Caroline Casey, Founder “The Valuable 500” on business leadership and disability

There is an inequality crisis globally
facing disability. This can’t be resolved by governments or charities
alone. It needs the most powerful force on this planet which is business. But disability has been on the sidelines of business. We believe at The Valuable
500 it’s because we haven’t had leadership attention and intention. 56% of our global boards have never had a disability conversation. We know that
leaders make choices and choices create cultures. We know that we are in the shadow or the light
of a leader and we need leaders to release the potential into
their organizations to operationalize disability business inclusion. The Valuable 500 – which was launched at the World Economic Forum in Davos this year with our chairperson Paul Polman and our strategic partners One Young World,
Omnicom and the Virgin Media Group – exists to position disability equally on
the global business leadership agenda and to get business to equally include
disability as part of their inclusion and diversity agenda. Its aim is within
the year 2019 to get 500 of the world’s most influential brands and their CEOs
to create this critical mass – because it’s 500 – this critical mass,
this tipping point for change. We will report back on those organizations
in Davos 2020. I think we’re at an incredibly exciting time
at the moment, you can feel it. I mean I’ve been in the space of disability business inclusion
for 20 years and there definitely feels like there’s something finally happening. I think there’s three triggers for this. One is the younger generation and
their insistence upon being valued as unique and individual, equally, and their
their acceptance of difference. The second piece is this digital revolution
and social media is giving voice to so many people who never had it before. I think technology – I mean there’s no doubt that is a huge democratizer – so
there’s a lot going on. Also, I really believe around brands. So one of the things that I think is changing, speaking to CEOs around the world, is that
for a long time they never really saw the full business case. This is a business case around innovation and growth and talent and
brand and an eight trillion market. For too long disability had been
competing with other issues on the Diversity & Inclusion agenda, which is
just crazy. Why would we do that? I think leaders are finally seeing it now and I
think they’re actually seeing this as a point of growth and differentiation that hasn’t
been touched. What I am noticing, however, is there is still fear
around leaders and leaders defer to D&I or to their HR
people around this but I don’t believe that, first of all, inclusion is a D&I
conversation. It’s a leadership conversation, it’s a sustainability conversation, it’s a cultural conversation. When we ask
organizations to join The Valuable 500, the leaders go: “Of course, like why
wouldn’t I?” But the obstacle and the barrier is the system. The system that
still doesn’t understand the huge opportunity but it is changing and when
we see now on this day that we have just under 200 organizations globally signing
The Valuable 500, we are creating that FOMO – fear of missing out – that tipping
point for change and that’s exciting. Listen, we’re all on a journey together
and I think we’re gonna see a huge change in the landscape of the next 18
months. So, we’re here at the “Future of Work” conference in the ILO and, you know,
one of the things that I am concerned about is when we speak about the
employment of people with disabilities, there’s a few kind of misunderstandings. One is: of the 1.3 billion people in the world who have a disability, 80% of that
is invisible and 80% is acquired between the ages of 18 and 64. So, when we’re
talking about employment and work, we need to understand there’s a lot of people. I did not disclose my disability until 20 years ago. I’m registered blind, I was in
the closet for a long time. I “came out of the closet” 20 years ago in Accenture. The reason I didn’t talk about my disability was for fear of not being
allowed to do what I wanted to do or my talent or capability or potential or skills
to be recognized. That it would be distracted by this definition
of disability. So, I think we really need to understand that disability is not one
type of disability, it’s so many different identities, different
lived experiences and it can happen to anybody, okay? So this is the first part
about what we need to understand. The second piece around the “Future of Work”
we need to understand is people with disabilities have a very different way
of looking at the world and a very different way of of being in the world,
which I think is a great opportunity for growth and innovation around technology. We’ve got to remember the remote control was designed for visually impaired and
blind people and look, we all use it. At the very basis, I think people with
disabilities can really help around the idea of Universal Design or human-centered
design or Design for All which enables all of us to flourish, to
bring ourselves to work. The third thing I think we need to really
understand when we’re talking about the employment of people with disabilities
is until we attach this to a model of value, until we see the value model of
people with disabilities as consumers and suppliers and members of the
community and talent – why on earth would an employer who’s so
already overwhelmed with so much, who still doesn’t understand the business
case see it unless it’s connected to the full value chain. So when we’re talking about
the future of work for people with disabilities, we need to understand the
value chain and that’s why we call this “The Valuable 500”. We’re not asking
companies to do this because – I’m certainly not even trying to make
the case anymore for people with disabilities in the
future of work. There’s a risk now, there’s a risk to companies and to brands
not to include this talent, not to include this resourcefulness, to serve
consumers, to serve the new growth areas. It’s a risk to your brand. So, my invitation is to companies around the world: “Do you not want to get the first
mover advantage or be the early adopter?” – because it’s certainly there to take.

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