How leaders can build a culture of empathy with Intuit and HS2

In this webinar, Ted Drake, Global Accessibility Leader, from Intuit and Maria Grazia Zedda from HS2, joined AbilityNet to talk about how leaders can build a culture of empathy.

Covid-19 has changed the workplace for many employees and has raised everyone's awareness of inclusion in the workplace. As our recent article shows, empathy is becoming a key skill for leaders in organisations of all types, as a key tool in building teams that feel valued and supported.

There are many benefits to creating an empathetic workplace, such as:

  • Boost productivity and increase creativity creates better products and services.
  • Create trust within the business, increase employee satisfaction and lower employee turnover.
  • Boost competitive advantage and, according to Accenture, increase shareholder returns.

Building an inclusive workplace requires empathy, where you truly understand another person’s perspective. Empathetic leadership requires you to listen and understand the needs of others. Your employees are individuals that need to be valued for who they are. 

In this webinar, we heard from experienced leaders who shared their tips for developing empathy in your teams. 

  • Why empathy is important
  • How to build a culture of empathy
  • Key leadership skills to build empathy in your team

Meet the panellists

The panel included:

Ted Drake, Global Accessibility Leader, Intuit

Ted Drake smiling looking at the camera whilst signing American Sign Language for I love you

Intuit is a global technology company with a range of familiar digital products such as Mailchimp and QuickBooks. Ted is their Global Accessibility Leader and founder of Intuit Abilities Network which promotes their diversity in hiring programmes. Before this, Ted worked for Yahoo, and co-founded their Accessibility Lab. Ted regularly speaks at technology conferences, including AbilityNet's TechSharePro event.

Maria Grazia Zedda, Senior Equality Diversity and Inclusion Manager (Workforce), HS2

Maria Grazia Zedda smiling whilst sat at a tableMaria is an award-winning speaker, novelist, and was nominated as one of the the UK's Top 10 disability influencer 2019 Public Sector. Maria has vast industry experience which she brings to the work she does at HS2. She is part of a team that has championed a positive and inclusive culture, achieving Platinum Status on Clear Assured EDI Accreditation for the organisation.




Webinar FAQs

A webinar recording, transcript and slides are now avaialable at the bottom of this page. 

You can find an archive of our webinars on our website and we also offer paid role-based accessibility training.

Find out more in our webinars FAQs and sign up to our next free webinar in our AbilityNet Live webinar series.

AbilityNet also offers workplace training to help you build a workplace that is inclusive by design and uses technology to enable all employees to perform at their best.

Useful links

How empathic leadership drives workplace diversity and inclusion article
Disability Sensitivity Training Video
How to apply for an Access To Work grant factsheet


This webinar lasted 60 minutes and included an opportunity to pose questions to the guests. The panel were able to answer many questions from attendees during the live session, which you can find by watching the webinar playback or accessing the transcript below. Here are some additional questions we weren't able to answer at the time:

Q: I think I'm right in saying that lots of archaeologists are subcontracted to HS2. How does your flexible working policy play out with that? How do you go about making people that work part time feel valued?

Maria: We have a central team directing and supervising the archaeology work at HS2 but the majority of archaeologists are employed by our supply chain – therefore this is a question for their employers. However, generally at HS2 we make all our employees feel valued through our flexible working policy and the communications around it and the easy ways to apply for it. It’s about ensuring that team managers and employees work collaboratively and determine what is possible for each part time role and its deliverables. This makes the role holder clear on their responsibilities.

Q: As a developer, I contribute a lot to building accessible products, I have designers and QAs on my side, organise sessions to educate people and raise awareness but we don’t get support from stakeholders and managers, so we move quite slowly. What can we do to turn this system upside down?

Ted: Middle managers are the hardest to engage. They are trying to meet deliverables required by upper management, but are not as closely connected to the product development teams to appreciate the resource allocations. I tend to focus on the top management to get buy-in and the product team managers who work closely with the product team sprints.

Include a call to action in the first paragraph when sending an email to a middle manager or top leaders. They don’t have time to read the backstory and may only read your first paragraph.

Videos make a huge impact, especially when they include customers working with a product. You should also share videos of successful customers to show the balance of blockers and wins.

Spend time working on detailed audit documentation and tickets. Include screenshots, sample urls, how it impacts the customer, the current code/experience, and suggested fixes. It takes a lot of time. But you are educating the team and this has dramatically reduced the time to completion in our experience. Don’t expect the product team to convert your audit to bugs.

Work with your design system team. Design systems should be accessible from the start. Make sure they only show best practices in their documentation and storybooks. Include automated testing in their storybook development. Intuit has a great open-source project for launching accessible design systems: Design System CLI (Intuit Github).

Start an accessibility champion program to spread knowledge and this will transform the conversations happening from product teams and through the management layers. This has had the biggest impact for getting buy-in across our company.

Q: From a leader’s perspective, do you have any advice on how to ask for support/ help for those with a disability and who have to take annual leave to attend doctor’s appointments?

Maria: Support and help for those with a disability or long term condition is the legal thing to do as per the Equality Act and the provision of reasonable adjustments. Asking for support should be straightforward through a central management system that records DSE and reasonable adjustments requests (we do this via Clear Talents). I do not think that taking annual leave to attend doctor’s appointments is acceptable for a disability-related doctor's visit, as this would be part of a reasonable adjustment in relation to that legally protected characteristic.  

Ted: At Intuit, we have HR Connect, which allows everyone to contact our HR department via chat, email, phone, or create a ticket. This triggers the process for people to ask for support or help for any situation and our HR teams are the person’s advocate. I recommend people research Job Accommodations Network ( ) for advice specific to their disability. They give you the vocabulary and resources you may need to request.

Q: Do you use person first language e.g. an archaeologist with disabilities or would you use disabled archaeologists?

Ted: In general, Intuit recommends person-first language, but this is not a universal preference. Many communities prefer identity-first. The key is to respect someone’s preference if corrected. For further information regarding disability and language, watch the webinar recording below.  

Date of webinar: 
24 May 2022 - 13:00