Home » The disabled glass ceiling: Why you shouldn’t ignore part time applicants

The disabled glass ceiling: Why you shouldn’t ignore part time applicants

Text: There still just aren’t enough employers who are happy to take people on part time.

If you’re ignoring part time applicants, you’re disproportionately ignoring women and disabled people, and the skills they bring.


I’m tiring of having the same conversation over and over – especially on LinkedIn.

Recruiter: Hi Lizzie, we looking to fill [x position] and you look like a good fit. Are you interested in applying?

Me: I’ve had a look at the role and, yes, it looks like a great match for my skills, passion, and experience. I just want to flag that I’m disabled so can only work 12 hours a week. Are you still interested?

At this point, if I’m lucky, I will get a polite reply saying they really need someone full time. Often, it’s just crickets. I don’t hear from them again.

Elsewhere on LinkedIn

Today on LinkedIn, I’m seeing an inspirational trending post about a man who was given a job he turned out not to be qualified for. Instead of firing him, his company chose to support him into being qualified for the role.

Sounds great, unless you’re one of the thousands of women, people of colour, and disabled people who are used to not getting jobs that we are qualified for.

Systemic racism and sexism is part of that. There are plenty of other articles and anecdotes that go into why men are more likely than women to get more senior jobs.

It boils down to the facts that men are more likely to:

  • apply for jobs that they’ve not 100% sure they’re qualified for.
  • be perceived as an expert, in comparison to a woman with the same qualifications.

Another huge part of it, though, is the issue of hours. With women still disproportionately likely to take on the burden of childcare, they’re more likely to need part time hours, and there still just aren’t enough employers who are happy to take people on part time.

Defining my own terms

I worked for the University of Edinburgh for ten years, and I want to make clear that – for me, at least – they were a fantastic employer, who were great at adjustments. I moved seamlessly to a part time contract after having a child. (Even so, it wasn’t unusual to hear individual staff members grumbling that someone was asking for part time hours.)

However, after years grappling with a chronic pain condition, I needed a proper break – physically and mentally – and the chance to properly define what kind of working pattern and conditions I actually need. So I took redundancy from the University at the start of this year. Over the past few months, I’ve been able to define what those needs are:

Hours: I can work around 12 hours a week.

Working pattern: This needs to be spread across at least 3 days, preferably 4 or 5. I’m in a UK time zone and have a child in primary school, so certain times of day will be off limits, but otherwise I’m flexible. I don’t need to work the same pattern each week.

Location: I need to work from home on a permanent basis, barring exceptional travel within Scotland.

Stretching these needs is not a good idea. Disabled people are, as a rule, not very stretchy. If I try and push it to commute a day a week, or work 16 hours instead of 12, I’m likely to snap: lose all capacity to work entirely. It’s so important to be honest.

I’ve got skills

The chances of my finding work would of course be higher if I were willing to accept anything – go for a lower paid, more junior position. I might well end up doing this.

But that’s another element of the glass ceiling – skills and experience being wasted, and disabled people  never being challenged, never advancing. I want something I can get my teeth into.

So, what is it I do?

My most recent official job title was Senior Content Designer. However – as my former colleague Duncan Stephen brilliantly puts it in his blog on Service Design – ‘be a lumper not a splitter’. Job titles in themselves don’t mean all that much.

Duncan’s blog – Service Design and the Mario Complex

21st century job titles aside, then, what skills do I bring?

Content Design

I can edit a piece of content for accessibility and readability at 100 paces. I am a grammar nerd, but will always call out grammar shaming. I can write in a range of tones and styles, as long as they are readable. (I could write in legal jargon, too, but it would make be miserable.) I can interview users and stakeholders until the cows come home, to work out exactly what needs to be said, then help to say it.

My final project at Edinburgh University was evolving the Editorial Style Guide from a PDF into a navigable website, as part of the evolving Design System project.

University of Edinburgh Editorial Style Guide

Service Design/UX Research

Whether the ultimate goal is to create great digital content or an improved service, user research is crucial. I can design usable, accessible surveys, carry out user interviews, and run workshops. I’ve worked with personas, journey maps and many other tools. Online, I’ve been using Miro to bring all this together, though I know it has accessibility implications so I’m also investigating Microsoft Whiteboard.

I’m currently accrediting my knowledge in this area by completing a Professional Development Award from the Service Design Academy.

Service Design Academy

Accessibility and inclusivity

I have trouble understanding why anyone would make anything that not everyone can access. Although I know the WCAG pretty well, I’m not motivated by legal compliance. I’m motivated by the genuine desire to make content that everyone can access and that no-one feels excluded by.

As a neurodiverse, queer woman with chronic pain issues, I have true empathy for people who are disabled and excluded by bad content, and the intersectional issues this can throw up.  

My blogs on accessibility

Training design and delivery

If I can do it, I can help others learn how to do it. I love teaching people how to make inclusive content. My proudest achievement at Edinburgh was designing and delivering the Effective Digital Content training course, taken by hundreds of staff in my time there. I did this face-to-face, live online, and as short videos. It had consistently excellent feedback.  

You can watch the videos online, although the properly-constructed course that contains them is limited to Edinburgh staff.

Effective Digital Content videos – Media Hopper – University of Edinburgh

You can also read my recommendations on LinkedIn to see what others have said about my strengths.

LinkedIn – my profile

Hire us!

Yes, I am looking for work, and if it sounds like I might fit what you’re looking for, please do get in touch.

My real point here, though, is a plea to all employers to truly consider part time and job share applicants, not only so you’re avoiding sexism and ableism, but also because of what those people can bring to your organisation.

Contact me