Building disability-smart employee networks – and how to make the most of them

By Ebunola Adenipekun, Business Disability Forum

“Try to do a few things really well” and “Think about the range of access to networks” were just two of the many take-aways at Business Disability Forum’s latest construction roundtable, this time focused on employee networks and held at Balfour Beatty earlier this month.

If businesses wonder what the benefits are of creating employee networks, they include: helping create a diverse workplace and talent pipeline, belonging for employees, increasing awareness, a place to provide expertise and peer support.

Balfour Beatty kicked off their presentation on the day with an explanation of their Allies Affinity Network which includes gender equality, multi-cultural and multi-racial, LGBTQ+ and disability – and how they intersect. The different networks often ally up and provide back up for business cases and programs.

Sam Pierce and Natalie Parker from Balfour Beatty explained the process for setting up the employee network: “When you set up your network, establish interest from within your organisation. Think of a great name! Consider the structure that the network will take and how many meetings you will need to hold, think about the communications you’ll need to send out to your organisation and the budget you’ll need. Secure senior leader support and if you can set up a launch, it’s great if you can link it to an existing event or awareness day.”

A leaflet that says: "Balfour Beatty - Include Everyone - Our Affinity Networks help make Balfour Beatty a great place to work"

Balfour Beatty has a range of employee networks

Strategy must always be a key factor in creating an employee network: get a clear plan of who, what, and how the network will positively affect the organisation. Who should the network include? Balfour Beatty encourages inclusivity, inviting allies, as well as those who identify with the protected characteristic. How will the network meetings take place via members, employees, external parties?

The attendees at the roundtable also discussed how workers on sites might not feel they can tap into employee networks, especially if they are contractors or sub-contractors and not employed directly, but came to the conclusion that it is about educating all of the labour force and supply chain that employee networks can include them!

Indeed Emilia Hardern from Network Rail stated that her organisation was one of the first to invite supply chains and external partners to join their employee networks – so do consider them in the process of forming them if you work in the construction industry.

Emilia also talked about the number of lives that are positively affected by the networks and the opportunity it provides to affect the commercial aspect of business. If employees felt listened to and their needs addressed, this creates better morale and productivity.

Jodie Greer from Shell shared that her approach for her disability-focused employee network Enable was targeted at people who say “it’s not for them”. “That’s exactly who it’s for!”. Jodie herself doesn’t have a disability but wanted to be part of a network that affected change and positive solutions: “If you can change a culture, disability awareness will come.”

Throughout the day, attendees were really keen to pose questions on how they could start implementing employee networks as they were at different levels on the journey and different organisations had useful tips to get the ball rolling such as creating an action plan and partnering with other organisations. Indeed, Balfour Beatty thanked Business Disability Forum for the help it received in setting up its employee network around disability – and Karan Snuggs, Business Disability Partner at Business Disability Forum thanked all who attended.

The day finished with Karin O’Donnell at DWP sharing their processes for networks, and the role that networks play in creating an inclusive environment and helping shape the strategic plan – and how this might help the construction industry think about how they set up their networks.

A networking session rounded off the event and delegates left with another take-away: the role that employee networks play should be driven with SMART objectives to ensure the benefits can be measured.

To find out more about how to attend our networks and taskforces, go to businessdisabilityforum.org.uk/our-services/our-taskforces, and if you are interested in becoming a Member, find out more at businessdisabilityforum.org.uk/membership

Time to talk about men?

By Jacob Spargo-Mabbs, Business Disability Forum

‘Real de-stigmatisation comes from a realistic approach – and when 62% of men will have a mental health problem at work, you could call it an epidemic’ Dr Seidl

Did you know that almost two thirds of men have experienced a mental health issue where work was either the main cause or a contributory factor? Based on the reaction of the audience at BDF’s Scottish Conference, a lot of people weren’t aware of that before (including me).

Dr Wolfgang Seidl (pictured left), David Hanlan (pictured second left), Alex McClintock from Andy’s Man Club (pictured second right) and Michael MacInnes from Mind the men (pictured right) on stage. There is also a BSL interpreter in front of the stage.

Dr Wolfgang Seidl (pictured left), was joined by Alex McClintock from Andy’s Man Club (pictured second right) and Michael MacInnes from Mind the men (pictured right) shared their experiences as part of a panel on men and mental health. They were joined by David Hanlan from Scottish Water, who also gave a talk about health, work and identity (pictured second left).

