Focusing on diversity? Don’t overlook disability

Inclusion should cover those with particular challenges—physical, cognitive or otherwise—to properly reflect the citizenry and for an array of subtle benefits to your organization.

“If disability is not on your board agenda, neither is diversity, nor is innovation, productivity, brand experience, talent, risk, reputation…” —Caroline Casey, founder, The Valuable 500

At the World Economic Forum in Davos this year, I played a small role in launching a much-needed disability inclusion revolution to the global business community and now to Cannes’ award-winning acclaim. 

Why? Largely because of this pressingly uncomfortable truth: While many companies are talking a good game when it comes to committing to diversity and inclusion, disappointingly few are genuinely walking the walk, opting to be “diversish.”

“Diversish” is to be selectively inclusive of some types of people within a company, group or business, depending on which type best suits the company. Recent research by EY found that despite 90% of companies claiming to prioritize diversity, only 4% consider disability, and yet 20% of the population, 1.3 billion people, live with some kind of disability—visible or invisible.

Bring in The Valuable 500. 

Founded by Caroline Casey, this global movement aims to put disability on the leadership agenda by getting 500 of the most influential businesses to sign up and commit to action by the end of this year. So far around 320 signups are in process, with Unilever, Accenture, Microsoft, Bloomberg, Omnicom, Cinepolis, Barclays and Deloitte being some of the first companies to sign—not just because they think that morally it is the right thing to, but because it is the right thing to do to unlock business and economic value. 

Did you know that there are more clothing lines for dogs than for disabled people, yet these people hold a disposable annual income of $8 trillion?

At Porter Novelli, we, too, believe that social good goes hand in hand with business growth. 

This correlation of purpose and profit is indeed how The Financial Times now defines “The New Agenda,” as do the 181 CEOs who made the commitment to redefine the shape of business by taking a multi-stakeholder, not shareholder-first, approach via the Business Roundtable. 

We must now take the same approach with disability and integrate the needs and opportunities of people living with disability into business strategy to drive new innovations, engage new talent, and attract new customers to, in turn, drive commercial growth and benefit stock price—oh, yes, and because it is the right thing to do for society globally.

It is business’s time to rise. Take a leaf out of Caroline’s belief book; she believes that the next generation of CEOs are more positive about uniqueness and inclusion than previous generations. Hence her working closely with One Young World to empower young leaders to achieve disability inclusion, but it is equally critical to get leaders on board to prioritize and set the right culture.

At Porter Novelli, people of every race, background, ethnicity, faith, gender identity, socio-economic status, sexual orientation, marital status, age, physical ability and cognitive style are welcome. We are working to integrate diversity, equity and inclusion into all that we do, because we believe that organizations that are more diverse perform better, generate more powerful ideas and achieve more impactful clients. 

Despite our best efforts, we know that there is much further to go to genuinely represent the communities we serve and reflect the societies in which we live. We need to root out systemic inequities and biased behaviors that are unconscious or implicit. We must actively work to increase the hiring pipeline, improve recruitment and affect retention. We need to be better at coaching and sponsorship, and we must work with our industry to address these challenges and to effect positive change more quickly.

So, we have signed up to the revolution. Led by a junior to senior taskforce, The Valuable 500 is one of the critical global partners within our corporate scheme, 1ForAll, which donates 1% of our time to help end discrimination and prejudice and push for equal rights by supporting diversity, inclusion and human rights campaigns. And our clients are joining us.

This Disability Awareness month, I urge you to join us by joining the disability inclusion revolution. 

Fenella Grey is chair at Porter Novelli London. Porter Novelli is a global public relations agency born from the idea that the art of communication can advance society. Porter Novelli is a part of the Omnicom Public Relations Group.


2 Responses to “Focusing on diversity? Don’t overlook disability”

    Nora Carr says:

    Thank you for your timely and insightful column. The absence of disability-related issues and concerns, along with the lack of knowledge regarding the history of discrimination and the ongoing disability rights movement among most diversity trainers and programs, are of deep concern.

    As someone once shared with me: We are all temporarily abled bodied (TABS). As we age, the percentage of those who deal with a disability increases significantly.

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