Take a chance on me – disability employment at Workability 2018

Coastline of Sweden from the air

The coastline of Sweden from the air

 

By Diane Lightfoot

Earlier this week, I was lucky enough to be in sunny Stockholm for the 2018 Workability International Conference (indeed I am writing this flying back over the Swedish coast– it is absolutely stunning. There was also a strong ABBA theme to the conference – hence the title of this blog!).

Every year, Workability International brings together companies, organizations, and governments from around the world to discuss and highlight the ‘actions, measures, and practices that are the most successful in creating inclusive labour markets where more people with disabilities are given the opportunities to contribute’.

The theme of this year’s conference was ‘Lead the Way’ and I was invited to speak about how Business Disability Forum works in partnership with business to develop tools to help measure and improve their performance when recruiting and retaining employees with disabilities. (A note around terminology here: whilst in the UK we refer to “disabled people” to reflect our belief that it is society which “disables” people rather than it being an intrinsic condition, the broader global – and United Nations – recognised definition is of “people with disabilities” and so I have used this term in this context.)

Providing practical support

The main stage and screen at the 2018 Workability Annual Conference

The main stage and screen at the 2018 Workability Annual Conference

As regular readers will know, at Business Disability Forum, we provide pragmatic support by sharing expertise, giving advice, providing training and consultancy, facilitating networking opportunities and developing practical tools.

As a business membership organisation, we work in partnership with companies and people with disabilities to develop tools that are practical, rooted in the reality of business and credible in the eyes of both business and people with disabilities.

To support this, way back in 2004, we developed the Disability Standard, a tool designed specifically to help organisations measure and improve their performance for employees and customers with disabilities

The Disability Standard (sponsored by our Partner Accenture) sits at the heart of our member offer and is now an online management framework which allows organisations to assess how disability-smart they are across the whole of the business from commitment to HR, procurement, premises and ICT. It reflects our central ethos: that getting things right for people with disabilities is not solely the domain of HR or CSR but needs a whole organisation approach. Essentially, we believe that disability is everyone’s business.

Adapting the Disability Standard in other countries

In our experience, this whole organisation approach to improving the recruitment and retention of employees with disabilities is a fundamental and universal concept.

We love to share our experiences and what we’ve learned over nearly 30 years with governments, organisations and business and disability networks from around the world. We are proud that the Disability Standard now provides the framework for the ‘Access and Inclusion Index’ offered by the Australian Network on Disability and the Ministry of Labor’s national ‘Mowaamah’ certification system in the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia.

Developing a tool to help global business

stockholm1Globally, an estimated one billion people have a disability (that’s 15% of the world’s population). Nearly half of our members have some sort of an international presence with many employing hundreds of thousands of people globally.

Many have a presence in developing countries where we know that disabled people are some of the most disadvantaged people in the world. So, the opportunity for global organisaitons to make a positive impact – through direct employment and by influencing supply chains – is huge and we are increasingly being asked by members for support in helping them to think through how they can get it right for employees and customers with disabilities wherever they are in the world.

We are already seeing some excellent practice from our members. For example:

But our Partner and Member organisations told us they wanted more! They asked if we could adapt our Disability Standard to provide them with a really practical framework and set of tools that they can use wherever in the world they operate. And of course, we said yes! So, with the support of our Partner Shell, earlier this year we established a Global Taskforce comprising members of our Partner Group including Atos, Barclays, EY and GSK that has come together to develop a tool that will help employees with global responsibility to measure and improve their organisation’s corporate approach to disability inclusion.

Some of the issues the group grappled with include:

  • How to develop a disability strategy that is robust enough to provide a global framework – and which also allows for implementation that is culturally and legally appropriate at a local level?
  • How to ensure that global functions, tools or standards – ranging from e-learning to office design guidelines – consider the needs of users with disabilities?
  • How to ensure that global mobility processes/tools include a focus on accessibility and adjustments to ensure that employees with disabilities can undertake overseas assignments, make permanent moves and undertake international business travel?
  • How to create innovative approaches to recruitment, retention and service provision in any developing countries where they have a presence?

It’s not been entirely straightforward; in particular, the need to maintain an approach to quality that is sufficiently robust and rigorous to be meaningful and credible to business and disabled people, combined with the drive for simplicity and ease of use has not been an easy circle to square! But we think – and we hope – that together we have created something that will have real practical application for businesses and – most importantly – transform the life chances of disabled people worldwide.

The tool is in the final stages of testing and will be launched in July 2018 around the Department for International Development (DfID) Global Summit which we are actively involved in shaping. We are also proud to be working in in partnership with the International Labor Organization (ILO) at the United Nations in Geneva and as part of the #Valuable campaign to get disability on the board agenda of 500 global companies.

Disability matters: it matters in the UK and it matters worldwide. We hope that this new tool will help business – and beyond – to make a real step change in employment for disabled people and – to quote  the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals – ensure that no-one is left behind.

Diane Lightfoot

CEO

Business Disability Forum

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