One of the most talked-about speakers at Business Disability Forum’s Scottish Conference on 30 January was Dr Wolfgang Seidl who spoke eloquently about men’s experience of mental health and the crisis that we are facing as a society. Whilst mental health is now – rightly – receiving greater attention, Dr Seidl shed light on an underappreciated aspect to the mental health crisis: the link between men’s mental health and their work. The statistics and stories that Dr Seidl shared show clearly that mental ill-health is an epidemic, and workplaces will have to adjust to address it. This chimes with Business Disability Forum’s own research in 2019 which showed how many men feel the pressure to perform to societal standards and expectations and the detrimental impact that has on their mental health.

We also heard powerful stories from men who have been directly affected. Dr Seidl played a video of Richard Wright talking frankly about his experience of mental ill health in the workplace. We also heard from Richard’s manager about what he did to support Richard.

Joining Dr Seidl, Alex McClintock from Andy’s Man Club and Michael MacInnes from Mind the men shared their experiences as part of a panel on men and mental health. They were joined by David Hanlan from Scottish Water, who also gave a talk about health, work and identity.

We also heard on the day from our head of legal and campaigns Bela Gor , who asked whether the Equality Act 2010 is fit for 2020 and this is a subject we will be exploring throughout the year, alongside the 25th anniversary of the Disability Discrimination Act. Bela then joined Dennis Howard from RBS, Jennifer Teacy from Scottish Water and Anna Smith from PWC to discuss the role of employee networks in exploring our intersecting identities.

After lunch we heard from comedian Juliette Burton about her experience of mental health. She was followed by Lauren Chiren who shared her experience of menopause and how the lack of a common awareness of menopausal symptoms led her to believe she was experiencing early-onset dementia.

The day finished with a panel hosted by our Global Taskforce and Partner Development Manager  Brendan Roach about accessible tourism in Scotland. He was joined by Robin Sheppard from Bespoke Hotels, Jan Kerr from the Homelands Trust, Moira Henderson MBE from The Rings and Marina Di Duca from Visit Scotland. The overall message from the panel was that being accessible is not just the right thing to do, it’s good for business too, a messaging reiterated by our CEO, Diane Lightfoot, who closed the day. As she said, when you get it right for disabled people, you get it right for everyone.

We’ll be exploring some of these topics and more at our Annual Conference at the British Library Conference Centre in London on 22 April. Sponsored by our Partner HSBC, our theme this year is “Disability in 2020: Time for Business” so do join us! Visit the conference page for more information and to book your place. We hope to see you there!

Working together to drive the disability agenda is #Valuable

By Diane Lightfoot, Business Disability Forum

Business Disability Forum is delighted to be an expert partner of the Valuable500 which returned this week to the World Economic Forum in Davos. It’s been a brilliant and exciting year with #Valuable founder Caroline Casey seemingly circumnavigating the globe in her tireless efforts to engage with CEOs of some of the world’s most iconic brands.

The results speak for themselves: after launching just one year ago, an amazing 240 global leaders have personally committed to putting disability on the board agenda, signalling a huge and vital step forward in the inclusion agenda.

Many of them are Business Disability Forum Partners and Members and we work with them to provide pragmatic support and advice to support their “Disability Smart” journey. For if #Valuable and the Valuable 500 is the (very compelling) “why”, winning hearts and minds, we at Business Disability Forum are the “how” – helping business put the practical actions in place that turn commitment into reality.

The UK has long been at the forefront of driving the disability agenda forward – Business Disability Forum itself was set up almost 30 years ago as the world’s first disability business network – but though huge progress has been made, disability has too often been seen as the” poor relation” in diversity terms. Thankfully, however, in the UK and globally, there is now a growing awareness of disability and an increasing recognition that it is part of being human: it is the one strand of diversity which can and most likely will affect every one of us, whether we acquire a disability ourselves or are close to someone who does.

The 300+ companies that we work with already recognise that disabled people are not only a very large and important talent pool but a hugely significant consumer market too. And, as global brands start to focus on getting it right for this customer group, they will no doubt realise one of our core messages: that when you get it right for disabled people, you get it right for everyone.

