With the Government keen to enhance the UK’s export performance of professional and business services from the already net £19bn receipts per year, Business Disability Forum (BDF) has been undertaking some rather extraordinary professional services exporting to the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia (KSA).
BDF, a membership body that comprises some of the UK’s biggest and well-known business and public sector organisations collaborating to improve disability performance, has been contracted by the KSA Ministry of Labor to assist with the development of a KSA Disability Confidence Index to support improved disability confidence amongst the Kingdom’s private sector.
This is truly ground-breaking work in applying lessons learned from the more than 20 years of working with UK corporates and public sector organisations.
BDF’s pioneering Disability Standard provides a whole-of-organisation framework for improving disability performance recognising that a corporate approach championed by a senior sponsor is the surest way of embedding good quality accessible recruitment, retention and career development opportunities for disabled people.
However, context is critical. The Saudi starting point is totally different to the UK.
There are no enforced legal protections for disabled people and culturally, disability often remains taboo.
It was to my great sadness that I realised that deaf people would largely be non-verbal too, as they had never been taught to speak and that schooling for deaf children is wholly different and substantially simpler than the curriculum for hearing children.
Many people have told us that non-visible impairments such as mental health, autism and dyslexia are not talked about at work or in the wider society.
Indeed, for some people they find out accidentally, sometimes decades later, that close friends have another child- a disabled child who may even be in their 20s or 30s.
BDF’s work is developing and piloting a bespoke KSA Disability Confidence Index collaborating with seven of the largest corporates in the Kingdom and contributing to the wider development of a business disability confident certification system.
These cover industries including pharmaceutical and medical supplies distribution, edible oil production, steel and air conditioning manufacturing and tractor manufacture.
We have been impressed that there are some examples of good practice that should be nurtured and promoted and we would encourage here in the UK. For example, several companies have:
- Forged links with disability non-government organisations to support active recruitment of appropriately skilled disabled candidates
- Established cross-functional teams led by senior executive sponsors to review and improve disability confidence across all areas of the business, and
- Implemented flexible workplace adjustment processes that are responsive to individual disabled staff needs.
There is obviously a long way to go to mirror where the UK is; and that’s even accepting UK companies have some way to go in achieving best practice for disabled employees, candidates and customers as well.
All in all, an assignment like no other.
That said, the Middle East is a rapidly growing market for business and professional services and the UK is uniquely positioned by language, trade and cultural ties and business practice to support that growth.