Building a future for persons with disabilities
We empower our persons with disabilities (PwD) through skilling and leadership development programs to ensure they grow and thrive in their careers. Our barrier-free workplace is supported by more than 36,000 PwD Champions in 52 countries who are supporting our persons with disabilities worldwide by networking, collaborating and mentoring.
Communicating effectively is the first step towards building an inclusive culture for persons with disabilities and accelerating equality. Take this 3-module e-course on Indian sign language to learn the basics of sign language and foster meaningful connections among your peers. Come, sign along!
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Hall of fame
Enabling change—part of the ongoing Getting to Equal series—explores the powerful culture of equality that results when all of these eight factors are brought to bear in an organization. Our findings further indicate that progress toward that goal correlates with greater advancement potential for all employees and with an organization’s ability to innovate and accelerate growth.
Getting to Equal 2020: Disability InclusionREAD THE BROCHURE
Meenakshi (Meena) Das remembers what it was like to grow up with a severe stutter. Teachers silenced her throughout much of her education; in high school, she was excluded from the debating society because she took too long to speak.
In college, however, the organization Disability:IN helped Meena secure a rewarding internship at a large telecommunications company. Subsequently, she interned with Microsoft. Now she is earning a master’s degree at Auburn University in Alabama; after graduation, she will rejoin Microsoft as a software engineer.
Meena is delighted to be returning to Microsoft, in part because she is keenly aware of its purposefully inclusive culture. Citing just one example from her days as an intern, she says: “My manager and mentor both made it really clear to everyone that I would be using the chat function on Teams meetings, so they should pay attention to the chat stream.” Their actions enabled Meena to contribute easily to her team—and enabled the team to benefit from her input.
Now that companies are more committed than ever to strengthening inclusion and diversity and have a robust business case for doing so, leaders need to look beyond the obvious fixes to see what really matters to employees and prospective talent.
We uncovered eight such factors through our latest Getting to Equal research which draws on a global survey of companies across industries of almost 6,000 employees with disabilities, 1,748 executives (of whom 675 have disabilities) and 50 video interviews. It highlighted a perception gap between what leaders think is happening and what employees with disabilities think is the reality—a disconnect that underscores a lack of openness on both sides. And we calculated the impact of improving workplace culture on the confidence and engagement levels of persons with disabilities and on companies’ potential for growth.
This report—part of the ongoing Getting to Equal series—explores the powerful culture of equality that results when all of these eight factors are brought to bear in an organization. (As Meena’s experience attests, big steps toward inclusion need not be expensive.)
Our findings further indicate that progress toward that goal correlates with greater advancement potential for all employees and with an organization’s ability to innovate and accelerate growth.
Among the companies in our study, the organizations most focused on disability engagement are growing sales 2.9x faster and profits 4.1X faster than their peers.
Workplace factors that
Persons with disabilities represent about 15% of the world’s population. But their participation in the workforce is disproportionately low. Worldwide, estimates hold that up to 80% are not employed.1
In higher-income countries, the employment rate of persons with disabilities is estimated at 44%; in lower-income countries, it falls to as low as 10-20%.2
In the US, for example, 31% are employed, compared with 75% of their peers,3 while in the UK, roughly half of persons with disabilities were in employment (53.2%) in 2019 compared with about four out of five nondisabled people (81.8%).4 In China, just 6.5% of persons with disabilities are estimated to be employed; the number rises to 25% in India.5 This low representation in the workforce is not for lack of desire, but of opportunity. A YouGov poll in 2019, for instance, found that more than 1 million people living with a disability in the UK were able and willing to work but unable to find employment.6
And COVID-19 has exacerbated this employment gap. While the pandemic has shown us that remote working and reasonable accommodations at scale are possible, that hasn’t been the case for persons with disabilities whose economic and employment prospects have worsened. Accenture’s COVID-19 Impact survey, which included almost 2,000 persons with disabilities in seven countries, found that the proportion of employees with disabilities confident in their job/ income security fell from 73% to 40% in the six months prior to August 2020.7
Our survey categorized respondents as persons with disabilities if they reported that they have difficulty performing day-to-day activities (e.g., walking, communicating, hearing, seeing even if wearing glasses) because of a mental, intellectual, sensory or physical health condition that has lasted, or is expected to last, at least six months
Since 80% of disabilities are acquired between the ages of 18 and 64, it’s crucial to remember that anyone could become a person with a disability at any time; there is no “us” and “them.8
In many workplaces across the globe, employees don’t perceive organizational support for persons with disabilities, so they don’t open up about their own needs. As reasons for staying silent, they site a lack of trust, the fact that some disabilities are invisible and therefore easy to ignore or hide, and a wish to not be made to feel different.
Even leaders with disabilities aren’t always transparent, denying employees the role models who could inspire and mentor them.
In fact, this survey found that the majority of employees (76%) and leaders (80%) with a disability are not fully transparent about it.
Our analysis of public statements shows that the number of companies speaking openly about creating environments in which persons with disabilities can thrive has doubled since 2015.9 However, this still represents fewer than 1 in 20 of the companies we analyzed—an indication that improving the workplace for employees with disabilities remains a challenge for most.
How important are the following factors in helping you to thrive in the workplace?
Having the freedom to be the same person at work as I am at home
Seeing people like me in senior leadership positions
Such a widespread lack of openness has led to a massive perception gap between how well business leaders feel they are doing with regard to providing enabling accommodations for employees with disabilities and how well they are actually doing. While 67% of leadership believes their technological set-ups and cultures are supportive, just 41% of employees with disabilities agree. And only 20% of employees with a disability feel the organization is fully committed to supporting them.