And it’s not just about customers; businesses are also increasingly recognising that it is no longer OK to have an external brand that doesn’t match their internal culture and values (and vice versa) – so a focus on the employee space is really important too. In December 2019, Unilever – the first company to join the #Valuable campaign and whom we are proud to count among our Partner group – announced their commitment to becoming the employer of choice for people with disabilities, and a vision that 5% of their workforce worldwide will comprise of disabled people by 2025.

I hope that following the World Economic Forum this month, many more companies will not only sign up to the Valuable 500 but move forward with the leadership and action that will make disability inclusion a reality.

Meanwhile, my huge congratulations to #DisabilitySmart Partners and Members who have signed up to the #Valuable500 over the last year. All of us @DisabilitySmart look forward to working with you to achieve the #InclusionRevolution together #WEF20.

Now, in 2020, it feels as though there is a real opportunity and appetite for a sea change that will transform opportunities for disabled people worldwide. It’s time for business – Disability Smart business – to lead the way.

Diane Lightfoot, CEO, Business Disability Forum

You can read more about the Valuable 500 and the organisations signed up so far in the report launched this week here

Blue Monday: fake, but useful

By Jacob Spargo-Mabbs, Business Disability Forum

Most people can vaguely recall having heard about a day of the year when everyone’s mental health is at its worst, and may even know that it’s in January. Many people may even be able to tell you when it falls: the third Monday of January. This year, that is today (20 January 2020).

Given how widely recognised Blue Monday is among the general public, it may come as a surprise to hear that it doesn’t actually exist at all. At least, not in the sense of being a genuine phenomenon where everyone tends to feel at their lowest point of the year. In fact, Blue Monday was the invention of a PR firm working with a travel company, using a questionable formula (including variables such as “time since failing New Year’s resolutions” and “the need to take action”) to sell people holidays.

Despite its unscientific origins, Blue Monday has persisted in the popular imagination, and every year companies run new Blue Monday promotional campaigns. My personal favourite is Star Wars’ 2016 tweet:

So, while 20 January 2020 isn’t the mental health low point it’s portrayed as, it is nonetheless a useful opportunity to take stock of your mental health, and the mental health of your employees and colleagues.

Because of this, we’re adding a new resource to our Mental Health Toolkit. Entitled ‘Why having friends at work matters’, our new resource emphasises the role workplace friends play in supporting employees’ mental health, and encourages employers to consider the ways in which they could make their workplaces more sociable.

Consider looking at how your office is laid out: is there somewhere for people to sit together and eat lunch? Do break out spaces allow for more casual chats? Perhaps look around at the atmosphere in your workplace: are people comfortable to have casual chats with their colleagues?

There’s no reason your mental health would be worse on the 20th than any other day – but it is a good opportunity to take stock. You or the people you work with may be struggling with mental ill-health and having a friendly atmosphere at work could really boost everyone’s wellbeing.

Not only is it Blue Monday, it’s also the start of a fresh decade; and while those things may be social constructs, why not take this opportunity to reappraise how your business is performing at supporting mental wellbeing, while everyone is talking about it? And if you see ways people’s mental wellbeing could be improved, speak up. Make the changes you can and talk to those who can make changes you can’t. Be a voice for positivity in a conversation dominated by cynical opportunism.

Is 2020 the year of accessibility?

By Lucy Ruck, Taskforce Manager at Business Disability Forum

A man holds a tablet and 2020 in 3D appears. There are patterns across the photo

It would be great if it was, and in so many ways, it really should be. There are more resources, groups and information available than ever before. The business case (and I struggle with that, because why should we need a business case to employ and provided services to people with disabilities and long term health conditions? I’ve never been asked for a business case to employ men) is stronger than ever, with more and more research on how organisations are losing out by not making their products and services available to everyone.

In my role as Taskforce Manager for Business Disability Forum, I find myself speaking to a new contact most weeks about the work that we do. In nearly six years of this, I have yet to find someone who didn’t agree that we should be doing more. So why is this proving such a challenge?

I think that people often want me to deliver ‘magic accessibility pixies’ to them, who will sweep in, waving their wands over all your inaccessible systems and as if by magic – they’re all sorted! I do love magic pixies, but they just don’t exist. It’s like most things in life, if you want something done, you need to work hard at it, have a focus and you will achieve your goals.

