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Diversity Digest: February 2022

A note from the editor: Diversity is a fact, inclusion is an act

Hello, everyone. Can you believe it’s February already?

A warm welcome to the first Diversity Digest, in which iResearch Services brings you news, views, events, resources and practical help about inclusion in industry. Hirji’s quote above has proved popular and oft-quoted because of its power, cut-through and perceived simplicity. But, despite impressive efforts from firms and advisors alike, diversity, equity and inclusion (DE&I) are proving far from simple in the business world. Diversity is a given – inclusion, sadly is not. This can and will change – but is the pace fast enough to keep up with the ever-pressing need for agility and speed in business?

The Diversity Digest has grown from our Sustainability Summary, which includes some stories about diversity across different industry sectors. We want to shine the spotlight on the latest developments in diversity, inclusion and accessibility and provide a useful round-up as a priority, so, as we do for the Sustainability Summary, we aim to publish every month.

In this first edition of the Diversity Digest, we highlight some important stories and initiatives from a range of business sectors. An area of inclusion that all too often gets forgotten yet makes up a significant proportion of the workforce and actively engaged consumer base, concerns people with disabilities.

As a woman with an invisible disability myself, having worked my way to senior roles in marketing and communications since the start of my career in the early 2000s, I am passionate about sharing stories, supporting innovative initiatives and providing a platform for voices on all areas of diversity and inclusion in work and life. Thanks go to our guest contributor this month, Anna Kretschmer, for highlighting invisible disability in her article and sharing our passion for positive change.

We hope you find the digest helpful for you and your teams and will be expanding coverage to include interviews and candid conversations with some fantastic contributors as we go along.

– Rachael Kinsella, Editor-in-Chief, iResearch Services

Invisible disability: disclosure and becoming visible in the workplace

By Anna Kretschmer

Despite the many negative ramifications the pandemic continues to have for people with disabilities, it did provide a glimmer of hope for many. When new ways of working were quickly unfolded in the light of Covid-19, we were hopeful for more lasting systemic changes to our working lives – from adaptable ways of working, to how we view illness and recovery at work.

For those of us with invisible disabilities – defined as physical or mental impairment that has a substantial and long-term negative effect on your ability to do normal daily activities – the conversation feels like it’s opening up for us more, too.

People with disabilities make up a significant proportion of the population globally, with figures in both the UK and US at 20% of adults. In the UK, estimates from Leeds University place the number of disabled adults with invisible disabilities at 70%.

However, statistics on people with invisible disabilities at work are scarce. A historical culture of silence in the workplace means that many people with unseen disabilities just aren’t talking about it.

According to a 2017 study by the Centre for Talent Innovation (now CoQual), which looked at white-collar workers in the US, only 3.2% of employees disclosed their disability to employers, despite the actual number of employees with disabilities found by the study to be 30%.

A 2010 report by British charity Disability Rights UK looked at senior management with disabilities and found that 75% of those with disabilities that could be hidden at work did so “sometimes” or “always”. People with mental health conditions were found to be nearly four times more likely to be “open to no-one at work”.

Data holds the key to improving representation

A huge tranche of disabled workers is invisible in the data we currently have – something that is recognised by The Valuable 500, a global organisation of 500 CEOs that is working to drive lasting change to inclusion in the business world.

Addressing this “severe lack of data” is one of their five manifesto aims. Crucially, they note that participants must feel that any self-disclosure is safe.

Of course, disclosing disability is a highly personal choice, and one that can feel scary in workplaces that haven’t fostered an open and communicative culture.

I can attest that disclosing and asking for accommodations can be hard. It is extra emotional labour that takes a toll, especially when having to talk about – often repeatedly – personal health issues, with managers who may or may not have experience and training in the area. I’ve often felt that I had to demonstrate exceptional results at work to show that I deserved to have my needs taken into special consideration.

On the other hand, the emotional cost of covering up one’s everyday reality as a disabled person is significant. Living in secrecy isn’t good for anyone’s mental health. Statistics from the CoQual study also indicate that employees who feel able to disclose their disability status feel better at work, reporting fewer feelings of anxiety and isolation.

It’s important, too, to think about the chances we are given for disclosure. It is an all-too-common story that people are not given the opportunity from the get-go during the hiring process. This means that many people face having to make disclosures under their own steam – something that often only happens when they reach a crisis point and need to discuss why they are struggling at work.

Giving a voice to a silent C-suite

There is a historical culture of silence at C-suite level when it comes to talking about lived experience of disability, too. The Valuable 500 is working to “break the silence” in the C-suite, after it found in 2021 that no FTSE 100 executives or senior managers have disclosed a disability.

They place transparency at C-suite level as a key building block in transforming work cultures from the top and driving self-disclosure throughout all levels of a business. This is something echoed by Rachael Kinsella, Editor-in-Chief at iResearch Services, who says: “Transparency needs to come from the top first for other colleagues within the business to be able to take notice and to provide a safe space to have meaningful and helpful conversations. It needs to be embedded into an organisation.”

Progress at last?

However, she noted that the landscape is quickly changing, especially over the last few months. “Momentum has really built over the last year, and I’m noticing more people speaking out,” she says. “A year ago, I would have been surprised to see anyone talking about having an invisible disability on LinkedIn, for example. That has changed, but slowly.”

While disclosing isn’t a legal requirement by any means, access to accommodations under the Equality Act 2010 in the UK are dependent upon disclosing your disability. Many disability advocates also see self-disclosure as an empowering step people can take to actively start changing workplace cultures.

