Thinking globally about disability and business

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Our Global Taskforce met for the first time in September 2018

By Diane Lightfoot, Chief Executive, Business Disability Forum

To mark the United Nations International Day of People with Disabilities (IDPD), I wanted to share some of the things we have been doing at Business Disability Forum over the past few months to get disability on the global stage.

Forty-five per cent of our members are global or have some sort of international presence. Together, they employ over 8 million people across the world. Many have a presence in developing countries where there is a real opportunity to realise the theme for this year’s IDPD: that is, of “Empowering persons with disabilities and ensuring inclusiveness and equality.”

We upped the ante on our global focus in earnest earlier this year, with the launch of our new Global Taskforce, co-chaired by Shell, back in April. Since then, it has developed into a lively and collaborative community of global businesses including Accenture, Barclays, GSK, EY, Microlink, Unilever, KPMG and more. As with all our Taskforces, it’s a forum where organisations can share best practices and also challenges – a “safe space” to talk about what’s not working and how we might work collectively to fix it.

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Our Global Framework, released in July, uses a scoring system to assess practice

When I first spoke to Partners to moot the idea of a global taskforce, they told me that they didn’t want “another talking shop”. So, the taskforce has been deliberately “action – task!” oriented. We began with the development of our new Global Business Disability Framework, based on our UK based Disability Standard and reframed as a “maturity model” as a self-assessment tool for global leads. We were delighted to launch the Framework at the UK Government’s Global Disability Summit back in July 2018 and it is now being used by global organisations to measure and improve their corporate approach to disability inclusion.

Next year will see the taskforce publish research, create a comprehensive suite of guidance tailored for global business and develop the next iteration of the Global Framework.

We’ve also been on tour! In the last few months we’ve spoken at conferences and held meetings in France, Switzerland, Germany and the Netherlands.

I and my colleagues Brendan and Delphine were very pleased to attend the ILO Global Business Disability Network (GBDN) conference in Geneva last month where I presented our Framework and continued to build our collaboration with the ILO. We really enjoy our partnership with the GBDN and encourage our members to work with them, especially by using their global presence to support the establishment of national business and disability networks in the countries where they are present. We were really pleased to see the Bangladesh network doing well, a new China network just launched and a network in India due to launch in 2019. With that in mind, we were also delighted to host a delegation from the Ministries of Inclusion, Education and Human Rights in Brazil at our London office.

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The conversation around disability is shifting to cities all over the world

I was also lucky enough to join our member CAFE – the Centre for Access to Football in Europe – in Bilbao a couple of weeks ago to speak at their triennial conference at the San Mames stadium. It was a fabulous event in a stunning city and a privilege to talk to such a diverse audience about how the beautiful game can make a real difference to disability employment.

Fittingly, the most recent meeting of our Global Taskforce was on Friday (30 November) hosted by our Founder Leader Barclays at which we discussed strategic approaches to improving disability inclusion globally and how to communicate effectively with a global internal and external audience. Central to this is our partnership with and support to the #Valuable campaign which is seeking to get disability on the agenda of global boards worldwide and we were delighted when Unilever CEO Paul Polman announced our collaboration on stage at One Young World in October.

So, as we celebrate IDPD today with a whole host of events across the world, let’s hope that this is just the start of really shifting the dial on the inclusion of disabled people worldwide.

For more information on Business Disability Forum’s Global Taskforce and the Global Business Disability Framework, visit: https://businessdisabilityforum.org.uk/membership/global-taskforce.

Disability-Smart Awards: Why it matters.

By Ebunola Adenipekun

Business Disability Forum believes inclusive and accessible customer service should be standard practice and that every workplace should be a great place to work. The Disability-Smart Awards aims to showcase and celebrate the most innovative and inclusive practice among employers and service providers. 

Mark Lomas, Head of Equality, Diversity & Inclusion, HS2 (below), who was one of the judges from the Awards last year, and will be rejoining the judging panel this year, said: 

“Being a judge on the Disability-Smart Awards panel is a great way to learn. Some of the submissions were absolutely brilliant – and I can be really difficult to impress! I really enjoyed it! And one of the things is to understand some of the innovative work that goes on and the impact that it makes.