Where do you get started with trying to address your organisation’s accessibility issues and how do you know what the issues are? Funnily enough, Business Disability Forum has an amazing tool, called the Accessibility Maturity Model (AMM) and it’s free for anyone to use. The AMM is a self-assessment tool that helps you to look at the tech you have in place and assess how you think about inclusion. It will help you to prioritise what you need to do next and generally give you a focus.

In my experience, I have found that many people who work in digital accessibility, it can be quite an isolating role. More often than not, it’s added to an existing role, so they don’t have dedicated time and resources to really make an impact. But things are changing. I used to only know two or three organisations that had dedicated accessibility colleagues, and I can now think of about 10 different organisations that have a lead full-time post on digital accessibility.

Networking can make a huge difference and really help to move organisations forward and help maintain that positive momentum. We have a Technology Showcase event coming up on Tuesday 3 March, generously hosted by PwC, but there are also some amazing events run on a monthly basis by London Accessibility and Nottingham Accessibility.

Make it one of your new year’s resolutions to just think about accessibility more: How will our product or service work better if we think about inclusion?; How can we embed this within our tech departments, and more broadly across our organisations?

So, is 2020 the year of accessibility? Maybe. If we keep spreading the word and keep on with the hard work it really could be. We are certainly on the cusp of something great.

What does the Queen’s Speech promise for disabled people?

Yesterday (19 December 2019), the Queen addressed Parliament to deliver her 2019 speech. Angela Matthews, our Head of Policy, looks at the disability and business-related elements of what she promises her Government will deliver

Houses of Parliament

Leaving the EU and trade agreements

Leaving the European Union (EU) on 31 January is a priority. After this date, global trade agreements will commence. Business Disability Forum has worked hard to provide evidence for why the Government must expand its international trade agreement procedures to ensure the impact on accessibility and disability inclusion is not forgotten or disregarded during such decisions. The Joint Committee on Human Rights (JCHR) has recommended such to Parliament (Business Disability Forum made this recommendation during the Committee’s call for written evidence on the issue earlier this year). Our policy team will be monitoring how far this recommendation becomes a reality embedded into the heart of the Government trade agreement decision-making processes. The Queen promised in her speech that the “integrity and prosperity of the United Kingdom is of the utmost importance to my Government”. Developing more equality-conscious procedures in our global economic decision-making is a great, hugely impactful way for the Government to live up to this.

The NHS

The Queen also promises that the Government will “deliver on the people’s priorities”. The topic that follows is, of course, the NHS. The NHS is crucial to supporting and maintaining our everyday general health; but for very many employees, is it the system that supports their condition so that that can stay in work. As the Improving lives strategy brings the health and work settings ever closer together, never has it been clearer that for many, many employees, the NHS is a huge part of their lives that they rely on (for example ongoing treatment and rehabilitation which allows them to be well as they stay in and develop at work). For this reason alone (and many others), there will be a ‘sigh of relief’ that hospital charges will be removed “for those in greatest need”. Who those in “greatest need” are, we are yet to see. Many carers and people receiving treatment often need to be parked at hospitals for a day at a time as visits and treatment cycles and appointments can be lengthy. The financial impact of just parking in the place someone needs to be for their or someone else’s disability or condition can be immense.

Working life

“Measures will be brought forward to encourage flexible working” will be welcomed by many. Our policy and advice teams still see that one of the top three adjustments employees with disabilities and long-term conditions say helps them stay employed is their employer’s flexible working culture. For this reason (and others), we have seen many more of our membership organisations revise their flexible working policy for all staff, and for flexible working to be introduced into workplace adjustment policies. Alongside this, the Queen also reminds us that there will be new measures to allow greater leave entitlement to unpaid carers, who are the somewhat ‘silent backbone’ supporting the social care system at present. Without supportive carer policies, we hear of employees with caring responsibilities often care for a relative, partner or neighbour, which can have an impact on their own physical and mental energy levels, and while coming into work and trying to be productive. Measures to support the millions of unpaid carers in our economy are not just welcome, but crucial.

Education

We are promised that “every child has access to high quality education”. The promise of increased skills development and better education opportunities was a feature of many pre-election manifestos. We cannot emphasise enough that “high quality” must necessarily include accessible and inclusive (a topic we asked for action on in our recent manifesto), which many learning formats, programmes and qualification structures are currently not. And this must include people with disabilities at all ages. We know that not everyone is ready for (or wants to be) learning and taking part in non-mandatory education at the same age and time as everyone else (sometimes for disability-related reasons) and an inclusive society needs to ensure that learning and development opportunities are available to people when they choose.

