When Business Disability Forum sought to create a global framework to enable multinational organisations to meet the needs of disabled employees and customers around the world, it called on leading organisations, with experience in the field, to join its Global Taskforce.
With her recent experience in helping global Shell develop its workplace adjustment programme, Georgia Silk, Senior Inclusion and Diversity Adviser at Shell, was asked Co-Chair the Taskforce.
To mark the launch of the Global Taskforce, we talked to Georgia to find out more about what Shell is doing to develop a global approach to supporting disabled colleagues – the kind of practice the Taskforce hopes to extend to many other organisations.
Developing a global approach
Shell is an innovation-driven global group of energy and petrochemical companies, with 92,000 employees across the world in more than 70 countries. Over the last two years, Shell has been rolling out its global workplace adjustment programme.
Prior to the creation of the programme, Shell carried out interviews with disabled employees to find out what they wanted and needed from a global accessibility programme.
Georgia Silk, Senior Inclusion and Diversity Adviser at Shell, said:
“During the interviews, I heard a story from one of our young employees in The Netherlands who had a rapidly deteriorating visual impairment. When I listened to her story about joining Shell and her initial experiences of trying to get the adjustments she needed, I was in all honesty a bit disappointed. In the end she got what she needed but it took far too long. I was left with a view that we could do better and should do better.
“I then became aware of a young graduate in Canada who had ADHD and was struggling. We have very stretching goals for our graduates on our programmes and he was struggling to meet the needs of that programme and his line manager felt he was failing. He came to see his HR person, they had a conversation, that HR person was able to direct him to an organisation externally that provided advice on ADHD. He was able to get some help, some strategies and has turned it completely around.
“Now, I was his HR person. I knew about that external organisation because I had a family member with ADHD. If I hadn’t known that, I think I would have drawn a blank on what we could do for that young man.
“These are two experiences that have informed my passion, for this subject and led me to want to make a difference”.
Shell’s global programme has been live since August 2017 and is now available to approximately 35,000 employees across 11 countries.
Removing unnecessary hurdles
Georgia Silk said:
“We have a 3% demand on average which is close to what we forecast ie. 3% of our employee base where the service is live have requested an adjustment. Two thirds of those are Real Estate or facilities type adjustments, one third is IT and software.”
Silk highlights how Shell worked hard to remove any unnecessary hurdles form the programme, and in so doing, has made it more accessible and efficient.
“We have a self-serve catalogue of accessibility items online. It is trust based. That means we do not require you to prove that you have a disability or provide any justification, in fact we don’t require line manager approval. We learned from the best practices of other organisations that it was important to take line managers out of the loop because they often don’t know what they’re being asked to approve. These are in any case usually lower cost items, and we can speed up the process by removing additional approval hurdles.
“We also have an accessibility centre which we source internally using our HR services organisation. These are not disability experts but HR professionals who are there to guide people through the process.
“We have an infrastructure of an occupational health system we use for more complex cases and our Health team play an important part in helping us keep people in work and help them get back to work. In the past, some managers have sought to involve a medical opinion when it wasn’t really needed, so we have worked hard to ensure we don’t build in unnecessary medical involvement; that’s been very important to us, hence not requiring people to provide evidence in the case of small items.
“We have had to build some controls in for more expensive items, but wherever possible, we have removed additional approval hurdles.”
Shell has used its well-established case management tools to track workplace adjustments in its global locations and Silk highlights that many colleagues have welcomed the opportunity that the global process provides to offer improved Management Information.
Reflecting on learning from the process, Georgia Silk, said:
“I think listening to the voice of employees with disabilities has been key; employees with disabilities have helped us add new items to the catalogue, as well as promote the service
“We have also learnt that with a process like this it’s important to start with a manageable scope and then build from there, through continuous improvement and growth.
“Visible senior leadership support is also vital. It’s been essential to have senior leadership buy-in and support cross functionally because our project team has representatives from Real Estate, IT, HR and Occupational Health, and we could not deliver a ‘joined up’ process without this kind of cross-organisational collaboration.
“We started small and built on our ambition. We started with physical adjustments only and targeted our larger office locations. We are now expanding into non-physical adjustments, although our focus there is not about a process but about providing guidance to employees and managers.”
Silk’s final thoughts on the process and advice to other organisations seeking to do the same:
“Keep learning and keep asking for feedback. Track and improve metrics to know what you are achieving, and lastly maintain the resilience to keep going, keep building and knowing that you are doing the right thing.”