Last week, Business Disability Forum hosted our first ever global symposium “Fresh Perspectives on global disability inclusion”, 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 would have been sent details) and here is a quick recap to remind you of what went on…
At the start of the week, we launched not one, but two new global reports, both kindly sponsored by HSBC: “Collecting Global Employee Disability Data: The challenges and enablers for disability-smart organisations” and “Global Workplace Adjustments Insights on current practice”. Both reflect key considerations for businesses developing their approaches in this space and we discussed the findings in detail at our live webinars. You can also download both reports from our Knowledge Hub.
On Tuesday, we discussed Staff Disability Networks Around the World and how they can be a key part of driving disability inclusion in business and in enabling people to be their authentic selves at work. This, of course, links directly back to the conversations around data and adjustments and feeling safe to share, as well as the benefits of asking for what you need outweighing the risks.
We also saw the importance of storytelling – a theme throughout the week – in action when we joined Thomas Frantz of Salesforce in conversation with our Head of Legal and Content, Bela Gor. Thomas shared his personal journey both in terms of his career, his disability and his understanding of himself. He also made some very important points about how we use technology, particularly in the context of COVID-19, and the very real of digital cognitive overload as we juggle working on an increasing number of different platforms. We finished day two with a special meeting of our Global Taskforce – if you aren’t a member of the Global Taskforce and would like to know more then please get in touch!
We talk a lot about the importance of senior leadership and on Wednesday I was delighted to be joined in conversation by not one but two senior leaders – Clare Barclay, CEO of Microsoft UK and Nick Hirons, Senior Vice President, Ethics and Compliance at GSK. Clare talked about some of the great inclusive practices and products that Microsoft is championing, on ethics and innovation and inclusion as a business imperative. She also spoke about how, as a senior leader, it is important to be “brave to try” in terms of speaking out and normalizing the conversation on disability – and reminded us that disability inclusion is a journey that is never complete. Nick talked about the importance of inclusive design and user involvement – “nothing about us without us” – which not only avoids unintended consequences but also results in better products and services.
I also hosted our panel on “The Future of Global Work” where we discussed what works looks like in the context of the pandemic – as something you do, not somewhere you go – and how we make sure that’s for the good as we balance flexibility with work-life balance and wellbeing. We heard about the importance of building a culture of trust, a focus on outcomes, and also how attitudes to home and flexible working vary in different countries. We also talked about the importance of remembering our privilege as we move to a hybrid model of working. And the fact that for many countries, pandemics are not new.
On Wednesday afternoon, for BDF Partners only, I was delighted to co-host a CEO and C-Suite roundtable on global disability inclusion with our Partner and Symposium sponsor, Ian Stuart, CEO of HSBC UK. We heard so much throughout the week about the importance of senior leaders and Ian, as one of HSBC’s global disability champions, demonstrates this so powerfully. I am so grateful for his support, advocacy and true leadership in this space.
Then on Thursday, I chaired a discussion on “Intersectionality and holistic diversity”. Our panelists discussed how we are all human – and that human beings are inherently messy! We do not sit in one box and businesses are increasingly recognising the need to look across D&I strands and focus on the whole person. We also had some very interesting discussions around whether you can “leapfrog” straight to full inclusion or whether you need to focus on individual strands first. The consensus seems to be that diversity and inclusion priorities shouldn’t be either/or but both/and – and that whilst specific work on different strands is needed, this needs to be done with an intersectional and cross cutting lens.
Finally, to intersectionality and beyond as our last panel of the week considered “Disability and Sustainability” looking at Green jobs, COP 26 and how business can join up and build bridges between different agendas to create a win: win for disability inclusion and sustainability. We discussed the huge power that businesses have to drive economic empowerment – not just in employment but also in supply chains and communities. And how inclusive design of policies and spaces can meet multiple goals; for example, if you are transforming physical spaces to make them sustainable, make them accessible at the same time.
There were so many key themes that we explored throughout the week and they will be the subject of a future blog! For now, I want to finish with just one theme which is also a call to action and which we heard time and time again: Get started! This is true for starting to monitor data, starting workplace adjustments at a global level or just talking about disability. Too often the fear of getting it wrong or the enormity of the task is just too daunting but actually being “brave to try” and just starting is so important. I really hope our events and speakers last week have inspired you to do just that and I look forward to hearing from you as you put that inspiration into practice.