Diane Lightfoot, CEO, Business Disability Forum
Over the last few months, Covid-19 has turned our world on its head. We have been living and working in a way that few – if any – of us could have imagined. Businesses across all sectors have had to adapt, overnight, how they operate. Leaders have had to evolve and move at pace. Whilst there have been many challenges, there have been positives too.
And now there is a critical role for us all to play in building a positive future that is truly inclusive of disabled people. More than that; I believe that we have a once in a generation opportunity to build an economy of work that works for everyone – to reimagine and redesign what work looks like. We have been trying to shift the dial on disability employment for ever – maybe Covid19 presents us with the unique set of circumstances that we need to make real progress and to work together to embed lasting change.
We will be exploring these issues and more at our virtual annual conference “Disability Today and Tomorrow: Living in a Post-Pandemic World” on 14 and 15 October. Sponsored by HSBC, we will be joined by an impressive line-up of expert speakers from across business and academia to debate the issues of the day.
With the shift to wholesale home working for many, preconceptions about productivity and presenteeism have been confounded. With home working the most frequently requested adjustment by disabled employees, surely employers who mandate a return to office working will be on sticky ground. We will be asking: is one of the positives that employers can and should allow more employees, disabled or not, to work from home either permanently or periodically? Does being out of the workplace and change of environment bring more creativity and productivity to an organisation?
Less positively, we know that disabled people have been disproportionately impacted by previous recessions. With a financial downturn looming, BDF’s Head of Legal Bela Gor, will be looking at what “reasonable” might mean now as well as discussing the post-pandemic impact of the end of furlough schemes, return to workplaces and combating the risk of redundancy for disabled people.
10 October marks World Mental Health Day and one of the positives we have seen from the pandemic is a much greater willingness amongst both employers and employees to talk about mental health. When we carried out a short survey amongst our members back in April, we asked what their key areas of focus were in supporting their teams – and supporting mental health and wellbeing consistently came through as the number one priority. It’s true it’s good to talk – but how can we do that most effectively when so many people are now isolated – whether because they live alone or are shielding and are unable to access the social interactions that we previously took for granted. We also know that many people will be facing worries about redundancy and their finances, and with the added challenges for managers in working remotely, how can we spot the signs that someone might not be coping – and what can we do to help? Our Mental Health Toolkit may provide some support for our Members and Partners.
I hope that a positive legacy of this time will be a kinder style of leadership. We are all having to be more human in the way we are working now; much of our workplace “armour” is gone and the intimacy of letting people into our homes (albeit via our video camera) is a powerful thing as we start to see the “whole people” in our teams. Outside the safety of home though, it can be a different story. We are already seeing a rise in hate crime against disabled people who, for example, may be exempt from wearing a mask, may need to lower a mask to enable lipreading or who struggle to socially distance. How can we raise awareness of difference and create a kinder society that treats each person as a valued individual and starts with the assumption of positive intent?
Join us for our virtual annual conference “Disability Today and Tomorrow: Living in a Post-Pandemic World”. Places for our annual conference are free for our Partners and Members and priced at £199 for non-members. You can find out more and book your place here.