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Business leaders must reality check their view of disability, conference says

A leading non-profit business and disability organisation has called on employers and business leaders to reality check their views of disability as they plan for the future. The call came from Business Disability Forum’s, CEO, Diane Lightfoot at the membership organisation’s annual conference (30 June), sponsored by HSBC.

‘Disability: What’s New, What’s Next’ conference brought together senior business leaders, leading employers and disability experts to debate how perceptions of disability match up with the reality experienced by disabled employees and customers.

Diane Lightfoot, CEO, Business Disability Forum, said:

“As leaders, we need to know the reality of what is happening in our organisations if we are to enable everyone to thrive – and that may not be what we think it is. Specifically, we will need to look at the perception gap between how the level of “psychological safety” that senior executives imagine it feels to share a disability or a difference – and how it really feels.

“Our own findings, as well as research conducted by Business Disability Forum Partner, Accenture, shows that there are multiple perception gaps in organisations. If perceptions are not addressed, it stops disabled staff from pursuing opportunities and from trusting the wider inclusion agenda within the organisation.

Diane Lightfoot and Ian Stuart on a screen with a BSL interpreter

“As we consider how work will change in the future, we have the opportunity to look a fresh at our organisational cultures. As we do so, we need to engage with disabled people in our workforces and ensure their voices are heard at leadership level. The issues we are facing now are new for all of us. We need to make sure that the decisions we make are based on the reality of living with a disability and not on our own assumptions.

Commenting on the Flexible Working Bill, proposed to Parliament by Tulip Siddiq MP (30 June), Diane Lightfoot, added:

“Being able to request flexible working from day one of employment reflects the needs of an increasingly diverse and inclusive workforce. It is a welcomed and long-awaited proposal.”

Business Disability Forum Partner, HSBC, sponsored Business Disability Forum’s annual conference. HSBC also recently sponsored a series of global reports published by Business Disability Forum looking at the role of employee trust, organisational culture and leadership in collecting global disability employment data.

Speaking at the annual conference, Ian Stuart, CEO of HSBC UK Bank and executive sponsor of HSBC’s global Ability Employee Network, said:

“Disability comes in many different forms, and will likely affect all of us in one form or another at some point in our lives. One in 15 of our colleagues have shared with us that they have a disability, and one in 10 have identified themselves as carers.

“The challenges of the past year have been enormous, but they’ve also created opportunities to do things differently. Our people want flexibility, and so we’re embedding different ways of working across our business. If we get this right, we’ll not only be able to keep and develop the great people we already have, but also attract a broader range of top talent going forward.

“Simply put, we want HSBC to be a place where people of all abilities are valued and able to reach their full potential, and where all our customers feel comfortable and supported when banking with us. We know that a diverse and inclusive workforce makes for a good, sustainable business.”

For further information about the conference, go to Business Disability Forum’s home page

Business Disability Forum’s global mini guides, sponsored by HSBC, are available to view and download for free until the end of July, on Business Disability Forum’s Knowledge Hub

Follow the debate on #BDFWhatsNewWhatsNext


For further information, please email or call 020 7403 3020

Notes to editors:

  1. Business Disability Forum:

We are Business Disability Forum. We believe the 26 million people in the UK and over 1 billion people worldwide with disabilities and long-term conditions enhance the social and economic health of our societies. We exist to remove barriers in business structures and Government that prevent disabled people from thriving and contributing in this way.

Business Disability Forum works with around 400 employers and service providers, meaning we are uniquely equipped to transform the life chances of disabled people. We do this by bringing business leaders, disabled people, and Government together to understand what needs to change to contribute a balanced voice on how we can together advance the participation of disabled people as workers, users of services, and citizens in our society.

We think. We advise. We share.

Our community of businesses, thought leaders, and disabled people develop research which influences policy development. Find out more on our website

  1. HSBC UK

HSBC UK serves around 14.5 million customers across the UK, supported by 32,000 colleagues. HSBC UK offers a complete range of retail banking and wealth management to personal and private banking customers, as well as commercial banking for small to medium businesses and large corporates.

HSBC Holdings plc

HSBC Holdings plc, the parent company of HSBC, is headquartered in London. HSBC serves customers worldwide from offices in 64 countries and territories in its geographical regions: Europe, Asia, North America, Latin America, and Middle East and North Africa. With assets of $2,959bn at 31 March 2021, HSBC is one of the world’s largest banking and financial services organisations.

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