Disability is the weakest link in diversity initiatives

Disability is often overlooked amongst diversity initiatives. However, diversity and inclusion should – by its very nature – be inclusive of everyone. Employers who fail to adequately apply their diversity and inclusive initiatives to those living with disabilities miss out on a valuable talent pool. Yet, recent data reveals that only 37% of FTSE 100 companies have disability initiatives.

This falls to just 4% of companies with initiatives encompassing neurodiversity. To put that in context, about 47% of FTSE 100 companies offer LGBTQ+ empowerment initiatives. And this is before we even consider the effectiveness of these initiatives.

In a climate of candidate shortages and intense competition for talent, this is short-sighted at best.

Around 15-20% of the world’s population is believed to be neurodivergent, so employers are missing out on a crucial resource. And indeed, the Office of National Statistics says just 21.7% of autistic people in the UK are employed, making them the disabled group least likely to be in the workforce.

Why is it in employers’ interests to truly include disability initiatives in diversity and inclusion?
There are far too many common misconceptions and downright myths about disability and disability inclusion ranging from costs involved with workplace adjustments and believing disabled people will struggle to do the job, to beliefs about lack of leadership potential.

However, the Business Disability Forum has previously released research which counters most of these myths. Indeed, their research shows that of the 100+ global brands that prioritise disability inclusion, 80% say it allows them to “access a wider pool of talent, drives employee motivation, and has impact on business objectives.” To put that in monetary terms, companies that master disability inclusion benefit from 30% higher profit margins!

Disability inclusion makes social sense, but it makes financial sense too.

There are numerous benefits to hiring people with disabilities including:

  • Wider talent pools in a time of candidate shortages.
  • The vast majority of disabilities are acquired. This means that employers are choosing to turn their back on skills that they need and are important, lost to the difficulties those with disabilities find in a standardised workplace.
  • Diversity of thought, out-of-the-box thinking and innovation.
  • Improved social reputation.
  • Ageing workforces, with later retirement ages, mean that disability inclusion is essential as 46% of those aged 60+ have a disability.
  • Future skills-proofing – by 2050, the number of people living with a disability is expected to double.
  • Employees with disabilities typically bring valued workplace skills including resilience, tenacity, detail orientation and empathy.
  • Disability inclusivity makes the workplace better for everyone with initiatives that benefit all.

How to create disability initiatives

With disability inclusion, perhaps beyond all other types of diversity, the important overriding premise is that there’s no one size that fits all when it comes to disability in the workplace. However, by creating a workplace where everyone welcomed, valued and accepted, employers and employees can benefit alike.

Here are some important ideas for helping your business to be more inclusive of those with disabilities:

  • Be open and understand barriers

As with all diversity initiatives, the first step is building understanding and awareness amongst senior leaders. It’s important to learn more about the barriers that prevent those with disabilities from choosing to apply for roles with your organisation. From standard in-person interview practices to unintended bias in job adverts and descriptions, change needs to happen across the board.

  • Make the workplace truly accessible

With many workplaces, disability accessibility initiatives are often lip-service at best. There may be ramps for wheelchair access, but office design is limited beyond this. For example, there may be accessible toilets but cleaning supplies are stored there, or routes from certain places to them are inaccessible.

Additionally, making workplaces accessible for disabled employees goes well beyond physical building design. It may also need to include flexible work schedules, assistive technology or ensuring benefits packages are inclusive and don’t penalise those with particular disabilities.

  • Think about customers and clients

If as a business you consider the Purple Pound (the spending power of disabled households), worth around £16 billion to the UK economy, it’s easy to see why disability inclusivity is important to the business.

However, to be appealing to disabled customers and clients, you need to speak to them via those with disabilities. You can reach a broader spectrum of customers with a broader spectrum of employees. An excellent example of this in practice is the Nike FlyEase laceless shoe which was inspired by a man with cerebral palsy. The laces have gone on to have a wide market of both able-bodied and disabled people alike.

  • Understand your current workforce

You almost certainly have current employees hiding disabilities. Understanding your current workforce and the challenges they face is a good first step to learning more about how your business needs to change to be truly inclusive.

  • Shape inclusive content

The content generated by your business via social media channels and other means can be leveraged to showcase positive diverse stories within your organisations. Many companies are realising the potential of their content in diversity growth when it comes to things such as sex and race. However, disability is still largely absent. It needs to be authentic, but it can be a powerful tool to improving the success of disability diversity.

  • Use automation to remove bias and assist

Automation and AI can be a boon to creating diverse workforces in multiple ways. It can aid those with disabilities within the workplace. Removing repetitive tasks by using automation is one example of how this can work.

The time is now
Google search trend data has revealed that our interest in discriminatory issues is on the rise in the workplace, and that’s across all diversity concerns. We are more aware of the impact of diversity initiatives on our workplaces.

Between April 2020 and April 2022, bullying, harassment and discrimination at work searches grew by a staggering 62.5%. There are growing societal and legal pressures on employers to value diversity and bring about true inclusion in the workplace.

In a climate of candidate and skills shortages, disability inclusion needs to be a priority for senior leaders and this starts with developing truly diverse boards and executive teams.

If you’d like to know more about how First Executive can help with this, give us a call.

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