Navigating Hidden Disabilities: A Conversation with Aggie Zamir 

People with hidden disabilities

Empowering Leadership and Inclusivity in the Hospitality Industry

In the realm of luxury hospitality, where guest experiences are paramount, the role of leadership extends far beyond merely managing operations and ensuring impeccable service. It’s about fostering an inclusive environment that nurtures the talents and aspirations of all employees. Aggie Zamir, a seasoned industry leader, shares her journey of living with Multiple Sclerosis (MS) and the profound impact it’s had on her career, highlighting how her company’s support and her personal advocacy have transformed her perspective on leadership and inclusivity. Through Aggie’s experiences, we gain insights into how the hospitality industry can serve as a crucible for leadership growth and inclusivity, not just within hotels but throughout the entire hospitality structure.  

A New Beginning 

Aggie’s journey with MS began in 2020, marking a pivotal chapter in her life and career. The diagnosis brought on many uncertainties and great anxiety about her future, both personally and professionally. In her words, “MS came on out of the blue. One morning I woke up unable to use my arm and had difficulty walking. I experienced extreme brain fog which left me confused and even more terrified of what was to happen, not just in those early days, but what would happen in the years to come. One of my first calls was to Thomas Noto, my boss, and then to HR. The compassion I received was overwhelming. They worked to connect me with the resources I needed at the time. I left the initial conversations with the understanding my future would be secure at Cumming Group, and I was given space to figure out what I wanted that to look like given my new circumstances.” 

This pivotal moment signaled a new beginning for Aggie, showcasing the importance of employer support. As she recalls, “I would have never been able to face the new diagnosis feeling financially secure without the support of my company. I am now a very loyal employee based on the experience.” 

Supportive Initiatives 

Aggie notes that her company’s support for employees has expanded over time. The significant growth of the company has allowed them to design programs that address specific employee needs. “We’ve been able to put systems in place that make sense, that are personal. It’s about listening to what employees need and then building programs around them,” Aggie explains. 

NDEAM and Resources for Inclusivity 

October is National Disability Employment Awareness Month (NDEAM), a time to promote workplace inclusivity, and a time for companies to reflect on their practices and commit to fostering diverse and supportive work environments. 

Aggie emphasizes the importance of open forums where employees can gather, both in-person and virtually, to share their experiences and concerns, anonymously if desired. These forums can feature speakers addressing various hidden disabilities and the resources available to employees. 

Moreover, Aggie cites the significance of comprehensive policies that cater to employees with diverse needs, such as those related to diabetes, MS, or mental health. She stresses the need for transparency, ensuring employees know about available accommodations and resources. 

You can learn more about NEAM’s inclusive employment policies and practices here including ideas for employers and employees and resources around advancing access and equity. 

Statistics Shed Light 

Understanding the scope of hidden disabilities is crucial. Aggie highlights a staggering statistic: “According to a Center for Talent and Innovation study, we know around 30% of the college-educated workforce has a disability, though only 3.2% self-identify to their employer as being disabled. Understanding this, we must acknowledge our community is made up of colleagues with not only physical disabilities but invisible ones as well.”  

Leadership and Advocacy 

Aggie’s experience with MS has transformed her approach to leadership. She advocates leading with empathy, compassion, and understanding. Her leadership style emphasizes open communication, education, and actively driving inclusivity initiatives within the organization and broader hospitality industry. 

One crucial aspect of leadership, according to Aggie, is not merely to be a leader but to be an advocate. By advocating for inclusivity and open dialogue, leaders can create a culture where employees feel seen and supported. 

Dealing with Travel Challenges 

The hospitality industry often involves extensive travel, a challenge for anyone, especially those with hidden disabilities. Aggie shares her perspective on navigating the practical aspects of travel. She notes the importance of understanding the unique needs of employees and guests, such as those with diabetes or MS. 

She also highlights the need for thoughtful considerations, including ADA standards that go beyond accommodations for individuals with mobility challenges. Simple changes, like more accessible sharps containers or vegan menu options, can make a significant difference for those with hidden diseases. 

Sharing the Diagnosis 

One aspect of Aggie’s journey that resonates is how she shared her diagnosis with colleagues and friends. Her approach was gradual, using social media platforms to share her story, both personally and educationally. She emphasizes the power of storytelling to educate others about hidden disabilities. 

Aggie believes in breaking down stigmas, not only for herself but for others facing similar challenges. She encourages individuals to embrace their identities fully and not define themselves based on their disabilities. 

Colleague Support and Reflections 

Reflecting on her experience, Aggie notes that she has learned to work smarter, not harder. She values holistic well-being, advocating that success should not come at the cost of one’s health and happiness. 

In an industry that often thrives on perfection, Aggie’s journey offers a powerful testament to the strength of resilience, empathy, and inclusivity. It’s a reminder that leadership, at its core, is about supporting and elevating others, regardless of the challenges they may face. Her story resonates with anyone striving for success while embracing their authentic selves, hidden disabilities and all.