Making D&I work

Chair of the CSJ Disability Commission, Lord Shinkwin, says recruiters have pivotal role in getting disabled people working.

The CSJ Disability Commission, recently published its ‘Now Is The Time’ report  as a submission to the Prime Minister’s forthcoming National Strategy for Disabled People. Chair of the Commission, Lord Shinkwin believes recruiters will play a pivotal role in making the most of what the Prime Minister describes as “the most ambitious and transformative disability plan in a generation.”

This year marks 26 years since the Disability Discrimination Act and 11 years since the Equality Act were passed into law, yet progress towards equality of opportunity has stalled. “That’s why recruiters matter,” says Lord Shinkwin. “They know that a diverse workforce benefits the bottom line. They also know that for the PM’s strategy to be truly transformative, it has to empower them to deliver genuine diversity.”

Shinkwin says that must mean an end to big companies publishing glossy D&I annual reports which do not even mention disability, let alone disabled employees. He has no doubt about the importance of recruiters in bringing about necessary cultural change: “What recruiters do in this space is crucial. The best will see the skills and talents of a disabled person for what they are – skills and talents with a market value and, in fact, with added value of a different perspective that could help a business break into new markets.”


Changing big business

There is another reason why Shinkwin is excited. Alongside its report, showing how the PM can keep his promise, the Commission released an open letter. Addressed to the Prime Minister, it was signed by dozens of business leaders, including GSK CEO, Dame Emma Walmsley DBE; British Retail Consortium CEO, Helen Dickinson OBE; Pearson CEO, Andy Bird CBE; Post Office CEO, Nick Read; Schroders CEO, Peter Harrison: WPP CEO, Mark Read; Aviva Group CEO, Amanda Blanc; and Clifford Chance Global Managing Partner, Matthew Layton.

The message could not be clearer: big business is ready for change. “Disabled people have waited long enough and now is the time for action,” reads the letter. The signatories urged the PM to show in his strategy that he has given careful consideration to the Commission’s recommendations. In return, they pledged, “we stand ready to play our part.”

Shinkwin thinks it is vital that the government chart a new course which is more than just warm words if disabled people’s potential to contribute, compete and, in some cases, excel and reach the top of their professions on merit, is to be realised. He emphasises, “As the PM says, we’ve only got one shot at this. That’s why it’s so important his strategy gets it right.”

The ‘Now Is The Time’ report  makes five key recommendations to vastly improve the employment prospects of disabled people:

– Increasing supported routes into employment

– Introducing mandatory workforce reporting

– Leveraging Government procurement

– Reforming the Government’s Disability Confident scheme

– Reforming the Government’s Access to Work scheme.

An obvious way to improve disabled people’s employment prospects is to ensure adequate support in getting into work. However, Shinkwin explains that this support has often been lacking and “it’s this point that agency recruiters can play a critical role in addressing.” He is clear that recruiters and agency recruiters are absolutely essential to narrowing the Disability Employment Gap “because without them, change isn’t going to happen.”

“I would invite every reader to ask themselves this simple question. If I had a visual or hearing impairment, or if I was a wheelchair user, would the talent I offer be any less? Yet one only has to become disabled, even temporarily, to notice immediately how people treat you less favourably.”

There are numerous benefits to removing barriers to employment. It not only enhances disabled people’s social inclusion, wellbeing and financial independence; it also makes complete sense economically. Despite this, the disability employment gap remains stubbornly high, with only 52 per cent of disabled people (and only 5.6 per cent of those with a learning disability) in work compared with 81 per cent of non-disabled people. On the basis of current trends (all else remaining equal), estimates suggest it will take 40 years to close the gap.

Lord Shinkwin says, “How is that acceptable in 2021? If the gap tells us anything, surely it’s that we need to create a culture that values diversity and builds disability into businesses’ D&I strategies.” He singles out PageGroup CEO, Steve Ingham, who knows the recruitment world as well as anyone, and, like him, is a wheelchair user whose firsthand experience of living with a disability brings added insight. He asks, “Can anyone tell me how that is a disadvantage? Surely, being able to think outside the box gives you the edge? And yet if you look at the size of the disability employment gap, that’s still not recognised. Steve hit the nail on the head in the Sunday Times recently when welcoming the launch of our ‘Now Is The Time’ report . He said if bosses see disability as too “complex”, then “the best way to educate a workforce is to employ more disabled people.”


Untapped talent

“I think the key role of recruiters is to make employers aware of the untapped talent out there and show how if they don’t broaden their mindsets, then they are missing out. It’s about facilitating the cultural changes that enrich the organisation. I think of DFN Project SEARCH, for example, and its successful supported internship schemes that are helping businesses and public sector organisations diversify their workforce and draw on an untapped talent pool.

“Some employers will assume that it affects their bottom line, and won’t want to go into the diversity and inclusion field as far as disability is concerned. My argument would be that yes, this is about your bottom line, which is why it’s exactly what you want to do. There are around 14 million disabled people in the UK, and the purple pound – the income of households with one or more disabled people in them – is worth about 1/4 trillion.

“Additionally, 14 per cent of graduates are now disabled so we are looking at recruitment throughout the whole career chain, ensuring that, just as with workplace gender equality, the boardroom conversation changes because, over time, there are disabled people at the table.”

Shinkwin cites the open letter to the PM as evidence that change is in the air. “The sense I get is that these companies are looking to their recruiters to help them harness the market, to capture the best talent and be ahead of the game. So if recruiters are overlooking the talent, then they are missing out and at risk of failing their clients.”

The key question for him is whether the PM will be allowed to deliver the change promised. Will government support recruiters by facilitating the development of a level playing field, by extending mandatory workforce reporting beyond gender, so that recruiters and employers can compete for the best talent equally, with best practice rewarded. Or will it see its role as obstructing change?

Shinkwin remains optimistic. “Of course, that would make progress much slower, but any decent recruiter knows they don’t need the government’s permission to do the right thing by their clients. The open letter to the PM shows the direction of travel. If anyone wants to try and stop him from making his truly transformative vision a reality, more fool them.” He closes on a positive note. “The impending launch of the National Strategy for Disabled People is a fantastic opportunity for the government to show that it backs both talented disabled people, looking to give their best at work, and recruiters who want to enable them to do just that. Most recruiters know there is a growing market waiting to be tapped. What marks out the best recruiters is that they know now is the time to tap it.”

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