Leadership agendas – disability ‘woefully absent’

Even as leadership teams are increasingly embracing the challenges which come with gender and ethnic diversity, research has shown that disability is absent in many board meetings and discussions taking place around the world.

According to research done by Ernst & Young, a multinational professional services firm in London, more than half of global senior executives very seldom, if ever, discuss disability on a leadership agenda. EY is one of the largest professional service firms in the world, and shared the data on behalf of #valuable, which is a disability campaign group.

The report, titled Disability Confidence found that business leaders with disabilities are underrepresented in companies. Despite the figures which show that one in seven people live with a disability, only one in fourteen board-level executives even consider themselves to have a disability of any kind.

Of all the executives surveyed, 20% admitted that they did not feel comfortable admitting a disability to their colleagues. This highlights the fact that a disability of any kind is still considered a taboo subject, even among some of the world’s leading businesses.

Founder of the campaign group #valuable Caroline Casey stated that there is still a long way to go to ensure that disability inclusion is included in discussions at the very top of businesses and that it is taken seriously enough to be built in to leadership strategies.

While 7% of leaders admitted to having some type of disability when they took part in the survey, there are in fact very few leading voices for the inclusion of disability. Bold business leadership has played a crucial role over the last 30 years in social change and now is the time for bold leadership to take a stand for disability inclusion.

The research showed that senior leaders with disabilities who were seen in action increased the discussion about disability at board level. 63% of executives who knew a board level colleague with a disability found that the subject was discussed at leadership level. On the other hand, disability discussion only took place 37% of the time when a board level colleague with a disability was not in evidence.

EY CEO and chairman Mark Weinberger said that he was proud to back the campaign. “ EY is proud to support the research on inclusion of those with diverse abilities.” As the initial results have shown, working together brings more attention to the issue of disability in the workplace.

Mr Weinberger went on to say that they had seen the power of the initiatives first hand through their Neurodiverse Centres of Excellence. The centre recruits, trains and employs individuals on the Autism spectrum. He went on to say that #valuable plays an important part in the enablement of every person to be hired in the workforce.

The survey found that senior leaders with a disabled family member (almost 54%) were far more likely to report disability than senior leaders who had no disabled family member (37%).

Over one billion people in the world live with some form of disability. This equates to 15% of the world’s population. Their value in businesses is very often ignored. This equates to disregarding a potential market the size of Brazil, Indonesia, Pakistan and the US combined.

A startling fact is that the current global employment rate for disabled people is 50% of non-disabled people, and the gap had widened since 2010.

Figures released by the WHO showed that over half of all businesses in OECD countries chose to pay a fine rather than meet the required quotas on disability.


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