A new Constitution, Democracy and Rights Commission

The Queen announced that a “Constitution, Democracy and Rights Commission” will be established which we heard would “undertake a review of every aspect of the post-Brexit constitutional settlement”. We wait to hear the specific terms of reference for this Commission and trust that the Commission does not just “promote human rights” but enhances and enforces them.

For more policy news go to businessdisabilityforum.org.uk/policy

Disability rights are human rights – and why this matters on Human Rights Day 2019

Colourful stick figures in front of a colourful world map

The phrase “disability and human rights” remains common. Its continued use indicates there is still a lack of recognition that the rights disabled people have are fundamentally rights we have as human beings. Equally, many pan-human rights narratives and projects still often largely neglect to give sufficient attention to the complex and multiple issues that still affect disabled people’s lives in the UK today.

Yet human rights have been at the forefront of the agenda in the UK, particularly during the last 18 months amid Brexit related debates. It is encouraging that human rights issues have made their way into critical discussions at strategic level in political policy development. It has, however, not gone unnoticed that human rights being present on such agendas has been, for the most part, due to human rights committees and bodies pushing this topic into mainstream debates from ‘outside’ of where political decisions are made. As an example, it was the Joint Committee on Human Rights that pushed the topic of ensuring human rights are maintained when the UK Government makes international agreements during and after Brexit into the forefront of Brexit related debates. Similarly, it was the United Nations’ Special Rapporteur who visited the UK to undertake an inquiry of poverty and human rights to ensure the Government paid attention to how well human rights were being monitored as poverty develops in the UK. On each occasion, the conversation did not come from the centre of Government; it came from groups on the periphery of Government.

There is good news and bad news here. On the one hand, it is evidence that political debates and challenge, via the groups surrounding Parliament and Government, has an effective voice that is, for the most part, heard and responded to. On the other hand, it is disappointing that maintaining human (including disability) rights does not always feature as embedded, ‘automatic’, and mandatory topic of consideration during policy development at the most strategic level of Government.

Business Disability Forum wants this to change. This is why we responded to the Joint Committee on Human Rights (JCHR)’s call for written evidence on human rights in international agreements post-Brexit at the beginning of this year (January 2019). We made some recommendations to the Committee, and we were thrilled to see the Committee deliver such a thorough report which reflected many of our concerns, mainly:

  • To ensure disabled people’s rights are specifically included and recognised as human rights;
  • That the agreements we make with international bodies must reflect the UK’s own equalities and human rights legislative standards;
  • To ensure continued compliance with human (including disability) rights is reviewed throughout the delivery lifecycle of an agreement;
  • To make human rights equality analyses part of international agreement sign off processes; and
  • For the JCHR and Parliament to be part of that analysis scrutiny process.

If agreed by the next government, the impact of the last two points would be huge. Making a strategic human (including disability) rights equality analysis part of the process of international agreement making will ensure accessibility, disability equality, and human rights are considered as a mandatory part of the UK’s international agreement process. It will mean that accessibility and the rights of disabled people will be central to decision making to ensure any agreement the UK makes will not adversely impact on disabled people’s lives.
Following the publication of the JCHR’s final inquiry report, we were pleased to see Harriet Harman MP (Chair of the JCHR) say:

“The UK Government must not become the weak link for human rights when making international agreements as we prepare to leave the European Union. Human Rights should not be an ‘add-on’ to any international trade agreement or treaty, but be embedded from the outset, drawing from the right expertise to ensure the highest standards”.

They are excellent words to leave with us on Human Rights Day, and we hope (and will monitor) the next Government will ensure these words are made a reality. Importantly though, this is evidence that by contributing our expertise and evidence gathered from our networks and member businesses, we have influence that makes an impact, and has the potential to change processes at the most strategic level of Government that affect people’s lives.

Therefore, with an election looming this week, Business Disability Forum would like to say thank you to our members and networks of disabled people who have contributed to our human rights policy work this year. In doing so, these businesses #StandUp4HumanRights and we continue to believe that this matters – and makes a difference.

Happy #HumanRightsDay.