How RBA’s disability strategy enables it to thrive

The Risk & Business Analytics segment of RELX Group (RBA) has embraced diversity and inclusion as part of its culture, including establishing 11 D&I employee forums to help drive that strategy. In this second of a two-part series, we talk to Jo Portlock, RBA’s diversity and inclusion director, about its inclusive approach to disability in the workplace.

How do you educate the rest of the workforce about disability?

We provide unconscious bias training, which is a great way to address all areas of diversity and where bias may occur. Ongoing education is communicated through the forums, by articles on our intranet and by using Yammer to share articles.

What support does the company provide for disabled employees?

We have an excellent occupational health service, which is run in-house. We also invest a lot in living well initiatives for all employees and we have a Mental Health Forum that supports individuals, which I think is very important for people with that particular disability, and we have recently run a programme that has upskilled people as mental health first-aiders or champions to support colleagues and so that they have a baseline understanding of mental health issues and how they affect you at work.

In terms of the more obvious disabilities, we can, for example, provide greater office space and accessibility and reshape people’s work patterns according to their needs. A huge amount of our workforce work flexibly. In a recent internal survey, flexible working came out as our strongest pillar to creating an inclusive environment.

What provision is made for disabled candidates during the recruitment process?

If a candidate requests any sort of reasonable adjustment – nature of selection techniques we use, how we accommodate that interview – we can conduct it, for example, online or hold it in a space that accommodates a person’s needs. We would do anything that creates a fair, level playing field. But, like all organisations, we could do more.

What I would challenge the business on is: ‘How do we know the needs of people who never apply to us? And how do we ensure that we have a brand and a statement that fully includes and sends a message that we would do that?’

Making ourselves truly accessible starts not from when people apply but how do we get people to apply [in the first place].

Hassan Hussein, who runs our Disability Forum, [see box below] is keen to help us look at our attractiveness from a disability perspective. Our employer branding from a diversity perspective is something we want to focus on. That applies to all areas of diversity, but I think disability is a really important one.

What about hidden disabilities?

Invisible disability is a really interesting area because I think people naturally make an assessment of how our organisation looks by obvious physical disability. Whereas invisible disability is much more prevalent and much more important because I think it is very much misunderstood.

Recent examples, such as the London Underground introducing Blue Badges for people that have a hidden disability, such as ME or autism, is a brilliant initiative, but I have read stories that are quite shocking of how people have been treated in those scenarios. There’s a much wider education piece that needs to go with that. If someone is wearing a ‘Baby on board’ badge they don’t get questioned if they are pregnant, so why aren’t we applying the same judgement to people who have an invisible disability.

How does the company enable disabled employees to progress?

We work with the individual needs of that person – what their development career would look like and what would retain them. So, if it’s around retaining somebody from an adjustment perspective then we would fully support that, as long as they are reasonable adjustments that we can make. If it is about retaining people in terms of, ‘Can disabled people have a long career with us in the same way an able-bodied person can?’ then that is managed through our career development process and conversations that we have with every employee – and I would not expect anyone to be treated any differently.

Our development offerings vary from classroom to online, to training that is accessible at home. Taking autism as an example, it may be people prefer to develop through an online medium than in a classroom scenario.

Why is disability inclusion so important?

I feel very passionate about disability inclusion. In fact, I don’t like the word ‘disability’ I prefer ‘differently abled’. I have seen and experienced myself that sometimes there are huge assumptions that [disabled] people cannot do certain things. I have seen examples where companies have made assumptions about people’s accessibility needs and made adjustments before they start and then when they’ve started, they’ve said ‘I do it this way, I’m a human being whose navigated the world for 20, 30, 40 years, don’t assume an adjustment that I need.’

That’s a really important distinction to make [when establishing] a disability inclusive environment, because when it starts from the judgement that ‘you can’t do and we need to adjust’ that puts it in a different space versus ‘advise us how you would do something differently or how we can accommodate a different skillset or a different way of approaching it’.

What benefits can be gained from employing differently abled people?

I really hope that the tech industry, particularly around conditions such as autism, start to get far more proactive because I think it’s a great fit. It also fits with an industry where there is a skills shortage, where there’s a candidate shortage and where there’s going to be a huge need in the future.

Diversity in tech is something I feel really passionately about, not only from a gender side but also from a disability perspective, because it’s actually the solution in many respects to helping disabled people and organisations. It is an employment solution as well because it naturally works as a more flexible job.

Organisations definitely miss this area, because there is a lot of research that suggests disabled people are just as productive [as able-bodied employees]. It is a complete misconception that they will have more time off and be less productive. They’re also more likely to stay longer in your organisation because, the sad thing is, it is harder for them to get a job they feel comfortable in and that will accommodate their needs and flexibility. So there’s a win for organisations here – you don’t have to have the same levels of attrition that you might have with other people. I think the biggest challenge is helping that recruitment.

An employee’s view on disability inclusion

Hassan Hussein, who is partially deaf, runs RBA’s Disability Forum. Here, he discusses how the forum and the support he receives from the business have improved his working life.

[Due to my deafness] I rely mainly on reading people’s lips, expressions and emotions. My loss of hearing affects my day-to-day activities at work – from large office meetings and web meetings to travelling for business. Though rare, it can also affect relationships where colleagues may have mistaken my lack of response to being rude.

I rely on colleagues to answer my phone and to help me make calls; they make a conscious decision to allow me to sit in the most appropriate place in meeting rooms; and my workspace has been set up in a room, so that the open-plan noise has less impact on my hearing.


Hassan Hussein


The value of the disability forum

There are many people with a disability in the world’s workforce. Businesses can either ignore the huge potential of this group or empower them to deliver positively for themselves and for the organisation. The former is not an option for our business.

As a lead mentor and role model, I am an example that people with disabilities can succeed within the company. The forum has made me feel that disabled people matter as much to the company [as able-bodied employees] and our presence has made managers think about the needs of their disabled colleagues.

The forum has enabled me to raise disability awareness [within the company] and I provide tips and techniques to [enable others to] thrive within the organisation despite their disability.


Hassan Hussein

>See also: Minister says recruitment has ‘critical’ role to play in getting more disabled people into work


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Phil Clisby

Phil Clisby is a freelance journalist.

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