The Financial Services Culture Board (FSCB) has published the results of its annual employee survey regarding disabled employees' experiences with inclusion. The survey found that employees with disabilities generally answered questions more negatively than those without.
The data they have published shows three main findings – three clear messages coming from employees with disabilities. They said:
1 They are less likely to feel they have access to fair progression or the ability to raise concerns, especially those not in leadership
2 They are more likely than those without disabilities to suggest that leaders should demonstrate more inclusive attitudes; and
3 They said they thought their organisation would benefit from training on inclusive practices
The largest difference in responses between those with and those without a disability related to having fair access to progression opportunities. 73% of employees without a disability said that they had fair access to progression opportunities compared with 67% of those with a disability. In light of the findings the Culture Board is recommending that firms should keep internal processes and systems under review from a fairness perspective, in particular those relating to recruitment and promotion.
We are currently working with a number of our clients in the FS sector to help them on all of these fronts. One of the lawyers involved in that work is Amy Hextell who joined me by video-link from Birmingham to discuss this. I asked her what she thinks needs to be done by firms to improve in this area:
Amy Hextell: “In particular I think it's important for employers to be taking action points and the first that I recommend is having a review of, not necessarily just recruitment processes, although there perhaps could be a focus on that, but also, perhaps, promotion processes as well. I think it's important to ensure that the processes that you have in place are truly inclusive for those that have disabilities. Now, obvious things might be making changes to physical accessibility, if you're holding an interview in person, but less obvious things might be doing away with the need for an interview in the first place, so do we really need an interview if that's going to put somebody with a disability at a particular disadvantage or are there other ways that you can assess somebody's strengths and development areas and whether they're a suitable candidate for the role? I think what's really important to remember is that even before you've employed somebody, if somebody is an applicant, and before you've made them an offer, there is that duty to make reasonable adjustments which includes making adjustments to the recruitment process. So that's certainly one thing to look at. Another thing, and it's gained a bit of momentum as a result of the pandemic, is making sure that the language that is being used within the organisation is truly inclusive as well. So often, what we get is employees, and organisations, saying that there's a bit of a fear around using the wrong language so an important step employers could take is to actually be open and publicise the sort of language, the do's and don'ts that you might use. A starting place might be what well, how do you refer to somebody with a disability? There’s a lot of stuff around ‘suffering’ with a disability, and whether that's correct or not, the suggestion being that it probably isn't, and instead you would describe somebody is having a disability or, living as a disabled person.”
Joe Glavina: “One of the things which has been flagged by the Culture Board is this idea of a disability allyship initiative. What is that?”
Amy Hextell: “Yes, this is an interesting one and I think that this actually could be not a quick win but somewhere where many employers will have already done a lot of groundwork because, of course, allyship, and that initiative, is something that's been really prominent in relation to the LGBTQ+ area of diversity and inclusion. The idea is that people who themselves don't identify necessarily with that protected characteristic, so non-disabled people, are incorporated and involved in disability networking initiatives and things like that, such that they have a better understanding of the kinds of challenges and barriers and the general discourse around disability, and that they're able to act as allies, whether that be supporting disabled colleagues, calling out inappropriate behaviour in relation to disability and that sort of thing. So that might be something where a scheme you already have in place in respect of one group could be fairly easily replicated in respect of disability.”
Joe Glavina: “You told me earlier that one of the things you’ve flagged with clients is the risk of what you call ‘proximity bias’ within firms. What’s the problem there?”
Amy Hextell: “Yes this is probably a new one as a result of the pandemic and whilst I appreciate not every organisation has had people working away from an office location, that that has been the case for many and, in particular, those with disabilities may be more inclined to either prefer to work from home. Perhaps, again, it's around a physical accessibility issue, or a particular vulnerability they have to COVID-19, or a mental health disability which has meant that they're anxious about coming into the office, travelling on public transport, and so there may be more likely to work away from the office or in a remote way. So there’s a difficulty, I think, with this issue of proximity bias which means favouring, and essentially exercising bias in favour of, those who you are closest to. So if actually you're physically sitting in an office next to somebody it's a lot easier to give that new piece of work to them, see the work that they're doing and perhaps consider them for a promotion and forgetting about those who aren't present, the likelihood being that some of those who aren't present are more likely to perhaps have a disability or health condition which means that they're not able to come into the workplace. So something definitely that employers should be conscious of.”
That report by the FSCB was published on 7 June and explains in some detail further steps firms can take to improve inclusion within the business. We have put a link to it in the transcript of this programme.