Lakshmi Shyamakrishnan and her sister grew up in a home where their parents instilled in them a tenacity to take on challenges, voice their opinions, and dream big. While she was aware of her dwarfism, Lakshmi did not consider her physical differences as a large part of her identity.
Born with Achondroplasia, the most common form of dwarfism, Lakshmi reflects that she pushed aside the aspect of being a little person.
“I didn’t acknowledge it until someone else did, but even then I didn't make an effort to educate anyone - I just changed the subject or tried to move past the conversation,” shared Lakshmi.
Venturing out into the world and armed with self-confidence, Lakshmi emerged from the support of her family to explore an education at Robert H. Smith School of Business at the University of Maryland. A top business school for research and education, Lakshmi started her higher education journey as a double major in information systems and marketing.
In 2019, she was awarded a 3-month internship with the Foveon Corporation as a Business Analyst Intern in San Jose, California. Ready to maximize her knowledge for inventory management and create solutions to minimize inefficiencies, Lakshmi noticed during her planning that, just a couple of blocks away, the Little People of America (LPA) organization was gathering for their annual conference.
Taking her exuberance for knowledge and love of networking, Lakshmi reasoned the timing was perfect and signed up to attend the week-long conference during her downtime from the summer internship. She had never attended any event hosted by the LPA before.
“For the first time in my life, there were hundreds of people that looked like me,” shared Lakshmi. “And it wasn’t overwhelming - in fact, it was a breath of fresh air.”
The more she heard the stories and perspectives of people during the conference, the more she wanted to give back.
“My mind was opening to new perspectives,” said Lakshmi.
With 21 years of catching up to really understand the little person population, Lakshmi left the conference feeling more excited about her future than ever.
“I shifted from being in complete denial that I was a little person to - I can do something with this platform.”
Lakshmi also came home with a performance art fellowship from the Dwarf Artist Coalition, a sub-organization within the LPA. This opportunity provided the first steps for Lakshmi to dive into her love of the creative arts.
Soon after the conference, Lakshmi was also featured in the LPA newsletter to share her story as a first-time attendee.
Meeting the amazing individuals at the conference began to carve a path in Lakshmi’s mind to give people with disabilities a voice. Lakshmi remembers reflecting back on her time in denial as a young person with Achondroplasia.
“I thought about the missed opportunities to do so much more, however this new-found approach to use my knowledge sparked a fire in me to return to campus and rally real change.”
Her first action was to propose the “Restroom Accessibility Initiative” to allow complete public accommodations for the basic needs of physically disabled students.
“In October 2019, I approached the Operations Building Services team on campus with the issue of the soap dispensers not being accessible to people like me,” explained Lakshmi. “Even though they were technically ADA compliant, accessibility means something different to everyone.”
While it took two years to see new soap dispensers installed, Lakshmi’s tenacity did kick-start a diversity initiative on campus.
After graduating in May 2020, Lakshmi found herself with no job prospects thanks to the uncertainty of the world due to COVID. Instead, she decided to pursue a master’s degree and take advantage of a paused gap she could do nothing about.
“My career path has been anything but linear,” says Lakshmi. “Yet each one of my experiences has led me to learn about the lack of focus on equity and come up with creative solutions for giving marginalized populations a voice.”
In her upcoming book “Changing the Narrative: Living in a World Not Made for Everyone” published by New Degree Press in May 2022, Lakshmi challenges companies and employers to move beyond checking the diversity and inclusion box when it comes to creating an ongoing narrative and support for underrepresented communities in the workplace.
“I want people to see this book as an opportunity to open minds to the different types of diversity that exist in this world, change the perceptions that society has conditioned us to believe, and learn how to help create a better and more inclusive world.”
In “Changing the Narrative” readers will learn:
How to be aware of implicit biases.
The different issues facing individuals with dwarfism.
How to be an advocate.
Lakshmi believes through the 3 Es - Education, Exposure, and Empathy, we can learn from the perspectives of all backgrounds and discover the value of employing underrepresented communities by using their skill sets to the best of their abilities.
“True examples of diversity can be found when we look at leadership,” commented Lakshmi. “The reality is that we need to show business leadership data and statistics that incorporating shared perspectives into a business model will only boost benefits.”
A 2019 study by Accenture, the American Association of People with Disabilities, and Disability:IN explored 140 companies and found the leadership that offered employees the most inclusion for disabled employees had greater profit margins, net income, and revenue.
Lakshmi’s book, positioned with an Education, Exposure, and Empathy model, will only further drive the world towards a truly inclusive and accessible society.
For more information about Lakshmi’s book, visit the “Changing the Narrative” IndieGoGo fundraising page, or reach out to firstname.lastname@example.org for interview and book launch date details.
Watch Lakshmi in action as she talks about the lack of focus on equity in the business space in her 2021 Tedx Talk - Accessing the Exclusive.