Diana Velarde

Director, Consulting Solutions – PwC Mexico

In addition to Diana’s commercial role, for over two years, she’s acted as the Director of the Firm’s first D&I Staff Council. As part of her work within the council, she leads the gender inclusion efforts, inclusive leadership, and people with disabilities inclusion. Moreover, Diana is one of the co-leads of the Disabilities Inclusion Network, where she actively participates in the intersectional visibility of people with disabilities, in vast forums through the US and Mexico, both within PwC and external opportunities. Diana is part of “Mexicanas con Discapacidad”, a non-profit organization that seeks to promote the visibility of women with disabilities in Mexico and co-founded “Trazando lo Invisible”, an organization that seeks awareness about non-visible disabilities and rare diseases.

Diana’s career journey

My career until this point has been quite varied, but with common threads. After graduating with a degree in Electronic Systems Engineering from the Tecnológico de Monterrey, I spent several years in IT consulting, working on software development, project management and programming systems – a very different world to where I am now. After seven years, I felt it was time for a change. I wanted to combine my existing professional experience in technology with a business focus, so I made the huge decision to move to the UK to study for my MBA at Newcastle University. I got a fantastic opportunity to join PwC Mexico as a Senior Associate in M&A with a focus on IT – it was exactly the role I had hoped for, and after nine years I’ve climbed the ladder to Director level.

On their Role Models

One of my role models is my dad, who worked so hard for our family. Even as a child, I don’t remember him ever coming home before 9pm on any day of the week. I don’t know how he managed to remain present and in the moment with our family and always showed us how much he loved us. We had very difficult times in Mexico while I was growing up with economic crises, but he never gave up and never lost faith or positivity. He always thought of ways to pull our family through difficult moments, and since then he’s always been my moral point of reference. If he would do something, I know it’s the right thing to do.

In another sense, the women in my family are also true role models for me, which of course includes my mom, the other pillar in my family. I have always been very proud that all the women in my family have always been very active and have had careers of their own. Even my grandmothers on both sides in the 1940s and 1950s worked to support the family alongside their husbands. My grandmother on my mom’s side, in particular, had several different sources of income at any given time. They were so brave and strong and such great examples of leadership and also they always took time to volunteer and help others. My mom and my aunts always worked while maintaining the home and raising their children – it’s something that makes me very proud. Because of this, when I was growing up, there was never a question for me that I would pursue success in my career, as it’s all I had ever known.

“They were so brave and strong and such great examples of leadership and also they always took time to volunteer and help others.”

Risks and achievements

My biggest career risk has most probably been the decision to change career paths. Often, people with disabilities are encouraged to find their comfort zone and stay there, so taking the decision to move on from a stable career and aspire to more in a different field was a gamble. I may have moved on to find obstacles in my way, or that studying abroad or my new area of work weren’t accessible to me, but I know that I made the right decision and the risk paid off.

My greatest career achievement has been becoming a Director in my field of work. There is so much interaction with clients in my role, and my disability comes with challenges around communication where I may need to lip read or use closed captions, which aren’t always available to me. In theory, these challenges may have put limitations on how far I could take my career, but I’m proud to have succeeded despite the challenges.

Advice to their 18-year-old self

I have a quote by Eleanor Roosevelt on my phone background – it’s something I heard many years ago and resonated with me so much: “The future belongs to those who believe in the beauty of their dreams”. Thinking about people with disabilities, we often grow up with the feeling that we’re not enough and that we’re not likely to live out our dreams, that we have to -somehow- limit or reduce them to something “reasonable”, so it’s a quote I remind myself of often. It’s very powerful.

Navigating their career

Much of my personal journey has been about accepting my identity as a woman with multiple disabilities. Even though I was born with a hearing impairment, I lived in a bubble for many years, trying to live as ‘normally’ as possible and preferring to hide my disability. Even 15 years ago, when my visual impairment began, I was already working and very much part of the world of business, but it wasn’t until eight years ago that I burst the bubble I was in and became involved in inclusion and activism around gender and disability.