“It’s encouraging to see so many organisations try and get better at becoming disability-smart. It’s great to see the breadth, the innovation, creativity and impact for customers, employees – and the public in general. It shows the impact you make when you do something a bit different.

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Mark Lomas

“What companies can learn from these submissions is the impact it makes on different levels: for individuals, teams and across organisations as a whole.

“Why is it important to be a disability-smart organisation? Who wouldn’t welcome more creativity? A different way of thinking? To innovate? Yet, no-one means to go into a boardroom and exclude 20% of the population that could do that, so the work that people are doing here helps inclusion happen.

“I hope you’re inspired to submit an award!” 

Entries for all categories are open until Thursday 20 September 2018, so there’s plenty of time to get a submission together for one of our seven award categories:

1. Senior disability champion of the year
2. Inclusive service provider of the year 
3. Positive cultural change of the year
4. Workplace adjustment innovation of the year
5. Influential business of the year
6. Technology initiative of the year

7. Disabled People’s Choice Award for the most inclusive service provider, employer or experience’ 

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Disabled People’s Choice Award

We want to hear from you! Have you received great customer service? Don’t forget to tell us what organisation deserves an award in your opinion! Vote today!

Winners will be announced at the Disability-Smart Awards Ceremony in November 2018 (date and venue tbc).

Judges for all of these entries include leading experts in the area of disability, representatives from Business Disability Forum’s Member and Partner organisations and disabled opinion leaders.

Send us your entry today!

Why senior sponsorship/ leadership is crucial to improving an organisation’s disability performance

By Joanna Wootten


Why does leadership matter in regards to disability? Put simply, if employees or work streams aren’t told to think about disability, or prioritise disabled employees or customers, it’s unlikely to happen consistently or systematically. Of course, there will always be individuals doing their best ‘under the radar’. It is also important to note that many people are nervous about getting it wrong, or feel unequipped to address the issue of disability correctly. Organisations should support employees in getting it right – this means ensuring the appropriate systems are in place as well as having the right attitude.

Joanna Wootten giving a presentation

The Disability Standard – Business Disability Forum’s management tool to help businesses measure and improve their performance on disability, reinforces this idea of having strong leadership at the top. Amongst the ten criteria of the Standard – which include ICT, Workplace Adjustments and Recruitment, senior sponsorship remains fundamental. Such support creates both cultural and financial permission, while also empowering employees to tackle sensitive issues with confidence.

If, however, you are struggling to get your colleagues to ‘buy-in’ to your idea, it can be effective to begin with a single issue. This should help to catch people’s attention and imagination. I have witnessed some amazing achievements when companies have offered their support to a particular charity or organisation. People can get very enthused supporting a charity which has a knock on effect on their employee engagement, as well as increasing their understanding and support for diversity initiatives.

While it can be difficult to instigate the first step to becoming disability-smart, it is very encouraging to see an increasing number of organisations that are doing exceptional work within this area and using the Disability Standard to monitor their progress.

We have all seen the Barclays advertisements showing people with visual impairments using talking ATMs. Also, from a personal viewpoint, as a deaf customer, I really value Barclays’ commitment to accessibility as I have used both their online chat function, and accessed their services via a video interpreting service.

It’s apparent that there is leadership from the top as I have seen various senior people including their Chairman, CEO and CEO of Personal & Corporate Banking all talking about the importance of disability, stating it is not just a CSR issue, but fundamental to their business model.

I asked Paul Smyth, Head of IT Accessibility at Barclays, what the company had done to make disability ‘business as usual.’ He pinpointed an event called ‘Living in our customers’ world’ as being pivotal. During this event, attendees – including senior business leaders, were able to test Barclays’ disability simulation kits in order to feel the physical effects of different disabilities. As a result, attendees left the room with a personal insight into the challenges that disabled customers face, and were motivated to ‘use their influence and resources to deliver strategic and operational change.’

Kathryn Townsend, who leads Barclays’ Strategic Transformation – Accessibility & Inclusion, said:

“Barclays has really invested in this by investing in full time resources (mine and Paul Smyth’s teams) whose sole focus is accessibility. We are also given freedom and support to identify the ‘next big thing’ we should adopt, or the key internal issues we need to fix. Without a doubt, our Chief Executive not only believes, but really understands and champions that this is core to how we do business – not an add on.”

