#Valuable: How one woman’s campaign for inclusion can change the way we do business

Award-winning social activist and entrepreneur, Caroline Casey launches #valuable, a global business campaign to tackle disability exclusion.

The UK government has been accused of breaching a UN convention in its treatment of disabled people, which has prompted a new global campaign, #valuable, which calls on businesses to stand up and recognise the value of people living with disabilities.

The campaign is spearheaded by award-winning activist, social entrepreneur and Binc founder Caroline Casey, who is registered blind. Supported by high profile figures across the business world, including LinkedIn co-founder Reid Hoffman, Channel Four chief marketing officer Dan Brooke, and One Young World co-founder Kate Robertson, the campaign urges 500 businesses around the world to commit to putting disability on their boardroom agenda.

This week, Casey will embark on a boundary-pushing, month-long 1,000-kilometre horse adventure through Colombia to raise awareness of the campaign. She will arrive at the opening ceremony of the One Young World Summit on 4th October, to launch the campaign to the 1,300 next generation leaders with the power to make change.

“I believe that building a global society that recognises the value of the 1 billion people living with a disability starts with business – we’ve seen that business has the power to change behaviour and attitudes on other large social issues,” Casey says.

That statistic; that one billion people around the world are living with a disability, represents one billion people who could otherwise contribute to the world economy by way of talent, creativity and potential. That is the equivalent to disregarding a potential market the size of US, Brazil, Indonesia and Pakistan – combined. Yet people with disabilities are half as likely to be employed as those without, and more businesses in OECD countries than ever before are choosing to pay a fine rather than meeting the international quotas on employing people with disabilities.

“The ambition of #valuable is to begin a real conversation on business and disability that will drive systemic change. It is time to challenge the status quo, and truly position disability equally on diversity and inclusion agendas. But my personal ambition is to find the global business leaders to stand for the one billion people living with a disability – the Paul Polmans and Sheryl Sandbergs to lead this change and spark a new age of inclusion.”

The campaign outlines four key areas for true inclusion:

  1. Encourage 500 businesses around the world to commit to putting the one billion people living with a disability on their boardroom agenda.
  2. Identify 10 game-changing business leaders to stand for the one billion and champion the issue of disability in business around the world.
  3. Bring together 10 inspirational young #valuable ambassadors to call on the businesses they work for and the brands they buy from to put this issue on their board agenda.
  4. Ignite a global conversation about a world where everyone is valued equally.

The one billion disabled hold a disposable annual income of $8 trillion a year – an opportunity that business cannot afford to ignore. Additionally, in the UK, a 10 per cent increase in the disability employment rate would support 1.1 million more disabled people in work. This would increase GDP by £45 billion by 2030 and the exchequer would gain £12 billion through higher tax receipts and lower social security payments.

The #valuable campaign is designed to build on, learn from and spotlight the work of the many businesses and initiatives around the world advancing the inclusion of people with disabilities.This is why Casey’s on a hunt to find ten young campaign ambassadors via One Young World to drive #valuable forward for the next generation.

Around the world, living with a disability disproportionately correlates with lower educational achievement, devastatingly reduced economic participation, and unacceptable rates of poverty. The proportion of disabled people with no qualifications is nearly three times that of non-disabled people. As 15 per cent of the global population, people with a disability represent another faction of the working population tht needs advocacy to advance. This is why Casey’s on a hunt to find ten young campaign ambassadors via One Young World to drive #valuable forward for the next generation.

But in the business context, getting genuine buy-in from the top may be the most important way to improve levels of disability disclosure and, consequently, facilitating requests for workplace adjustments. That was the conclusion of a recent round table hosted by the Recruitment Industry Disability Initiative (RIDI).

The focus group found that while some HR and diversity specialists are sceptical about the level of support available from senior leadership teams, once the topic is brought to the attention of the board, the response is often overwhelmingly positive, with one attendee sharing that leaders within her organisation responded by asking, “why aren’t people telling us? We can really make this work”.

Practical ways in which leaders can bolster disability initiatives shared at the event include; identifying ‘disability champions’ within the business who can communicate their own stories, implementing unconscious bias training, instigating ‘reverse-mentoring’ initiatives where senior managers are partnered with disabled colleagues and leading by example by being open about their own disabilities.

According to HS2 head of equality, diversity and inclusion, Mark Lomas, the overwhelming consensus on the day was that the level of confidence around disability within an organisation is greater if it’s coming down from up high. At HS2 Ltd, a letter from the CEO, delivered direct to the inboxes of employees was instrumental in boosting participation in a programme designed to ascertain workplace adjustment needs, with 75 per cent of employees without a current DSE assessment completing a Clear Talents profile within 72 hours. “However, it is essential that leaders approach disability with purpose, authenticity and trust. Success lies in creating and fostering a culture of trust so that all stakeholders, including senior leaders, feel comfortable asking questions and seeking solutions,” he says.

While it may be natural to have a fear of the unknown, leaders can have a positive impact on disability inclusion by not being afraid to ask questions, being visible in their support of the disability agenda and learning from others, both internally and externally. This according to Kate Headley, director at the Clear Company and spokesperson for RIDI.

“Senior executives should seek out success stories within their own organisation, and use these as a tool to help boost disclosure during recruitment. As our panel highlighted, making adjustments for people who return to work after acquiring a disability is rarely an issue and technology is constantly enabling more people to do a wider variety of jobs,” she explains. “We’ve now moved beyond selling the business case for diversity – leaders are no longer asking ‘why?’ but ‘how?’

“Poor inclusivity is rarely intentional and success is entirely dependent on organisations partnering to share best practice. By supporting others, and holding others to account, we can move this agenda forwards. But there is no ‘silver bullet’, change depends on a seismic shift in ‘micro-behaviours’ across the recruitment landscape.”

Business has proven its social muscle time and time again, making huge progress advancing gender, race and LGBTQ equality over the last 50 years.

There continues to be a significant gap between the employment rate of disabled people and the rest of the population. According to the Office for National Statistics, just 49 per cent of disabled people of working age are in employment. Casey believes that through #valuable, now is the time for business to take disability seriously.

Praseeda Nair

Praseeda Nair

Praseeda was Editor for GrowthBusiness.co.uk from 2016 to 2018.

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