I was very proud to be asked to speak at the recent launch of the Southern Top Fifty Inclusive Employers event at Bloomberg. A number of people have asked for the transcript of my speech, so I’ve reproduced it here.
“I’m thrilled to be here!
Inclusion is to be celebrated, and what better way to celebrate it than events like this, sharing and spreading best practice?
I founded Evenbreak in 2011, the only not-for-profit job board in the UK run by disabled people for disabled people. I had been a diversity trainer for many years before that, focusing on diversity in its widest sense. When I spoke to employers about disability there were two responses – either “why on Earth would we employ a disabled person?” (or words to that effect), or “we understand the value and business benefits of employing disabled people, but they just don’t seem to apply”. Disabled people told me they didn’t know which employers were which – no business openly declares it will discriminate against disabled candidates!
And then I became one of the 83% of disabled people who acquire a disability as an adult. A degenerative condition of the spine, a series of spinal surgeries on my lower spine and neck, leaving me with chronic pain and the unfortunate inability to sit for very long. Something you take for granted until it’s taken away! So the issue of disability suddenly became much more personal and real. I became one of those people I’d been talking about all these years!
I decided to form a social enterprise to tackle some of the issues that had surfaced during my training. A specialist online job board where we do the attraction strategy and engage with disabled people in a whole variety of different ways. The more enlightened inclusive employers could advertise their vacancies on our very accessible job board to our thousands of talented disabled candidates, confident of attracting a more diverse response than they otherwise would. The candidates have much more confidence in applying for a job with an employer who has paid to advertise on a board which just targets disabled people. And, interestingly, are more likely to be open about their impairment, which makes the whole recruitment process much easier! And, of course, advertising on a board like Evenbreak sends a very powerful message about being an inclusive employer of choice.
I run Evenbreak lying down with a laptop suspended above me with a team of disabled people working with me from all over the country. It’s the best job in the world!
I get to work with an amazing bunch of talented disabled people, and also employers who understand the benefits of employing people from this amazing pool of talent. And I learn from both groups of people every day.
Many employers still feel apprehensive about “getting it wrong”. Anyone here feel they know everything about every impairment and how it might impact on someone in the workplace? No, me neither! So we have recently developed a Best Practice Portal with loads of online resources to give every employee within subscribing organisations access to practical information, guidelines, interviews etc with real experts. An autistic candidate talking about the barriers he faces in the recruitment process (e.g. interviews are not a good way of testing his ability to code). A blind employee describes how his induction was adapted so he could become familiar with the layout of the building. Inclusive employers share the best practice they have developed, to save others doing it from scratch.
I’d like to share some of what I have learned, partly through my own experience of becoming disabled, but mostly from the amazing people I’ve met on my journey.
Disabled people have so much more to offer than you might expect. Evidence suggests we are, on average, just as productive in the workplace as our non-disabled colleagues, we have significantly less time off sick, we have fewer workplace accidents and we stay in our jobs longer. We also have inside intelligence in how to attract the purple pound – an estimated £249 billion in the UK – which can make a huge difference to the bottom line!
Also, disabled people, not necessarily by choice – have to develop a set of skills to help us navigate around a world that simply isn’t designed with us in mind. We have to overcome on a daily, sometimes hourly, basis, barriers which non-disabled people might not even have to think about. This helps us develop resilience, creativity, problem-solving skills, project management, determination, innovation and persistence. All fantastic qualities to have in your workforce, I’m sure you will agree.
And yet, despite these tangible commercial benefits, the employment gap between the number of disabled people and non-disabled people in work – around 31% – hasn’t changed in decades, despite much legislation, regulation and government intervention.
I see, all the time, that the barriers disabled candidates and employees face are rarely to do with their impairments, but mostly to do with barriers around them. The problem isn’t the wheelchair, it’s the stairs. The problem isn’t the lack of sight, it’s the way we communicate (e.g. inaccessible websites). The problem isn’t doing the work, it’s the lack of accessible transport to get there in the first place. Or the lack of flexible of working practices.
I’ve learned that most disabled people don’t need adjustments in the workplace. And that if they do, often they cost nothing – like flexible working, or moving furniture around a bit, or supplying a bowl of water for an assistance dog. And that on the occasions they do cost something (maybe assistive technology) the average cost is between £60 and £200, and Access to Work will pay all or most of that.
I’ve learned that disability is still the poor relation of inclusion. That when I talk about diversity to recruiters, they assume I mean race and/or gender. Both of which are critical, of course, and much progress is still needed in those areas. Disabled people are the minority group that is growing the fastest. And it can happen to anyone, at any time (and I’m here to tell you it isn’t the end of the world if it does!). So it’s not just about recruitment. It’s about retaining staff who acquire a disability or long term health condition.
I’ve learned that mental health is still a taboo subject. It seems easier to talk about ramps and hearing loops than about depression or anxiety, let alone bi-polar or schizophrenia. And yet some of the most creative people I know are bi-polar.
I’ve learned that employers have to work just that bit harder to attract disabled candidates, who have become jaded at being rejected the minute their impairment crops up in the recruitment process. And that’s why awards like this are crucial. Appearing on a list of inclusive employers tells the world that you are serious about this. You aren’t just ticking a box and hoping to get away with it. You are genuinely putting things in place, and involving and engaging with stakeholders to become more attractive, inclusive and accessible to talent whatever shape, size, gender or colour it comes in.
It’s also important that we continue to celebrate inclusion and to learn from each other. We can move the world of work much closer to an inclusive world where everyone has a chance to thrive and use their skills. This will happen much more quickly by working together and helping each other than by us all trying to do it alone.
So, as employers, let’s make the world of work more inclusive together, and celebrate each step we make towards that goal. Thank you.”
To advertise jobs on Evenbreak go here – http://www.evenbreak.co.uk/employers/
To find jobs on Evenbreak go here – http://www.evenbreak.co.uk/jobs