Scooting around unconscious biases

by MEREDITH MADDRY, Atlanta, Georgia

I have heard that to have an “executive presence” in business, one should stand tall, smile, and extend your arm for a firm handshake. Yet what if people in business can no longer stand, or smile, and are losing strength in their arms―should they give up the chance at a fulfilling career? That’s not how I roll―pun intended.

My name is Meredith Maddry, and I work as a regional marketing manager for Dixon Hughes Goodman’s (DHG) South region. I also happen to live with facioscapulohumeral muscular dystrophy (FSHD). You may have seen me riding my red scooter (aka “Big Red”) around downtown Atlanta or through the lobby of One Ninety One Peachtree Tower. According to the United Nations, I am a member of the world’s largest minority group—people with disabilities. However, in the business world, I often feel like a member of the smallest minority.

Living with a physical disability, which is the first thing people see about me before I can even introduce myself, I notice the unconscious biases surrounding me almost daily. Strangers assume I’m unable to work, and new industry acquaintances dismiss me as an influencer and leader, often directing their sales pitches to those standing tall around me.

I’ve been asked in our office building if I need directions after exiting our parking garage elevators, as if I must not actually work there. And a local Chamber of Commerce contact closed her pitch with a firm handshake and a “great to meet you” for my male and female co-workers, followed by a “it was lovely to meet you, sweetheart,” for me … as if having a disability makes me a child.

Like other forms of muscular dystrophy, FSHD is a progressive disease, and I am truly grateful to my DHG team who has stood by me through my progression. I remember my first interview with DHG, when I walked into the office in three-inch heels and a pencil skirt. I also remember the last day I was able to wear three-inch heels, in 2009, when my co-worker drove me two blocks from our building to my car because I could no longer make the walk across the sky bridge. And I remember my first day entering our office with Big Red, which began the current chapter of my journey, as I was greeted at the entrance with a hug.

Though gaining credibility in the business world is a constant uphill battle, my journey has only motivated me to work harder and develop a thick skin. Do I work? The answer is yes … I manage a team and sometimes work 60+ hours a week. I also earned my MBA at Georgia State University in 2011 while working full-time. I work because I enjoy it, and because DHG was willing to take a chance on me, despite meeting my disability before meeting me.

Editor’s note: With more than 16 years of experience in marketing and lead generation, including 13 years in DHG’s Atlanta office, Meredith is the regional marketing manager for DHG’s South region. A native of Miami, Florida, Meredith earned a bachelor’s in business administration and marketing from the University of Georgia and an MBA with a concentration in organizational management from Georgia State University. Beyond DHG, Meredith enjoys cheering on the Dawgs, traveling, and spending time with her husband, Mica, and their temperamental Shih Tzu, Butters.

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