50 Leading Women: Meryl K. Evans

In honor and celebration of our Women’s Division‘s 50th Anniversary, we will be spotlighting 50 Leading Women making an impact, raising their voice, and leading the next generation of women in the workforce and Plano community.

Introducing, Meryl K. Evans, Professional Speaker & Trainer on Accessibility and Inclusion. To learn more about her business and expertise: meryl.net. You may have seen and heard of Meryl as she was a featured speaker at this year’s TEDXPlano, please click here to view her full presentation. Meryl has coined the phrase, “Progress Over Perfection” in her work to educate everyone on the importance of accessibility. She rightly believes that fighting for accessibility should be everyone’s responsibility and that everyone can take steps to learn how to make progress towards a more inclusive world. She provides tangible tools and resources to teach others how to advocate for accessibility and educates companies, students, associations, and fellow community members to become knowledgeable inclusion allies.

Meryl recently graduated from Leadership Plano, Class 38, and now serves on the Leadership Plano Board of Directors. She is a native Texan and currently lives in Plano with her family.

1. Describe your leadership style and how you lead others.

My leadership style is to listen and take action. Too many leaders and companies claim they’re making great strides and support their diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) efforts. In reality, they’re still excluding people with disabilities. And some who hire people with disabilities are not supporting them. They brought them on to tick a box instead of valuing them and their contributions. They’re not helping them thrive in their roles.

2. How can women develop their leadership skills in the workforce?

Look for leaders you admire and follow them. Listen to them. If possible, ask about mentoring or set up a one-time meeting. I’ve been fortunate to complete Plano Chamber of Commerce’s Leadership Plano program. This program gave me the tools to help me level up and refresh my leadership skills.

3. What are the most important decisions you make as a leader?

The most important decisions I make as a leader are determining the direction I want to take with my business and career while ensuring it aligns with my values. I completely changed my business direction in 2020 and I’ve done more in these two years than I have in five years. Plus, I found my ikigai or life’s purpose in raising awareness about people with disabilities and accessibility.

4. What has been one of your biggest joys as a leader?

One of the biggest joys as a leader was being selected by my fellow classmates to serve on the Plano Leadership board. The program gave me so much that I wanted to serve on the board to pay it forward. To do that required my classmates’ votes. They showed they trusted me to represent them and keep Leadership Plano’s mission moving forward.

5. What has been your greatest career disappointment? What did you learn from it?

My greatest career disappointment was when I didn’t land a job that I thought was an almost perfect fit. It took me a long time to get over it. And it turned out to be the best thing that could’ve happened to me. My career completely changed as I found my passion for accessibility and inclusion not long after that happened. I learned that sometimes it takes a no to get to a better yes.

6. What strategies could be used to promote inclusion in the workplace?

Many people find the journey to accessibility and authentic inclusion daunting. I encourage them to think progress over perfection. Start small. Do something every day to nudge the needle. Sometimes it’ll be two steps back. And that’s OK. Progress is not a straight line uphill. The key is to start and think of it as a journey instead of a destination. It’s also critical to have executive-level buy-in for accessibility and inclusion. An organization can’t move forward without it.

7. What advice would you give your 25-year-old self?

After my dad passed away, I wanted less stuff in my home. I once had a collection of books that I hardly ever looked at. I stopped collecting them and donated them to a college. This changed my attitude from buying fewer things to experiencing more in life. Those experiences become lifetime memories. I’d also tell my 25-year-old self to go into accessibility 20 years sooner as I knew about it for decades.

8. What advice can you give to the next generation of female leaders?

Taking care of yourself is the most selfless thing you can do. It makes you better for others. There’s a reason airlines tell us to put the masks on ourselves first before helping others. We can’t help others if we pass out. It’s OK to say no and not to do it all. You can achieve great things without doing everything. Saying yes to too much does no one favors. You spread yourself thin.

9. Who inspired you and why?

Jenny Lay-Flurrie, Microsoft’s Chief Accessibility Officer, inspires me. She cares about making change and welcomes feedback to improve the accessibility of products and services. She happens to be deaf like me, which shows it’s possible for people with disabilities to land executive leadership and nonprofit board roles. And I had the enormous honor of meeting her in person. She’s down to earth, which is what I always aim to be. I also have to add that my mom Karen Kaplan has inspired me for my entire life. I had no idea what I wanted to be when I grew up except for one thing. I wanted to be a volunteer like my mom. Support my community. And I’m doing that.

10. What do you want to be remembered for?

Encouraging people to make progress in their accessibility and inclusion efforts to hire, welcome, and involve people with disabilities.