In their first-ever collaboration around the issue of disability, the Big Four auditors have all signed up to the Valuable 500 initiative: a campaign launched at Davos earlier this year that aims to persuade 500 CEOs around the world to put inclusion of the disabled at the heart of their board agendas.
With EY having already pledged itself to the Valuable 500 on a global level, it emerged on 13 September  that the UK arms of KPMG, PwC and Deloitte would be lining up with their competitor, marking the first time that all four firms have joined forces on an inclusivity scheme of this sort – although Deloitte, KPMG and PwC had previously thrown their weight behind social enterprise Auticon, which harnesses the cognitive strengths of autistic individuals through targeted hiring . Importantly, the campaign is holding its signatories accountable for their progress.
In a statement, Valuable 500 founder, disability activist and social entrepreneur Caroline Casey said that the Big Four professional services firms “have the national power to make a difference in their sector, and therefore the responsibility to really make a difference”.
She noted: “Momentum is building for disability inclusion and it is fantastic to see global competitors come together to collaborate and solve global inclusion issues. Undoubtedly this is a sign that the world is waking up to the current inequality crisis. We applaud the Big Four for taking a definitive stand on inclusion and giving a voice to disabled people through their boardrooms, and [we] encourage other business leaders and brands to follow suit in committing to The Valuable 500.”
Other corporates that have joined the campaign since its launch include Sainsbury’s, Microsoft, Accenture, Fujitsu, Unilever and Bloomberg.
PwC UK senior partner and chairman Kevin Ellis pointed out: “Businesses like ours have a responsibility to promote inclusion and equality, and as business leaders we need to work together to unlock the value of disabled talent across society.” Similarly, KPMG UK vice chair and board sponsor for disability and mental health Tony Cates said: “As a large employer with a broad client base, we have a real opportunity to lead from the front and promote inclusion, diversity and social equality in our business and the people we work with.”
Upon launching the initiative in January, Casey said: “It’s no longer good enough for companies to say ‘Disability doesn’t fit with our brand’, or ‘It’s a good idea to explore next year’. Businesses cannot be truly inclusive if disability is continually ignored on leadership agendas.”  What should leaders take away from the Big Four’s move to collaborate on providing a signal boost for the Valuable 500’s message?
The Institute of Leadership & Management’s head of research, policy and standards Kate Cooper says: “Rather like the push we have seen towards gender pay gap reporting, initiatives or campaigns that highlight injustice are a great start. There’s no doubt about that. And when you have big corporates putting their reputations against initiatives such as the Valuable 500, how can anyone say that’s anything but a positive development?”
However, Cooper notes: “While we have heard so much about initiatives, good intentions and ambitions for inclusion, what we surely need now is greater evidence of how these efforts are working, or have worked. We should be getting to a stage where we no longer have to herald these schemes as bright and innovative. I applaud Casey’s comment about how it is no longer good enough for firms to say that disability doesn’t fit with their brand – but the law already supports that view with legislation around protected characteristics.  I always go back to the question, ‘Why do we need an inclusive workforce?’
“Essentially, because it represents society, which is made up of all manner of individuals. It widens our talent pool, as we can see from the Auticon initiative. There are so many good business reasons for inclusion – but I wonder whether sometimes those points get lost in the messaging. There’s very much an emphasis on how the firms involved with these campaigns are being good and kind, which is great. But ultimately, you want a workforce that is representative of your customers. You want the best talent. And the best talent comes in all shapes, sizes and forms – including all those protected characteristics. So let’s hear more from leaders about how their disability inclusion schemes are helping their firms to meet business goals.”
For further insights into the themes raised in this blog, check out the Institute’s resources on appreciating diversity