Diversity and Disability

Including people with mental and physical disabilities in conversations about diversity.

DIVERSITY HAS BECOME a priority for businesses and business schools worldwide. But as these organizations work to create more diverse workforces and student bodies, they often forget one important underrepresented group: people with physical or mental disabilities.

However, business leaders are signing on to a new initiative called The Valuable 500, which is working to bring disability into discussions about diversity. Recently, for example, seven financial institutions in the United Kingdom were among the latest signatories. They include the Bank of England, Lloyds Banking Group, RBS, HSBC UK, Monex, Standard Chartered, and Bank Hapoalim of Israel.

Launched in January 2019 at the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland, The Valuable 500 is described as “a global movement putting disability inclusion on the global business leadership agenda.” It now has more than 55 signatories, but campaign organizers are seeking 500 global businesses to join the initiative.

The current signatories want to draw greater attention to the fact that even though diversity has become a priority in the business world, only a fraction of companies include disability in their diversity agendas. In doing so, they are missing out on a talented pool of workers—not to mention a lucrative base of consumers. According to the group, about 15 percent of the world’s population live with a disability. This amounts to more than 1 billion people who possess an estimated US$8 trillion in annual disposable income.

“ 90 PERCENT of business leaders interviewed express reluctance to hire a disabled person in a leadership position. They cite concerns such as inaccessible offices, the potential for missed work, and the cost of making accommodations for people with disabilities.”
—From a survey conducted by Inclusive Boards

Each signatory to the initiative has pledged to take steps to address disability inclusion within its operations. For instance, Bank Hapoalim of Israel recently announced a social impact program, in which it will ensure that its media campaigns include at least one person with a disability. Lloyds Banking Group partnered with Mental Health UK, and since January 2017, the company has helped raise £9 million (approximately US$10.8 million) for this cause.

Bill Winters, group chief executive of Standard Chartered, points to his company’s development of an internal disability benchmark. The company, he notes, has asked its national-level CEOs to complete the assessment improve their progress as part of their local diversity and inclusion plans.

According to Caroline Casey, founder of The Valuable 500, the decision of the seven financial institutions to join the initiative marks the first time that the world’s financial services sector has shown such solidarity in the inclusion of disabled people in the workforce. She hopes other U.K. businesses, across all sectors, will choose to join The Valuable 500 and work to “end disability exclusion in business once and for all.”

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