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Sarah Brooks | Atos | London, UK
Positive Role Model (Disability)

I became disabled in my early 30's. At the time I had a high level management job, had just completed a company sponsored MBA and was being mentored for senior management. I suddenly developed pain in every joint and scoliosis of the spine. Unable to sit at a desk all day I went on long term sick. My symptoms were "medically unexplained" and I developed depression.
I returned to working part time a year later. I found I had been removed from my old role and was given a very junior position, first working for someone who used to work for me, and then moved down again to a department so out of the way even the manager struggled to find it.
I was saved by a new manager who supported me and I was able to get adjustments and return to work. By this time I had a diagnosis (after 3 years) of Hypermobility Syndrome and still had chronic pain. I received treatment and was able to return to work and have a child. I also became interested in the psychological effects of disability and the workplace so started a degree in Psychology with the Open University.

I worked my way back up from my junior role to the Head of Service Activation. By then I was working for Atos and they were very supportive of my adjustments and my working patterns. Due to my experiences I was able to offer support to colleagues and my team for health conditions and began to look at how the standard expectations of most jobs form barriers for many disabled people. I became an employee representative for the Atos UK staff and then joined the Atos European Works Council as one of the 3 UK members.

As a representative I was able to bring disability issues to wider areas of Atos. I was then asked if I would like to lead an employee network to represent disabled staff. Atos was just starting its journey to create employee networks and I was able to be there at the beginning setting out what the networks should do as well as forming a voice for our disabled staff. Although knowing almost nothing about employee networks I took the plunge and engaged sponsors and a leadership team, we voted on a name for the network: Atos Adapt; formed an agenda and invited staff to join by starting a massive communications and presentation campaign within the company.

The network soon found its lace and we were unprepared for the stories of experiences and issues disabled people face. I soon realised we covered a huge number of staff including physical and mental health and discovered parents with disabled children had particular needs that we could support. My original agenda and aims of what I thought we were doing were replaced with those that actually needed doing. My key tenet was always we were there for employees and we let them form our agenda.

I completed my 6 years of study and had my psychology degree. This enabled me to understand many of the mental health conditions our staff have. I learned a huge amount, particularly to admire our staff who continue to work with a wide range of debilitating conditions. I joined the British Psychological society in order to access the latest research on mental health conditions so I could understand our employee's needs better. I have done presentations inside and outside Atos on the nature of disabilities and how to be a positive employer for disabled staff.

I have been privileged to have had people share their life experiences and one of defining moments was publishing a booklet containing stories from parents with disabled children. After speaking with many people over the years we have been able to adapt policies and processes to include and support disabled staff and slowly break down the stigma surrounding some conditions and the word "disability" itself. Last year, my condition flared up and I had to have extended sick leave, the network rallied round and were a marvelous support. I have just handed over the leadership to two great people and they will take it forward to help even more staff. I am so happy we have such a vibrant community to share things with and who are making such a positive contribution to the workplace. Adjustments and improvement to include disabled staff ultimately help and include everyone, and I will continue to support our network under the new leadership team.

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