Inclusion: putting disability at the heart of the business strategy

It’s time for all facets of diversity, including disability, to be a priority for businesses in the UK and further afield. Here, Leila McKenzie Delis, founder of the McKenzie Delis Foundation, writes for Enable about the value of disability inclusion strategies and how the organisation is creating change.

Leila McKenzie Delis

In the UK, there are estimated to be more than 14 million people living with a disability. Around 7.7 million are of working age but only around half of that number are employed, highlighting how barriers clearly exist for differently-abled people when it comes to the workplace and career opportunities. 

In fact, the employment gap between able bodied people and differently-abled people is around 28 per cent and that number has remained stagnant for far too long.

It’s an issue that’s been talked about for many years, but progress has been painfully slow. The lack of proper action has left many differently-abled people feeling neglected, isolated and often invisible. It’s time for that to change.

Through our work at the McKenzie Delis Foundation, I’m pleased to say that some of the biggest companies in the UK are increasingly recognising the economic value that a disability inclusion strategy can bring. 

We’ve seen some good examples of companies adopting practices to improve disability inclusion in their workforce and to ensure that as a business, they can attract, recruit and retain differently-abled people. 

Although there are positive signs, the UK’s biggest companies have a responsibility to lead by example and we need to see more organisations leading the way and empowering people. 

A question of attitude and permanent stigma?

Back in 2020, we put together a review on diversity and inclusion in UK workplaces. It was the first review of its kind, offering a comprehensive and nationwide analysis across ten key facets of workplace diversity. In addition to disability, we looked at race and ethnicity, age, gender, sexual orientation, mental health, socioeconomic background, nationality, religion, and parenthood. 

Focusing on disability, we found that 91 per cent of participating organisations had a process to ensure differently-abled people had the adjustments they need at work. Around 60 per cent of organisations had also engaged with their workforce on why disability inclusion is important.

Disappointingly, only 35 per cent of companies said they had senior leaders in every area of the organisation ensuring disability inclusion was part of the business strategy, leaving 43 per cent that did not, and 22 per cent that did not know.

Only 7 per cent of business leaders identify as differently-abled – a tiny fraction – so clearly candidates are being seriously overlooked when it comes to the top jobs. Increasing that number will add some real perspective at a senior level which can only be a good thing. More education is also needed to ensure the remaining 93 per cent of the workforce understand the challenges that differently-abled workers can face. 

Only by having diversity and inclusion at the heart of business strategy will business leaders fully appreciate the impact on their companies, suppliers, customers, clients and investors. It goes further than just the workforce – it’s about diversity and inclusion for people at every level. We’ve heard lots of words, but leaders must go further with their actions to set an example for others to follow.

Beyond the senior team, organisations must also make sure employees are part of the work to develop solutions. This will help reduce some of the stigma that we know unfortunately still exists around the hiring and discrimination of differently-abled people in the UK.

The path to long-term change

Through the McKenzie Delis Foundation, we are now in the process of starting to compile our new report for 2021, which we expect to feature even more of the UK’s top companies. As well as understanding what level of support companies are providing to differently abled workers, we will also be able to benchmark what progress has been made over the past year.

Diversity and inclusion is a complex subject, but understanding the 10 different facets as we see them and shining a light on best practices is one way that we will be able to shift the dial. Not just for the short term, but for good. 

There is no question that differently-abled workers have a huge amount to offer employers of all shapes and sizes – tenacity, ingenuity, resilience and creativity are just a few of the common character traits we see every day. But organisations must push the boundaries when it comes to action and being accountable to really see meaningful change come into play. That’s the aim of our review and we’re committed to making it happen.

For more information and to learn how to participate, visit www.mckenziedelisfoundation.com or email hello@mckenziedelisfoundation.com

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