Recent news that the UK Government declined to attend a UN review of its treatment of disabled people has once again thrust the issue of disability inclusion into the spotlight.
Discrimination against people with disabilities is a woefully familiar narrative, and yet it is clear that there is still much work to be done.
With government strategies stalling, it is even more important for businesses – some of the most powerful forces on the planet – to step up and take the lead in driving corporate and social progress.
In order to gauge the extent of the issue, we need to understand the magnitude of the untapped population of this minority group.
An estimated 16% of the world’s population (1.3 billion people) live with some form of disability, out of which at least 450 million of them are of working age.
In the UK alone, nearly 16 million people (about the population of New York) are disabled, accounting for almost 24% of the population.
Despite making up a significant proportion of the population, there is still acute underrepresentation of individuals with disabilities in the workplace – meaning that businesses are missing out on both talent and economic potential.
Discrimination against people with disabilities is a woefully familiar narrative, and yet it is clear that there is still much work to be done
Embracing disability inclusion is vital
While embracing disability inclusion is undoubtedly a moral imperative, it is also strategically and financially advantageous for businesses.
Companies that prioritise disability inclusion unlock a vast pool of untapped talent, with the disabled population bringing unique perspectives, skills, and experiences to the table.
By fostering an inclusive workplace, businesses can therefore harness this diverse talent pool to drive economic growth as well as innovation and creativity.
Through research and working with its partners, the Valuable 500 – the global partnership of 500 companies working together to end disability exclusion – identified three of the largest system barriers to disability inclusion within business.
- The lack of representation of people with disabilities in the C-Suite (Leadership)
- The dearth of standardised reporting on disability data (Reporting)
- The lack of representation in organisations communications, advertising and collateral (Representation)
So, how do we go about removing these barriers? Like approaches taken to drive sales or to make supply chains more sustainable, building a disability-inclusive culture must begin in the C-Suite.
Action begins in the C-Suite
Diversity programmes should be robust and measurable in order to achieve tangible change.
Companies and their leaders should adopt and disclose against five key KPIs as a baseline measure on the progress of disability inclusion, as proposed in the Valuable 500’s recently published White Paper.
Disability inclusion can only be properly managed when there is visibility around the current state of affairs, as well as around any progress.
Like approaches taken to drive sales or to make supply chains more sustainable, building a disability-inclusive culture must begin in the C-Suite
Creating a culture of trust
Organisations should begin by creating a culture of trust where employees feel safe to anonymously self-declare as having a disability – which will then allow companies to determine the number of employees who identify as disabled.
Secondly, they should put defined goals in place, followed by disability inclusion training for managers and employees and disability-specific Employee Resource Groups. Finally, companies should plan to review the accessibility of their digital platforms and content.
These measures can be adopted through three instrumental levers of change: annual reports and accounts, materiality assessments and investor dialogues.
Companies can then use this to illustrate the importance of disability inclusion to their investors and the wider business community.
Following the pathway to meaningful inclusion
Once this process is legitimised and embedded into company culture, a clear pathway to meaningful inclusion opens up. If we can change business, then society will follow in step.
Indeed, companies with clear commitments to disability inclusion are already making a positive impact.
Sky, for instance, has agreed to routinely update its progress on five initiatives around disability inclusion – focusing on reporting on the percentage of its workforce who have a disability, measuring its performance against its inclusivity programmes, training managers and employees, and reviewing its digital accessibility.
Another example is Lloyds Banking Group, which has set a public objective to enhance the representation of senior employees with disabilities in the workplace.
Currently, 6% of senior management co-workers in the Group have disclosed having a disability. By 2025, the new objective seeks to double representation to 12%.
Organisations should begin by creating a culture of trust where employees feel safe to anonymously self-declare as having a disability – which will then allow companies to determine the number of employees who identify as disabled
Pushing forward, together
Telefonica has also committed to doubling the number of employees with disabilities in the workforce by 2024, and Unilever has announced its target of having 5% of its workforce including people with disabilities by 2025. We are also hearing more companies that are proactively creating inclusion strategies and accessibility policies.
By establishing these tangible objectives and holding themselves accountable, companies can drive collective momentum towards more accessible and inclusive workplaces.
It is corporations and their leaders who possess the power for positive change. With targeted action and measurable, transparent goals, businesses will reap the benefits while building a more inclusive world for people with disabilities.
If you enjoyed this, read: How organisations can be more inclusive to the disabled community