Disability absent from leadership strategy in majority of global businesses

14 January 2019

New research released today by #valuable, the worldwide call to action for business to recognise the value of disabled people, has found disability is still woefully absent from the majority of board level discussions globally - with the majority (56%) of global senior executives rarely or never discussing disability on their leadership agendas.

The investigation, carried out by EY on behalf of #valuable, surveyed business leaders at C-suite level from a range of industries and across 17 countries worldwide, exploring board level attitudes to disability inclusion in business.

'Disability Confidence: The Business Leadership Imperative' has found business leaders with disabilities are twice as likely to be underrepresented in companies globally: though 1 in 7 of the world’s population live with a disability, fewer than half this figure (1 in 14 or 7%) of board level executives consider themselves to have a disability.

Of these, 1 in 5 do not feel comfortable admitting their disability to colleagues – highlighting that disability continues to be a taboo subject for many of the world’s leading businesses.

Founder of #valuable, Caroline Casey, commented:

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“The research reveals we still have a long way to go to ensure disability inclusion is discussed at the very top of business and is taken seriously enough to be built into the leadership strategy at global businesses.

“Although 7% of leaders identified in this survey have a direct connection to disability, there are very few leading high-profile voices for disability inclusion. In the last 30 years, bold business leadership has played a crucial role in driving social change. Now is the time for us to see a bold leader stand up for disability.”

The research has also found that visibility of senior leaders with a disability increases the prevalence of discussions about disability inclusion at board level. 63% of C-suite execs who know disabled board-level colleagues report that disability is discussed at leadership level, compared with only 37% of those not aware of any disabled board-level colleagues.

Senior leaders with a disabled family member are significantly more likely to report disability on their leadership agenda (54%) than senior leaders without a disabled family member (37%).

This snapshot of attitudes towards disability inclusion was conducted following in-depth conversations with business leaders about their experience with disability and disability confidence in their organisations. It reveals that business leaders can experience significant benefits from high levels of disability confidence within their organisations.

Business leaders cited that disability confidence helps them capture new markets, demonstrates relevance to clients and consumers, and helps build their brands. Furthermore, promoting disability confidence is central to attracting and retaining talent and can result in greater productivity levels.

Today, more than one billion people across the world live with some form of disability - 15% of the global population, or 1 in 7 people - but their value is routinely ignored by business, equivalent to disregarding a potential market the size of US, Brazil, Indonesia and Pakistan combined.

Along with their friends, families and communities, the one billion disabled people worldwide also hold a disposable annual income of $8 trillion a year, equating to an opportunity that business cannot afford to ignore. 

Of those one billion, 80% of disabilities are acquired later life, and our ageing global population means the prevalence of disability is on the rise.

The current global employment rate for disabled people is half that of non-disabled people, a gap that has widened since 2010. According to the World Health Organisation, up to half of businesses in OECD countries choose to pay fines rather than meet quotas on disability.

Launched in 2017, #valuable is a catalyst for an inclusion revolution that exists to position disability equally on the global business leadership agenda. It is spearheaded by award-winning activist, social entrepreneur and Binc founder Caroline Casey, who is registered blind. 

Learning from past campaigns, which have led to systemic change, #valuable is working to engage the world’s most influential businesses leaders, brands and platforms to make a global call to action.

Last month, #valuable announced the support of high profile global business leaders and companies, including strategic partners Omnicom and Virgin Media, and leaders including Virgin Group Founder Sir Richard Branson, Unilever’s Paul Polman and Omnicom’s Janet Riccio.

Mark Weinberger, EY Chairman & CEO, today announces his backing of the campaign:

"Diversity & Inclusion are essential elements of culture, which is the lifeblood of an organisation. At EY, this is a core piece of our Vision 2020 strategy, as we know we can’t be successful unless all of our people are involved and engaged. EY is proud to support the research on inclusion of those with diverse abilities and as the initial results indicate, we all need to work together to bring more attention to this issue. 

“We’ve seen the power of these initiatives first hand through our Neurodiverse Centers of Excellence, which recruits, trains and employs individuals on the Autism spectrum. #Valuable is an important part of enabling all individuals to be engaged in our workforce.”

#valuable is proud to announce that it has joined forces with the World Economic Forum, which announced last month that disability inclusion will form part of its Annual Meeting agenda. This will be the first time that Davos has included disability on the main stage with the support of global business leaders.

Among other highlights of the Forum’s disability inclusion agenda, Caroline Casey and Paul Polman will be part of a press conference with other prominent business leaders on “The Case for Disability Inclusion" and talk about the ambitions of the #valuable campaign on Thursday 24 January 2019.

Caroline Casey added: 

“Disability inclusion is an issue that has been pushed to the sidelines of business for far too long. Our research shows that disability confidence is lacking in many global businesses, and that people with disabilities still face significant stigmas imposed in the workplace. We must act now to change this, for the sake of the 1 billion worldwide living with a disability.

“Business has proven its social muscle time and time again, making huge progress advancing gender, race and LGBTQ+ equality over the last 50 years. The route to a truly inclusive world is through the creation of truly inclusive business. We know that if business values disabled people equally then society will too.”