How big business is driving disability inclusion in the UK

By Kate Birch
From Microsoft’s partnership with UK government to the Big Four’s commitment to The Valuable 500, discover how big business is driving disability inclusion

Disability inclusion is one of the most prevalent D&I issues, with recent research revealing that 1 in 4 Americans and 1 in 5 Brits have disabilities.

And when it comes to disability inclusion in the UK workplace, the record is poor. Some 8.4m working aged people in the UK have a disability, including mental illness and learning disabilities, and yet just over half (52%) are in paid employment.

Pandemic's effect on disability inclusion

However, the pandemic has brought some good news for disabled employees. According to a recent PwC Middle East Remote-Ability report, the shift to remote working, combined with a focus on digital upskilling, could break down some of the barriers that limit people with disabilities from participating in the workforce.

According to Jane Hatton, director at UK specialist disability recruiter Evenbreak, “disabled people have been told for decades that most roles can’t be done from home and of course we now know that’s not the case”.

She adds that the agency has seen “much more interest in the recruitment of disabled people in the last few months through a combination of the Black Lives Matter movement, a growing understanding of social inequalities and the widespread move to remote working”.

And the numbers back this up with data from Evenbreak revealing its annual candidate numbers increased 43% during 2020, with 17% looking for completely remote positions.

That said, while it’s helped improve access to the workplace for some disabilities, it’s created more barriers for others, such as people who are neurodiverse. And this is especially valid as people with autism and those with mental illness/nervous disorders have particularly low employment rates, at 21.7% and 33.3%, respectively.

How is business driving disability inclusion

So, what are businesses doing about it? Well, certainly a lot more than they were with disability inclusion higher up the D&I agenda than ever and organisations increasingly recognising the business case for disability inclusion. A 2020 study of 120 global brands found that 80% of respondents said being disability-inclusive gave them access to a ‘wider pool of talent’ along with improved sales and employee motivation.

And yet, just 20% had a global strategy in place. Increasingly tough, more organisations are taking commitments to action, not just ensuring their own hiring agenda is pro-disability, but themselves joining and launching initiatives to promote and action more disability diverse workplaces industry-wide.

Such action by UK business has been driven in part by The Valuable 500, a global initiative launched at Davos in 2019, and supported by the World Economic Forum, whose aim it is to foster disability inclusion in business by compelling 500 chief executives to make three critical pledges on disability inclusion and ensure disability is on the board agenda.

And the initiative has already secured 439 CEO signatures, among them CEOs at the UK’s Big Four consulting firms (EY, KPMG, PwC, Deloitte), as well as large UK-headquartered companies like Accenture, Aon, Virgin Media, Unilever, HSBC, P&G, Lloyds, Ogilvy UK, Aviva, Sainsbury’s, Microsoft UK, Shell, Aston Martin, Vodafone and BAE Systems.

And some are even setting targets. By 2025, Unilever says 5% of its workforce will be employees with disabilities, while Virgin Media has announced as part of its Meaningful Connections Plan a goal to “create hundreds more employment opportunities for people from under-represented communities”. Allianz has committed to setting up the Allianz employee network for disability inclusion globally; and Deloitte has recently launched a new inclusion strategy focused on building a culture grounded in respectful everyday behaviours.

UK Big Four putting disability inclusion centrestage

In fact, the UK’s Big Four consulting firms - Deloitte, EY, KPMG, PwC – all of whom have signed up already have disability inclusion as an integral part of their Board agendas on inclusion and all are taking steps to greater inclusivity.

Deloitte UK, PwC UK and KPMG UK all work with Auticon, an IT tech consulting firm for the neurodiverse that exclusively hires target the strengths of autistic candidates with targeted hiring. While EY, which has been named on Fortune’s Change the World list for its work with hiring neurodiverse candidates, runs its own Neurodiverse Centres of Excellence, which recruit, train and employ individuals on the autism spectrum.

“Businesses like ours have a responsibility to promote inclusion and equality, and as business leaders we need to work together to unlock the value of disabled talent across society,” says Kevin Ellis, senior partner at PwC UK.

Microsoft partners UK government on initiative

The latest disability inclusion effort comes courtesy of Microsoft UK, which has just announced an initiative in partnership with the UK government (the Department for Work and Pensions) to help jobseekers with disabilities get support and guidance when looking for employment.

According to Hector Minto, Senior Tech Evangelist at Microsoft UK, it’s “critical that people with disabilities get the right advice and support to secure or retain employment” and to help achieve this, the tech giant has committed to training 26,000 coaches within the government in accessibility fundamentals. This is something Microsoft has been using itself for the past three years and as a result knows the “impact it has made on our own employees’ ability and confidence to support people with disabilities”.

The accessibility coaching includes training in Microsoft tools such as immersive reader, magnififer and automated captions, skills that will enable the coaches to show jobseekers how they too can use those free tools at home to get the support they need.

But that’s not all. Microsoft has also partnered with UK charity SeeAbility to grow its Creating Connections programme, which aims to promote digital inclusion by developing connections and skills in communities across the UK.


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