Putting access at the heart of your DEI strategy 

Introduction

The diversity report we published last year showed just 7% of corporate affairs professionals reported a disability, reducing to 6% at ExCo and leadership level. The disability employment rate in the UK was 52.6% in July to September 2022, compared to 82.5% for non-disabled people. While this is a societal issue that goes beyond corporate affairs, like in many other aspects of diversity, equity and inclusion, corporate affairs leaders have the ability to tell these stories, amplify voices and drive impact. We are delighted to share more about an Access First approach from Sara Johnson, who founded Bridge 06 to drive access and representation in the media sector and beyond.

An Access First approach –  Sara Johnson, Bridge06

There are two facts I want to begin with.

Firstly, one in five people in the UK are either deaf, disabled and/or neurodivergent or have a long term health condition. Secondly, most people think they don’t work with, or indeed know anyone, who is disabled.

I worked at a high level in TV drama for 25+ years before taking a terrifying pivot into setting up Bridge06. As a parent carer and daughter to a deaf mum, trustee of a charity and author of diverse kids book series The Treehouse at Number 9, disability has always been sewn into my world. When my ‘important’ jobs didn’t allow for any real difference, I simply had to become a powerful ally from the outside in.

Disability representation is often kicked down the field because people don’t want to get it wrong, assume changes will be cost preclusive, and, let’s be honest, will negatively affect productivity. Disability is the only protected characteristic in the Equality Act and crucially intersects across all the other diverse groups. Meaning you can choose to make positive action and change that will truly shake up and support your workforce.

The Diversity in Corporate Affairs report has the same rather depressing figures around disability representation as we see in every other industry. I urge you to look to data capture and follow the Five Key Actions to retaining diverse talent, but don’t forget to review your hiring processes, onboarding, team meetings, comms, career pathways and more. It’s easier than you think to make small differences that will grow and show that you offer a safe and trusted environment for disclosure, from those you already employ as well as for new hires.

Whatever desk you read this from, your business has a problem with disclosure. People with non-visible disabilities have learnt to mask and cover anything that might mean they are seen as less effective. So yes, they were dyslexic or dyspraxic at school but there’s no need to bring that to work, or to bother anyone with their hearing or sight impairment.

Despite your care, attention and/or diversity statement, data capture and more, the burden of disclosure remains on the individual rather than the company.

There are simple ways to change your corporate mindset as you look with humility and honesty at every touchpoint of your business as to how accessible it is. Then all you have to do is ask yourself – what does an Access First approach look like for us and where can we begin?

Everyone we work with wants to be better and we really believe you do too. Let’s make sustainable change together.

Sara Johnson is the founder of Bridge 06 and Lauren Tarbit is a director at Birchwood Knight leading our work on diversity, equity and inclusion.

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12th September 2023

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