There has long been a legal and ethical focus on equality, diversity and inclusion, but now organisations have recognised that having a diverse workforce is also important to their success. 

“The disabled community is an untapped talent pool, with a wealth of different skills, experiences and mindsets,” said Yasmin Shiek, founder of Diverse Matters, in conversation with Kate Cooper, The Institute of Leadership & Management Head of Research, Policy & Standards, about what organisations can do to become more inclusive.

Disability on the diversity agenda

She continued: “Organisations need to acknowledge disability as being on the diversity agenda. In fact, through my work at Diverse Matters, I’ve experienced that disability is rarely mentioned, if at all, as people are unsure how to deal with it in the workplace.  Talking about disability and being educated about what disability looks like will help to address this.”

At The Institute we believe Disability Awareness Day (14 July 2019) is an incredibly important way to continue highlighting inequality in the workplace.  Leaders may be more likely to consider gender, race and ethnicity when creating a more diverse workplace, but true workplace equality is much broader.

The business benefits

Kate Cooper said: “Sadly, there are too many under-represented groups who experience inequality in the workplace, from women to disabled people and from part-time workers to older staff.  We’ve been campaigning for years about the importance of inclusivity more generally.  Workforces need to properly incorporate all under-represented groups to really represent their customers or service users.  Equal representation of these groups will bring a diversity of views, ideas and, most importantly, give businesses a better understanding about what they can do to support these groups.”

The largest minority group worldwide

There are around 14 million disabled people in the UK.  According to Scope, the disability equality charity in England and Wales, nearly half of disabled people (48 per cent) have worried about sharing information about their impairment or condition with an employer.  This can be the result of many barriers, such as a lack of support and understanding, and employer attitudes.

Yasmin disclosed her own experience: “One boss once told me that if he employed everyone with my disability, the business would collapse. It was perhaps the biggest low-point in my career, particularly because I couldn’t believe he had said those words, but also because I believed him.  It’s just one example of a business leader who doesn’t understand diversity or recognise that a diverse workforce is important to business success.”

“Disability is the largest minority group worldwide and it’s important to be aware that disability isn’t just about sticks and wheelchairs,” Yasmin continued.  “It includes people who are diagnosed with cancer, diabetes, dyslexia, dyspraxia or autistic people, as well as many other conditions including mental health.  Disability affects nearly everyone, as many people can be indirectly affected as a carer.”

What can leaders do to become more inclusive, particularly around disability?

Yasmin offers her advice: “Whether you’re an employer or not, basic communication is key.  Generally, most people are well intended when offering help to someone in a wheelchair; it’s an instinctive reaction.  However, the best thing to say is simply ‘hello’ and wait to be guided by that person – I’d much rather ask for help when I need it and not be immediately judged because I’m a wheelchair user.”

Kate added: “Let’s champion inclusivity for every under-represented group and urge employers to put disability on the diversity agenda.”