Fully accepting my condition and my identity allowed me to understand the value of sharing my story and raising my voice, and that created a domino effect that drove a positive impact in my life. At work, my experience means I can add value through a deeper understanding of the value of diversity and the value of empathy.

The benefits of connecting globally

Over the years, I’ve come to see so much value in the diversity of thought that comes with working from people across the world. It’s that diversity that helps make our experiences richer and more human, where we’re able to learn from people with different points of view, different life experiences, and different backgrounds. This diversity can also help with promoting inclusive environments – when you understand the impact of an individual’s values, you can manage them in a positive way.

More specifically, it has been very insightful to watch closely and learn about inclusion practices in other countries of people and women with disabilities. It highlights the gaps and the challenges that we have locally, and therefore influences my thinking and actions to promote inclusion at work and as an activist.

On debunking myths and misconceptions

There are many misconceptions around disability, but I think a key one is that deep inside, some people still think those with disabilities are not fully capable or that we cannot have a fulfilling life without being dependent on others. This is a conception that has been fed by imprecise narratives in media and historical stereotypes and, at this point, an obsolete perception. As described by the social model, disability is a concept that society has created – if we eliminate the societal obstacles that can stand in our way, then we can be productive, active participants in our personal and professional lives.

“Disability is a concept that society has created – if we eliminate the societal obstacles that can stand in our way, then we can be productive, active participants in our personal and professional lives.”

Unique challenges and opportunities of driving inclusion

In Mexico, specifically, we have a critical situation with gender-based violence. According to Mexico’s National Institute of Statistics and Geography, as noted within the The National Survey on the Dynamics of Household Relationships in 2021, 7 out of 10 Mexican women have or will suffer from some type of violence. For women with disabilities, this number increases to 8 out of 10 – a horrible figure. As a result of Mexico´s patriarchal society, men are perceived to be superior to women in many different areas of life: education, work, family life.

Due to this, most inclusion efforts are largely focused on gender equality. This can present a real challenge in confirming we are not forgetting about intersectionality, and how gender can intersect with disability, racial or ethnic identity, sexual orientation, or any other dimension of diversity. Intersectionality should be front of mind when working towards diversity and inclusion.

However, opportunity exists in leveraging what some organizations are doing to focus on intersectionality. For example, there is an organization called Women Enabled International, that recently launched their Feminist Accessibility Protocol, an accessibility related commitment to confirm that women with disabilities are included in gender equality efforts. The resources are there – a good start is about leveraging them to action change.

Practical advice for business leaders and allies

For business leaders looking to drive disability inclusion, it’s important to know that there are likely many people within their organization who have a disability, whether they are visible or not and whether they have disclosed or not. According to the World Health Organization, 16% of the world’s population has some sort of disability, but many will choose to hide their condition if they are able to. Those who haven’t disclosed may not feel totally comfortable and emotionally safe doing so.

My piece of advice here would simply be to start talking about disability, with the right language – referring to ‘people with disabilities’ and not ‘disabled people’ for example. Acknowledge that you understand that there might be people with disabilities within the organization and show that it is an emotionally safe place for them. If someone has disclosed their disability and feels comfortable doing so, encourage them to share their story in a public forum. If they do so, others will likely feel more comfortable to do the same. For example, at PwC I have had the opportunity to talk about my experience navigating my career as a woman with a disability in multiple forums. When as a society we have companies that seek to work together to provide equal opportunities, we know that it is possible to help eliminate bias.

Another piece of advice would be to allocate resources to foster a culture of inclusion, to create processes around disability inclusion, with a strong focus on accessibility implementation with intersectionality at the forefront. Accessibility has strong links to technology, where there are new innovations and advancements taking place constantly: this should be an area of investment, specially when it comes to developing accessible non-English resources that may help close the accessibility gap