Disability and the role of senior leaders

9th December 2020

The FairPlay Employer Senior Leaders Forum is held twice a year for FairPlay Employer Award clients to come together and discuss key topics affecting business and employment in Wales.

This month’s event was focussed on disability in the workplace. Chwarae Teg’s Client Relations Partner Jessica Hannagan-Jones, who herself lives with a disability, reflects on the themes and key issues raised.

I was thrilled to see so many Senior Leaders across Wales come together (virtually) to discuss Chwarae Teg’s recent research into disability, gender and the workplace, with a panel of expert guests from Scope, RNIB and RNID. But I have to say I wasn’t expecting to feel quite so emotional.

We all know this year has been hard for everyone. But I think within the knowledge that we’re ‘all in this together’ it’s easy to forget that we’re all going through ‘this‘ completely differently.

This was highlighted when discussing the ‘one size fits all’ approach so many organisations were shoe-horned into taking back in March. For instance, Jeni Bone from RNID shared that the use of  Microsoft Teams and other such online meeting platforms pose accessibility issues for many – for example, those who need a BSL interpreter.

Or how many organisations send a blanket email, attachment or link to ‘all staff’ when sending updates and changes? Not a method accessible to all, as Kudirat Adeniyi of RNIB explained to the forum. And what about the changes that have had to be made inside the office? With one-way systems, off limit areas and even changes to WC facilities – whilst many find this an annoyance imagine the difficulty it poses to someone who is blind or partially sighted.

Chwarae Teg’s research ‘Society is the disability’ shows that prior to the pandemic only 50% of Women living with disabilities were in employment in Wales. And with the disability employment gap (UK) being 28.9% before the pandemic and Gender Pay Gap being 15.5% (UK), knowing that redundancies are sweeping the nation becomes even more frightening.

The organisation Scope provides services to support people who identify as having a disability into work. I was shocked when Scope’s Emma Baily and Guy Chaudior informed the forum that just in recent months the amount of service users has risen by 236%.

It was echoed amongst the professionals on our panel that some seeking their support had said they were ‘first out’ when it came to redundancies. With businesses crumbling under tough decisions, have many reverted to old discriminations?

And then the inequality continues, with the job market now very much in the hands of the employers. Job adverts are closed sometimes as quickly as in a day. For those with disabilities or neuro diversities it’s prohibitive, and in some cases impossible, to apply. Not only is this deeply unfair on numerous people now out of work but also, employers are losing out on a wealth of talent by excluding so many.

Confidence plays such a huge part in finding employment and we know that when it comes to confidence in the workplace, and throughout a career, women struggle more with the lack of it compared to men. For women there is also a lack of confidence in disclosing health issues when looking for work – with only 39% of disabled women disclosing a health issue at application stage compared to 62% of men.

What about now, in an overflowing sea of applicants, when it’s already hard enough to get to the interview stage. How many will feel confident enough to apply, to disclose and further still, if successful in getting an interview, feel confident to ask for any reasonable adjustments or small measures that could make a huge difference?

Working at Chwarae Teg I can be completely open about my disability, but it hasn’t been the case elsewhere (although, having seizures in previous employment did give the game away somewhat). It’s a frightening thought that, in other circumstances, I’d be back to quietly worrying about speaking out.

So, what can organisations do to address these concerns?

  1. Firstly we need to ensure we’re doing all we can for our disabled colleagues in this current situation. Ask, are your requirements being met? Is the way we’re communicating effective for you? And, as pointed out by our great team of panellists, offer solutions before being asked for them! A simple ‘please tick the box if you require…’ (or equivalent) could be issued to everyone in the business – remember, not everyone who has a disability will disclose it, so by making asking the norm you could break down barriers.
  2. If you are in the horrible position of making redundancies, be transparent in your decision making. Ensure that, if a disabled colleague is amongst those being made redundant, they know why and aren’t left wondering if their disability played a part in the decision. The knock-on effect on their confidence could be huge if this is not addressed.
  3. If you are in the more fortunate position of hiring at present, think about how long your application is open for. Ensure your process doesn’t allow for unconscious bias – and consider this right the way through from advertising to selection.
  4. And thinking long term, back to a new normality, whenever that may be, address as an organisation how your policies reflect your ethos and your determination to be a fair and equal employer.
  5. Make sure you know what services are available. A great quote from the forum “That well kept secret ‘Access to Work’” highlighted how low awareness is about what’s out there to help businesses and individuals support colleagues with disabilities at work.
  6. And lastly, be brave, ask for support. If you believe as an organisation you could be doing more or doing better, you can ask ‘How?’ by reaching out to those who can advise best. You’ll be making an incredible first step.

FairPlay Employer offers services to support organsations on these issues – including policy reviews, recruitment and selection best practice training, unconscious bias training and much more. Please, for more information, feel free to contact us at fairplayemployer@chwaraeteg.com or me personally at Jessica.hannaganjones@chwaraeteg.com

It’s no secret that the world is weighted towards the few, not the many. However, through the Senior Leaders Forum seeing these forward thinking employers coming together to not only hear these tough facts but openly asking how to make a positive difference and sharing the great steps they’ve already taken, I still very much believe we can make life, work and law fair.

Get help from Access to Work

If the help you need at work is not covered by your employer making reasonable adjustments, you may be able to get help from Access to Work.