This is the second of two blogs following Business Disability Forum’s global symposium “Fresh perspectives on global disability inclusion” which took place last month thanks to the generous support of our Partner HSBC.
The Symposium saw four days of events including webinars, roundtables, fireside chats and panels to debate the hot topics on global disability inclusion and to launch some great new resources to support you in your global Disability Smart journey. Delegates at the event can watch or listen to all the sessions and in this second blog I explore some of the key themes that emerged throughout the week.
First, psychological safety – whether it’s asking for workplace adjustments or feeling confident in sharing information on disability or a long-term condition in the context of data monitoring, employees need to feel that the perceived benefits of doing so outweigh the risks – the what’s in it for me factor. That means being clear why you are asking for information and creating a culture where people feel able to be their authentic selves at work and ask for what they need. It’s also about the confidence of line managers and colleagues in how they respond.
As always, senior leadership is key. This includes in normalising the conversation – talking about disability and long-term conditions in way that makes it safe for others to do so. HSBC UK CEO and global disability champion, Ian Stuart, is a wonderful example of that, as are other senior leaders I had the pleasure of chatting with throughout the week – including Microsoft UK CEO Clare Barclay and Nick Hirons, Senior Vice President of Ethics and Compliance at GSK. Senior leaders often worry about getting it wrong in terms of language and of course that’s even more complicated globally where terminology varies and as language shifts. But we heard that if you approach a conversation with an openness, a desire to learn, positive intent and humility you probably won’t go far wrong. We also talked about the importance of senior leaders in role modelling working differently and giving permission for others to do so. Going back to the concept of psychological safety – is it as safe as you think it is? For senior leaders, it’s worth bearing in mind that your perception of how safe people feel to share a disability or long-term condition may not chime with their reality – how safe they actually feel. Being mindful of that gap, talking about disability and lived experiences and repeating messages about permission are all key here.
You don’t have to be senior to make a difference – but you do have to feel able to speak. Getting the conversation going can make an impact at every level and so we also saw the huge importance of storytelling as an enabler. Storytelling came through as a key theme in bringing the data to life through human experiences and in turn enabling others to share – and building that psychological safety to do so.
Global vs local was a common theme throughout the week and the need to balance global consistency – for example, in data monitoring to get an accurate picture of how you are doing across different countries, or in adjustments for fairness and parity – with local context: cultural requirements and appropriateness, legislation, supply chains and what will resonate on the ground. There is a real balancing act in retaining some flexibility and autonomy at local level, whilst getting a coherent global picture to measure and track progress.
Focusing on productivity and inclusion rather than compliance. Encouragingly, we are seeing businesses going beyond compliance and instead having a very strong focus on the employee experience and a recognition that actually this is about enabling people to perform at their best. Going beyond compliance was also a theme around customers, ethics and inclusive design in product innovation – a desire to do the right thing because it is the right thing and to use the power that global businesses have to lead and drive change.
Intersectionality – we are all human and human beings are inherently messy. We do not sit in one box. Organisations are increasingly realising the need to look across D&I strands and focus on the whole person. Whilst specific work on different strands is still needed – and which strands need the most attention will vary from organisation to organisation and from country to country – this needs to be done with an intersectional and cross cutting lens. Linked to this, is identity. Identities and diversities are fluid. It’s about enabling people to bring their whole selves to work and belong completely as who you are. To quote one of our panellists: “You are enough”.
The pandemic as an enabler in thinking differently about workplace adjustments and accelerating the removal of barriers e.g. around trust in the context of flexible and home working, managing differently and a focus on outcomes. We also talked about the opportunity to create a global infrastructure in our ERGs discussion – a huge global support system so that whatever your question and wherever you are, someone, somewhere, will have the answer.
This is also a digital pandemic – with its huge benefits but also its issues around fatigue, expectations, as well as cognitive overload. It was great to hear the innovations that Microsoft for example is consistently making in terms of accessible and functionality – for example, being able to “pin” a sign language interpreter to the screen and giving permission to take a break adding the five-minute warning to give people a signal to have a break. We discussed ethics and innovation and the role we all have in raising awareness as people think about adopting new technologies and making sure that is done with everyone in mind.
Above all, we heard the need to get started! I reflected throughout the week on the standout quote from our first global research report “Towards a Disability Smart World – developing a global disability inclusion strategy, sponsored by our Partner Shell: “Focus on intention not perfection”. I’d add to that a focus on doing a few things and doing them really well – picking a few priorities for action so that you can see tangible change. And remember, this is a journey that is never over. There is no such thing as perfection. We all need to keep innovating, pushing and improving to transform the opportunities and life chances for disabled people. And to quote the UN 2030 Sustainable Development Goals, ensure that there is “No one left behind”.