FTSE 100 firms need to ‘go beyond statements of solidarity’ and increase the number of disabled employees. That is the conclusion of the Disability 100 report which argues that disability is often treated as a third-rate matter, falling well behind gender and ethnicity on the corporate agenda. The findings show the average representation of people with disabilities among employees is a little over 3% compared with the percentage of the wider population with a disability of 18%. As few as five FTSE 100 firms have issued board-level statements about disability, while only 10 have set goals related to inclusion.
The report is the result of a partnership with the Valuable 500 – a group of 500 multinational companies who’ve made public leadership commitments to disability. As the Guardian reports, those firms have now agreed to publish quarterly reports into disability representation as they aim to tackle what they describe as the ‘shocking state’ of disability representation in business. They include Microsoft, Unilever, Google and Coca-Cola.
People Management covers this, highlighting how there are no executives or senior managers who have disclosed a disability within those 100 firms. Just 20 of the 100 companies said they gave all employees the opportunity to disclose disabilities, and just 12 actually publicly reported the total number who did disclose as being disabled. The other 8 firms that collected this data said they reported internally. The report also found a lack of support for disabled employees from executives and senior leadership, with just 5 per cent of FTSE 100 firms issuing board-level statements on disability as part of their leadership agenda. Maxine Pillinger, regional managing director for Global Talent Firm, AMS, is quoted saying the solution is to change company culture and that is something that must be ‘driven from the top down’, something that is, clearly, not happening.
On a more positive note, the report suggests there is a willingness to improve - 16 of the 100 companies set credible targets related to representation of people with disabilities, while 37 are setting up employee resource groups to support people with a disability. Across industry as a whole, the finance sector had the highest level of reporting and provided more information on disability than is average for the FTSE 100.
So, let’s consider what can be done to help firms make progress on this issue. Kate Dodd is a diversity and inclusion specialist. She joined me by video-link from Manchester to discuss it:
Kate Dodd: “Yes, it's disappointing, I have to say. As a specialist in diversity and inclusion it's important for me, and it always has been, that every aspect of somebody’s personality and their individuality has equal worth and I have noticed lots of businesses placing disability lower down the priority list. Of course, businesses can't tackle everything at once so gender has long been on the agenda. Race and ethnicity, of course, very rightly, has become a priority for many businesses over the last 12 months in particular but what we have seen is that disability is always the last priority. Often, it's kind of the last taboo as well, because, of course, disability is something that people can choose whether to disclose or not and, of course there are issues around gender and race and ethnicity and other things that people are reluctant sometimes to disclose but those things tend to be much more obvious whereas, of course, with a disability it's entirely down to the individual as to whether they feel safe, supported, and able to disclose that disability.”
Joe Glavina: “So what can be done about it, Kate. What’s your advice to HR?”
Kate Dodd: “Well, my advice is that they should be putting in place the ability to collect that data. So, diversity data is obviously a big issue and if you are doing a diversity data collection without asking about disability then that's something that can be easily remedied, but, of course, you've got to give the reasons for that collection. So if you're collecting information, we know that for all sorts of reasons, not least, data protection, GDPR itself, you need to have a reason, you need to have the purpose behind that data collection very adequately explained and therefore it's important that businesses don't collect the data for the sake of it. What they want to do, maybe, is to start off by saying, look, we need to understand disability within the context of our own business and therefore we're going to start this data collection and this for us is going to be the beginning of a piece of work around disability and let that be a jumping off point to reprioritize and to make sure that we don't end up in another year or two years’ time with the same statistics coming out.”
Joe Glavina: “It’s interesting to see the FS sector has done well. In the past that sector has had a lot of bad publicity – I’m thinking of all those ‘sex in the city’ stories – but on this issue it’s leading the way. Why is that?”
Kate Dodd: “I actually think the FS sector is ahead of the curve on most aspects of diversity and inclusion. There has been a lot of focus in NS and in professional services on diversity and inclusion for a lot longer than other businesses. Also, of course, the FS sector is regulated and they answer to many different bodies as well as shareholders etcetera. Also, I suspect, that the FS sector is, again, like professional services and some of the businesses, their stock in trade is people’s minds. So, they have recognised for a long time the power of diverse thinking, they've recognised the power of neurodiversity and things like autism, Asperger's, etcetera have started to be seen as a superpower particularly in things like programming, IT tech, they're viewed as a superpower which is fantastic, and the FS sector has been very quick to get on board and to recognise the value that neurodiverse people can bring into their businesses as well.”
That report was published last month and is called ‘Disability 100 Findings Report’ and it sets out very clearly the visibility of disclosures around disability within the FTSE 100. If you would like to read it for yourself, you can – we have put a link to it in the transcript of this programme.
- Link to ‘Disability 100 Findings Report – May 2021’