a Light on Hidden Disabilities in the Workplace with Harper Spero

People with invisible illnesses may look fine, but that doesn’t mean they aren’t struggling. When Harper Spero was diagnosed with an extremely rare immunodeficiency disorder, she was determined to create her own narrative. And not only has Harper learned to embrace her invisible illness, but now she’s on a mission to provide resources and hope to others who are silently struggling.

In this episode:

Meet Harper Spero

  • Since 2014, Harper has been a business coach for service-based solopreneurs and small business owners. She works with clients individually and in groups. She is often referred to as the external CMO/COO to her clients. In 2018, after years of not finding content related to her rare condition that resonated with her, Harper launched Made Visible, a podcast that amplified stories of people living with or affected by invisible illness. 
  • Harper is originally from New York City, currently lives in Tel Aviv and is constantly redefining her definition of home.

Shame & Other Negative Emotions In the Workplace

  • Everyone wants to fit in so badly - they don't want to stand out. People with hidden illnesses don't feel like they belong, because behind the scenes they are navigating doctor's appointments and other challenges.
  • By sharing your story and helping other people share theirs, everyone can see that they're not alone. And almost everyone is living with some condition or unique challenge that's hard to understand.
  • That level of shame that you may have walked in with when you first got into the door starts to dissipate, because you realize that you're not alone in this.

Privacy Issues & Challenges.

  • HR really wants to hold things confidential. But it is on the employer to be clear that they have certain policies and certain beliefs, and they're doing the work to make it a more inclusive environment.
  • Employees need to know they can share this information because they feel supported, they will be taken seriously, and people will understand that they have something that they can't be seen, but that it's real.
  • There's a level of advocacy that's really important.
  • It can be challenging for employees - many people find it so hard to navigate their own health on a day-to-day or a year-to-year basis, but they also have to manage the relationship of the people around them, whether that's in the workplace, friends, family members, but feeling like they need to keep them updated. They need to manage their emotional well being, they need to manage their reactions, and that's no different in the workplace!
  • The pandemic has actually helped people who are immunocompromised because the word "immunocompromised" is being thrown around a lot more than it had been so there's an increased awareness and understanding of it!

Takeaways

  1. When you're you're looking for a job, ask questions to get a better sense of the following from HR or a recruiter or a potential employer: How do they create a more inclusive workplace? and How are they supporting people living with invisible illnesses and disabilities?
  2. It's also about communicating with your managers as well as your colleagues about what your needs are - here are the accommodations that would be really helpful for you to know in advance to be able to take care of me.
  3. The more people advocate for themselves, the more they put themselves out there and share their story to help other people understand, the more compassionate people are, and more people can meet them where they are.

Downloads & Resources

Follow Harper on LinkedIn, at HarperSpero.com and at MadeVisibleStories.com.

Subscribe to our podcast on your favorite podcast platform!

Check out our blog articles on Leadership here.

Harper Spero

Harper had eight jobs in ten years before starting her business in 2014. She worked in marketing, public relations and event production for a private jet company, several beauty brands, a SaaS company, a music management firm, and a beauty focused PR firm where she got her first gray hair on her first day of the job. Tweeting about lipstick became meaningless when a life-altering surgery, a result of an extremely rare immunodeficiency, Hyper IgE Syndrome, became her reality. 

Since 2014, Harper has been a business coach for service-based solopreneurs and small business owners. She works with clients individually and in groups. She is often referred to as the external CMO/COO to her clients. In 2018, after years of not finding content related to her rare condition that resonated with her, Harper launched Made Visible, a podcast that amplified stories of people living with or affected by invisible illness. 

Harper is originally from New York City, currently lives in Tel Aviv and is constantly redefining her definition of home.

Episode Transcript
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