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Opinion piece

The year in review at BDF: Diane Lightfoot’s blog

Diane LightfootLooking back, I wonder where the year has gone: if 2020 was odd, then 2021 took it up to 11. It was definitely “one louder” as we negotiated the ongoing corona-coaster, the vaccine rollout, the booster programme and the definitely unwelcome appearance of a new Covid variant.

But louder too was the voice of disabled people. Whether it was the launch of “We the 15”, the achievement of 500 sign ups to the Valuable campaign or the launch of the National Disability Strategy, disability continued to be higher on the agenda than perhaps ever before – and that’s wonderful to see.

It’s been a busy year at BDF too; in April we hosted our first ever week-long global symposium, sponsored by our Partner HSBC, where we launched not one but two new global reports on workplace adjustments and collecting disability employment data, also sponsored by HSBC. The subject of data and self ID has continued as a key theme throughout the year, most topically now as the government begins a consultation on the introduction of mandatory workforce reporting. We are already seeking your views to feed into this consultation – please do get in touch if you are interested.

April also saw the first of three CEO and C-suite roundtables that I have had the pleasure of co-hosting with Ian Stuart, CEO of HSBC UK. We see time and time again the importance of visible, active, committed senior leadership in driving lasting change and so I am delighted that we have established these forums as a safe space to share what works and to look at what’s next for disability inclusion. I was even more pleased to present Ian with the Disability Smart Leader 2021 Award at our recent ceremony, as a great example of a leader in this space.

June saw our annual conference “Disability, What’s New, What’s Next?” where we explored the intersectional impact of the pandemic and perception vs reality or: does your culture feel as psychologically safe as you think it does? with a fascinating study from Accenture which reminded me of the privilege that we all enjoy as leaders – and the fact that even the flattest structures probably feel more hierarchical than we like to think they do.

Hot on its heels in July came the launch of the hotly anticipated National Disability Strategy. We welcomed much of the Strategy, including its transparency in giving ministerial champions cross government responsibility for leading change in their own departments, and urged that its promise of being a “down payment” is kept as we push for more action and more radical change. We continue to engage with the new Minister for Disabled People, Work and Health and her team to help realise the Strategy’s ambitions.

September saw our online Scotland conference, “Disability: let’s talk about it”, sponsored by our Partner Royal Bank of Scotland, with a series of interactive workshops to give delegates the opportunity to explore business and disability related questions that commonly arise at work but are not often discussed in depth. September also saw the launch of our new Disability Smart Suite, where I was delighted to be joined by another great champion and leader, Aline Santos-Farhat, Chief Brand Officer at Unilever and sponsor of the new suite of self-assessment, supporting toolkit

Then we closed the year with a celebratory theme for our Disability Smart Awards, sponsored by our Partner Microlink, where we were delighted to present awards in a whopping 16 categories, including three Disability Confident Awards which we hosted with the Disability Confident Team. View our winners gallery and year in numbers.

So, what’s coming up for 2021? We’ll be launching our latest report sponsored by HSBC – on the global built environment – in January, and will also be co-hosting a roundtable with our Partner Lloyds Banking Group and Business in the Community on mental health and wellbeing at work. We’re also planning a new event, on mental health and technology, in March. We will be taking forward discussions – and I hope practical action – on how we can reach and support disabled people who face more substantial barriers to work. Part of this is about engaging with supply chains so I’m also very pleased that we will be launching our new procurement network in the new year. We’ll also be releasing the results of our new research into disabled consumers, sponsored by Microsoft and looking at how, where and why people make pre-purchase decisions and what influences where they shop.

For now though, as we exit 2021 and move into the unchartered territories of 2022, Omicron and beyond, I want to extend my heartfelt thanks to every one of you for being part of the Business Disability Forum family. Together, we really are making a difference.

With my very best wishes for the festive season and a peaceful new year


PS: Please note Business Disability Forum’s offices and Advice Service will close on Friday 24 Dec at 5pm GMT and will return on Tuesday 4 Jan 2022 at 9am GMT.

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