Making the invisible visible

The Invisible Disability Project (IDP) is a global media project that aims to interrupt the “invisibility” of unseen disability. It positions disclosing disability and talking about the realities of everyday life as an act of self-advocacy, which places disabled people in the position of speaking up for ourselves rather than being spoken for by others.

IDP also publishes resources on radical allyship, a key way of driving cultural change that doesn’t solely rely on disabled people taking on all the work of disclosure and self-advocacy. Radical allyship posits that everyone has a hand in challenging oppressive systems, and non-disabled people can and should take an active role in listening to and speaking alongside disabled people.

Practically positive

In the business world, this could be the difference between a corporation passively donating money to disability charities, versus actively looking at its own workplace culture around inclusion. It is the difference between seminars about disability and inclusion, compared to actively listening to people with disabilities about their access and inclusion needs.

Rachael also notes that business leaders are rapidly picking up on the need for active inclusion strategies, asking questions like: “We know we need to be talking about this. How can it be meaningfully followed with action?” It’s a step in the right direction.

She adds: “Firms that are doing well in making workplaces inclusive for disabled people are demonstrating through their thought leadership what their purpose is and how they are creating a more inclusive environment for everyone – and, crucially, they’re doing something about it. It is encouraging that more initiatives are getting off the ground within businesses themselves as well as industry groups challenging the status quo now, but there is still a long way to go and multiple issues to be addressed.”


Here are recent news, insights and highlights relating to diversity in the workplace we think you will find useful.

Diversity in leadership:

  • Workable’s report on Diversity in Leadership shows that just 25% of respondents included diversity as a leading priority in leadership strategy. It also covers the demographics, payoff, initiative and action items related to diversity in the workplace.
  • This claims to be the first data-led diversity index and aims to provide actionable insights to companies.

Women in leadership:

  • The seventh edition of the Deloitte Women in the Boardroom report launched this month, providing illuminating insights into the number of women and their positions in leadership across the globe. Worldwide figures indicate that women hold 19.7% of board seats. In India, it is 17.1% – an increase of 9.4% from the 2014 edition of the report.

    Our take… Giving back: As a global company with a strong base in India, we at iResearch Services are pleased to see progress, but more needs to be done. We are doing our part with our Giving for Good Foundation – among its many objectives is the goal to support young women in India to receive a well-rounded education, paving the way for better career opportunities for future female leaders.
  • This article by Akrur Barua from Deloitte investigates the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on women in the workforce, including key data on their participation rate in the labour force. Among the insights shared is the 4.2% global decline in female employment – which threatens progress in gender equality gained over the past two decades.
  • According to the 30% Club, the FTSE is about to hit 40% of women on boards, but progressed has stalled with women at Executive Committee level (23.5%).
  • This article by Sally Helgesen for strategy+business (published by certain member firms of the PwC network) explores the evolution of women’s leadership.
  • Good news for financial services – the industry has ranked highest in Bloomberg’s most recent Gender-Equality Index. There is, of course, more that needs to be done…
  • In the investment sphere, Pink Salt Ventures is the UK’s first VC firm dedicated to female -led companies. They define these as businesses where women hold an equal proportion of the founding equity.

Ethnicity Pay Gap:

Spotlight on disability inclusion:

  • 56% of employees with a disability said that they felt under excessive pressure at work (compared to 38% of workers without a disability), FSCB data shows. Access the latest FSCB webinar on disability inclusion in financial services.
  • Over on TechCrunch, Meagan Taylor examines the benefits of improving accessible hiring practices to help employers combat The Great Resignation. The article also includes myths and facts about hiring people with disabilities.
  • Awareness is increasing – is action following? This article by Joe Devon explores accessibility awareness, with a focus on tech.
  • Hybrid working’ needs to be updated – meet ‘inclusive working’.

    Disability inclusion influencers:
  • In honour of Race Equality Week, and in the spirit of this month’s focus on disability inclusion, here’s a list of 8 influential black women with disabilities to pay attention to. They are some of the many influencers to watch out for in this space, offering an opportunity for us to listen, learn and amplify important voices on important inclusion issues.
  • Here are some compelling pieces from thought leaders with disabilities: Andrew Pulrang on how to be an ally to the disability community, and Bill Sherman, a thought leader and strong advocate for the power of thought leadership, who hid his heart failure professionally for years.
  • Jenny Lay-Flurrie, Chief Accessibility Officer at Microsoft, on having visible and invisible disabilities, finding whimsy and wisdom, and driving change.
  • Helen Needham on “coming out” about her neurodiversity at work and starting a neurodiversity network at her workplace – here’s her story, told in diary entries.

    Resources: disability inclusion
  • The Valuable 500, an organisation that strives to use the power of business to drive change for people living with a disability – its work includes an active campaign, The Truth about Disability. They also recently held a webinar on how to supercharge your disability inclusion strategies, featuring experts from Texthelp, PwC and IBM.
  • The ICAEW has a library of community webinars and recordings available on demand [registration required]
  • Entrepreneur and Co-Founder of More Human, Emma Lawton, was diagnosed with Parkinson’s at 29. She discusses how to make your business more accessible in this practical and candid webinar:

Mark your calendars – upcoming events:

  • Report launch (FSCB-FSSC): Inclusion across financial services. Exploring a common approach to measurement.
  • Diversability Unplugged: Disability and Fashion. Tech for good.
  • The Global Disability Summit 2022 (GDS22) takes place on 17 February 2022, with Valuable 500 founder, Caroline Casey – Register Here
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