I recently spoke with Graeme Whippy, Senior Disability Manager at Lloyds Banking Group (LBG) who said how useful it had been having Mark Fisher, former Director of Operations, championing disability at the company. Graeme discussed how senior sponsorship had helped enable him and his colleagues to talk to people across the business and get them to take disability seriously. As a result, LBG significantly improved their performance across all 10 areas of the Disability Standard. This was particularly true regarding the company’s Workplace Adjustments policy which was completely transformed in 2010 into a centrally funded, award-winning service.

Senior sponsorship has also helped to ensure longevity of commitment at LBG, proven by the implementation of Key Performance Indicators in place, and regular reports to David Oldfield, the current Director of Operations.

Sometimes, however, something has to go wrong before leadership will take disability seriously. This was exemplified at the Civil Service after the organisation’s People Survey demonstrated very low engagement levels among disabled staff, partly because the systems were not in place to support them effectively.

A Civil Service Task Group on Disability found an employee who had been put on 18 months gardening leave because they were waiting for a £15-£30 mouse to be approved, tested and placed on their computer. Having discovered such issues, a Permanent Secretaries’ Reference Group on Disability was created. Now, the Department for Work and Pensions and BDF member leads the way in relation to workplace adjustments, and has shared its best practice with other government departments.

I asked Jenny Groves at Nationwide about the topic of Executive sponsorship. Jenny said:

“In business, the most effective way to achieve success, in whatever you set out to do, is to get your people behind your goals. Ambition is infectious and when you see leaders excited about, and dedicated to, such an important subject, it inspires everyone else. Improving disability performance is about much more than tangible, physical changes. It’s also about changing culture and the way we think, both as individuals and as a company. Whether it’s a business, a school or a community, an organisation’s culture is driven from the behaviours and actions displayed by those at the very top. We know we have the right people in place to increase Nationwide’s accessibility and become a disability-smart, disability-confident business with the support of our senior leaders and Business Disability Forum.”

Discussing the importance of leadership and why it is needed to achieve real change, Stephanie Smith, Director of Operations for Allianz Retail observes:

“Disability awareness and understanding has increased exponentially in recent years, but providing for disabled customers is still seen by many organisations as optional. However, with an aging population and the advent of social media, organisations that are off the pace are increasingly becoming exposed. Having the right services and products for all customers, has always been important of course, but now the impact of getting it wrong is becoming more tangible. So why is it hard for some organisations to focus on what is so obviously the right thing to do? A mind-set and language change is critical, and can only be led from the top. The diversity agenda needs life breathed into it, it needs to be omnipresent in everything you do in your business, from the top to the bottom. And you need to prioritise and invest – not massively, but enough to ensure that in a world where budgets are cut and investments curbed, diversity isn’t the thing always squeezed off the agenda.”

Ultimately, one must allocate resources in a way that will work for the business. For example, I work closely with Sainsbury’s, and they have a board member with responsibility for disability. He chairs two working groups that report to him on a regular basis: one focusing on customers, and the other focusing on employees.

If you aren’t sure how to begin improving your company’s performance on disability, using the Disability Standard and the help available at Business Disability Forum is a very useful starting point.

But it’s important to remember that it’s not just about beautiful systems and ticking the boxes, it’s about creating and/or maintaining the right environment so that people want to work for your company, or use your services. After all, as Winston Churchill said: “Attitude is a little thing that makes a big difference.”


For more information on using the Disability Standard, visit: https://www.disabilitystandard.com/about/

For more information on Barclays Accessibility Statement, visit: http://www.barclays.co.uk/Accessibility/Barclaysaccessibilitystatement/P1242641724754

Click the link to view the Lloyds Banking Group Workplace Adjustments case study: https://www.disabilitystandard.com/media_manager/public/86/Resources/BDF%20Lloyds%20BG%20Workplace%20adjustments%20case%20study.pdf

For more information on Nationwide, visit: http://www.nationwide.co.uk/

For more information on Allianz, visit: https://www.allianz.com/en/careers/allianz_as_an_employer/diversity.html