Disability inclusion within businesses has made slow progress compared to the other DE&I counterparts. There is an urgent need for schemes which target the root cause of the issue and connect people across the professional hierarchy. The Valuable 500 Generation Valuable mentoring programme is a first of its kind and will sit at the heart of some of the world’s largest organisations.
Although DE&I matters have edged onto boardroom agendas, disability often remains an uncomfortable and undisclosed subject, despite there being 14.1 million disabled people in the UK. Leaders are critical to shifting perceptions as they make choices, and choices create culture.
Despite this, CEO’s have been slow to dispel myths that disability should be kept behind closed doors. According to recent research, 7% of CEO’s have a direct experience of disability, but four out of five are hiding it. Unconscious biases will continue to be reinforced without representation, and the progression of disability inclusion within the workplace will remain stagnant.
Businesses need to act with real intention with disability inclusion policies. They must veer away from tokenistic schemes and empty platitudes – real change can only be achieved by championing initiatives that address the heart of the matter and are driven by leadership teams.
The Valuable 500, the largest collection of global CEOs committed to disability inclusion, believe that the next generation needs to be at the heart of building inclusive businesses of the future. We recently launched Generation Valuable, a leadership programme designed to identify the next generation of leaders for inclusive businesses, accelerating opportunities for people with disabilities to become the talented voices of tomorrow’s C-Suite.
The lack of access to people in leadership positions, as well as the many people who feel they fare better if they hide their disability needs to change. This initiative proves that there is an array of disabled talent within businesses and that they are more than capable of occupying positions of power and leadership. Enabling disabled talent to flourish and reach their full potential by shattering glass ceilings is how we will transform antiquated business systems.
The Valuable 500 recently partnered with Tortoise Media in a study which found that ‘No FTSE company had a senior leader or above who identified as having a disability.’ We know that cannot possibly be true – the fact that no one is comfortable identifying as disabled is part of the systemic problem that Generation Valuable aims to dismantle.
The need for Generation Valuable was further highlighted when research found that 63% of businesses didn’t know how many people within their organisation identify as disabled. How can you cater for a workforce’s diverse needs if you do not know the composition?
By putting disabled staff and consumers at the heart of business strategies, companies will rewrite the cultural narrative necessary to embrace inclusion and gauge the extent to which it is reflected within business. The Valuable Truth survey found that 51% of respondents completed or are in the process of completing a self-disclosure campaign that will help to tailor health and wellbeing offerings to employees’ needs.
Generation Valuable will enable businesses to foster cultures where employees across the hierarchy can feel safe, without fear of prejudice and be recognised for their talent. It will empower employees to have more open dialogues within the workplace, and establishing ERGs with executive sponsorship will enable employees to bring their whole selves to work. By identifying the barriers which prevent employees from flourishing, businesses can put in place support systems that enable their workforce to perform at their best. This will provide a better offering to consumers and service users as the products and services would have had a more diverse input.
Generation Valuable will effectively build a community of participants who can share their learnings to further drive inclusion within their respective businesses. The initiative will amplify the substantial contribution of disabled people and drive the cultural change needed in industries.
Disability need not be an uncomfortable discussion. We are extraordinary, different, wonderful people who are not defined by the box we tick. Disability is often considered as something synonymous with being weak or dependent, but there is a wealth of talent that is not being utilised for their insight, innovative ideas and potential.
By moving past the medical model of disability and recognising that societal structures are a barrier for many, we can truly begin to level the playing field. Time and again, disability has remained on the fringes of the diversity and inclusion movement.
It is imperative that employers understand the demographic composition of their organisation to ensure that their business reflects the communities and customers they serve. Bringing mentees into direct contact with key decision makers will do just that – and help build a more inclusive C-Suite of the future.