Putting disability on the map – our Global Conference 2020

By Ebunola Adenipekun, Business Disability Forum

Our Global Conference 2020, held at EY, with the audience looking at the stage

Our Global Conference 2020, held at EY

“Just go out there, try things, make things happen, and you can change things in your organisations,” was one of the rousing calls from one of the speakers Shell’s Andy Kneen as Business Disability Forum held its inaugural global conference in February at EY. The day explored the challenges of developing a global disability strategy, as well as looking at the practical steps already taken by members of its Global Taskforce.

The taskforce itself was formed in April 2018 seeking to improve the life chances of people with disabilities globally by ensuring that a best practice approach to disability inclusion is being adopted across global operations.

Stefan Tromel Disability Specialist at the International Labour Organisation and heads up the Global Business Disability Network stated: “Now the good news is, we are seeing the level of attention that disability and disability rights and the employment for disabled person on a global scale is unprecedented. We have the Sustainable Development Goals, we have the UN Convention on the rights of persons with disabilities, with 170 countries ratifying that.  If you look just 15 years back, there was almost no discussions in the majority of companies around legislation and policies around people with disabilities. Not only do we now have these discussions, but we see an amazing involvement of the corporate sector.”

One of the other speakers on the day was Lyn Lee who, in conversation with Diane Lightfoot, CEO of Business Disability Forum, explained how Shell had developed a global approach to implementing workplace accessibility in about 45 countries.

Lyn also explained why Shell have sponsored Business Disability Forum’s research on the challenges of developing a global disability inclusion strategy, “About a year ago, I was looking around and feeling a little bit overwhelmed that beyond workplace accessibility there was digital accessibility, customer accessibility, competency building for our employees, including our employees with disabilities and global meaning and definition on accessibility.” There were also questions around what exactly Shell was doing beyond business accessibility… The first question that came to Lyn’s mind was: “Is there any research on the challenges of implementing something global?”

Other speakers included Matt Dowie from HSBC who enlightened the audience on how HSBC has turned corporate commitment into tangible action. HSBC now have a global disability champion in their CFO Ewen Stevenson and he sponsors a global programme that encompasses areas such as data, knowledge and adjustments.

Alex Lane at Accenture talked about Accenture’s journey and new initiatives: they now have 45 countries around the world with active disability programmes. Their global leadership programme ‘Activity Unleashed’ offers personal and career development opportunities to disabled colleagues across Accenture’s global operations.

One of the most anticipated panels was Global strategy, local delivery: How to ensure a global disability strategy works in local contexts with Murteza Khan, the CEO of the Bangladesh Business and Disability Network, the aforementioned Stefan, Turki Halabi, Executive manager at Qaderoon Business Disability Network in Saudi Arabia and Reeti Dubey, Business Manager to the Head of HR in India at RBS. Murteza emphasised the importance of global companies’ impact through their supply chain: “In Bangladesh a meaningful structured way inclusion started to happen in the industry because Marks & Spencer’s, Primark and H&M started to motivate a lot of their local partner factories to start looking at inclusion and provide the tech support and the NGOs identified the skills building and identifying candidates, et cetera, to then start working on that systematically.”

The day then headed into inclusive branding with Sinem Kaynak and Manisha Mehta of Unilever. Sinem encouraged businesses: “If you are an advertiser yourselves, in your companies, try to make your advertising more inclusive because its power is huge.  You know, it’s so many people around the world seeing it, watching it every day, and we often neglect what a powerful tool it is in shaping societies. So, try to make yourselves and your brands and your communications more diverse and inclusive.”

After Sinem’s and Manisha’s insightful conversation Andy Kneen from Shell then highlighted one of the practical ways Shell is striving to be disability-smart with their new app for disabled customers and explained: “You get to the petrol station and press a button and let them know you have arrived. One of our Shell colleagues will come and fill up your fuel tank.  If you want a snack, they will take payment in the car, either electronically or a cash payment. It is something that started in the UK… and we have in all of our UK petrol stations and you can see there on the right‑hand side a quote from one of the users who described it as being a life changing experience because it gave him independence and he doesn’t have to be reliant on other people when other people are available.”

The final panel of Kate Nash OBE, founder of PurpleSpace and the PurpleLightUp movement, Iain Wilkie, Founder of 50 Million Voices and James Partridge, CEO of Face Equality International talked about the disadvantages from “face-ism” (facial difference/disfigurement) and stuttering and the ways their organisations 50 Million Voices and Face Equality International respectively work to combat that. Media coverage plays a crucial part in perceptions.

And as Andy and Diane wrapped up the conference Andy stated: “I’m a little bit emotional to think that so many people in this room, who have come here today, to talk about how we take disability global. Compare that to a few years ago, it is massive progress. There’s great energy in this room, and disability is one of those areas where we can work together and share experiences. There’s nothing sensitive here, so let’s try to learn from one another.”

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Help to shape research on global disability inclusion strategies

Two hands shaking across a night landscape

Globally, an estimated one billion people have a disability (that’s 15% of the world’s population). There is strong evidence that disability and poverty are linked, with disabled people more likely to live in poverty due to higher unemployment, lower income levels and lower attainment of skills and qualifications. This is a global trend but, unsurprisingly, is especially pronounced in low income countries.

Half of the organisations that we support at Business Disability Forum are global. Between them, they employ more than 8 million people globally. Members and Partners are increasingly telling us that their ambition is to get it right for employees and customers with disabilities wherever they are in world.

Whilst it’s relatively early days, we’re already seeing some brilliant examples of organisations approaching disability as a global business issue. For example, Accenture has a global disability strategy and Shell has developed a global process for making workplace adjustments for employees with disabilities.

Please share your views!

With this in mind, Business Disability Forum is conducting research into disability inclusion at a global business level.

Sponsored by Shell, the project is exploring the existence, and challenges, businesses face in developing a global strategy, as well as lessons learnt so far.

We know this is a complex, but incredibly important area of our work and the only way of exploring it fully is to talk to as many global businesses as possible. It does not matter where your organisation currently stands regarding commitment, or activity, relating to a global strategy for disability inclusion – please share your views in this short online survey.

The body of research will be used to develop guiding principles and practical steps for diversity and inclusion professionals to use within their own organisations. Findings from the survey and the wider research will be published in 2020.

If you work in a global organisation and have a view on how disability inclusion is working, or might work, at a global level in your business, then please take part.  The survey is anonymous and an opinion piece of research, you will not be required to know or share any data. It will take approximately 10 to 15 minutes to complete.

To take part in the survey please click on the following link https://www.surveymonkey.co.uk/r/GDSS8V6

Please contact us at global@businessdisabilityforum.org.uk if a different format of the questionnaire would work better for you. Do not hesitate to contact us at the same email address if you have any other queries.

Business Disability Forum thanks all contributors for their time and input into this important piece of research.