Executive: To what extent do you believe employees in your organization feel safe to...
Employee: To what extent do you feel safe to...
Meanwhile, executives are about 1.3x more likely to believe that employees with disabilities feel safe raising sensitive issues than employees with disabilities themselves believe. Because executives are overestimating how inclusive their organizations are, they don’t convey urgency around changing the culture and making sure that employees with disabilities aren’t just hired, but are also motivated to stay and move up the career ladder.
Workplace culture is complex and fluid—hard to define and articulate. One way to try to capture it, however, is by breaking down factors that contribute to culture and asking employees to weigh the importance of each one. Over the past three years we have surveyed more than 70,000 employees in more than 30 countries to measure their perception of factors that contribute to the culture in which they work. Out of more than 200 personal and workplace factors—such as policies, behaviors and collective opinions of employees—we identified three categories of factors that are statistically shown to influence advancement.
Accenture uses the presence and strength of these categories to determine how “equal” the workplace culture of every survey respondent is. A culture of equality is correlated with greater advancement for everyone and with an organization’s ability to innovate.
We conducted this research to help organizations build, strengthen and sustain environments in which persons with disabilities can thrive. To that end, we surveyed almost 6,000 employees with disabilities in 28 countries.
We asked respondents to assess their levels of engagement in the workplace in terms of their career satisfaction and aspirations and their sense of confidence and belonging.
We then mapped their answers against the presence and strength of more than 200 workplace culture factors to identify those that have a significant and positive effect on the likelihood of employees with disabilities thriving. The factors we identified are: clear role models, employee resource groups, parental leave, fair and transparent pay, training, flexible working options, freedom to innovate (for employees) and mental well-being policies. We call the top 10% of workplaces—where those eight workplace factors are most common—”more equal” cultures.
A range of studies have shown that teams are more productive when employees are engaged10 and, as noted at the beginning of this report, our analysis shows that companies led by executives who are focused on disability engagement are growing sales (2.9x) and profits (4.1x) faster than their peers.11
How would you describe the typical annual growth profile of your company over the past 3 years? (Average growth rate)
As Meena embarks on a promising tech career, she worries about some of the challenges she will likely face. As she told us: “At first, I won’t be expected to drive meetings or talk to stakeholders, so using the chat function is fine. But as I start progressing in my career, I will have to speak up and present more. I don’t want my speech impediment to stop me from doing that. The biggest problem is myself, my internalized fear. It’s a feeling that I would be wasting people’s time if I take too long to speak, so I should just stick to a non-speaking role.”
Her fears notwithstanding, Meena plans to speak up: She will talk to her new manager early on about her concerns so they can together brainstorm ways for her to lead meetings once the time arrives. Like so many in the community of persons with disabilities, Meena is full of career aspirations and talents. Living with a speech impediment has helped make her more creative, thoughtful, sensitive and determined. Now it’s up to her future employers to provide strong leadership, flexible policies and inclusive environments so that she and other persons with disabilities can develop confidence, fully belong and truly soar.
Accessibility at Accenture
At Accenture, we’re enabling change with a central Accessibility Center of Excellence to proactively meet the needs of our people with disabilities, along with Accessibility Centers in seven different locations around the world. The goal of the centers is to provide a space where persons with disabilities can interact with accessible technology, demonstrating our accessible design leadership and best practices.
We invested in our applications to ensure that the vast majority are accessible, and we have supplemental resources to navigate additional accessibility requirements. For example, through our Adjustment Request Tool, any employee with disabilities can easily ask for an accommodation such as assistive technology, flex work arrangements, sign language interpreters, screen readers and more.
And to inspire growth, we launched Abilities Unleashed, a unique internal development program for persons with disabilities to become authentic leaders and effective role models and to explore career paths and development opportunities.
Digital accessibility and other workplace accommodations are clearly important areas of focus for any organization looking to include persons with disabilities. This research has uncovered other, perhaps less intuitive, ways to build a culture that lets persons with disabilities flourish. Here’s a rundown of companies that have implemented the eight factors to great success.
Saqib Shaikh, a software engineer who leads Microsoft’s Seeing AI team, has had a lifelong relationship with advancing inclusive digital technology. Throughout his 15 years at Microsoft, he has channeled his own experience as someone who is blind to champion and drive product accessibility by exploring how AI can empower people with disabilities to become more independent in their daily lives.
His vision began with a dream to build eyeglasses that could observe and describe the world around him. This dream evolved into a collaborative research effort with fellow Microsoft colleagues that resulted in Seeing AI, a smartphone app that uses computer vision to audibly dictate menus and documents, product barcodes, currency, and recognize people – even their facial expressions.
As Microsoft continues to build its culture of inclusion, several other members of leadership have recently opened up about their disabilities and discussed how their unique perspectives enable them to develop products that work better for everyone.12
Bounteous seeks to ensure that inclusivity is intrinsically embedded in its core values and understands that a diverse workforce is more empathetic, collaborative and innovative. An important way it cultivates inclusivity is via flexibility: The company offers flexible work-from-home schedules and take-what-you-need paid time off. For team members who want to work from one of the collaboration centers, the company ensures that the physical space is also comfortable, safe and accessible.
Consider the recent Chicago headquarters expansion: In addition to adjustable desks, hoteling and private spaces, gender-free restrooms, and mother’s rooms, the company purchased new ADA-compliant equipment, lowered countertops in kitchens and bathrooms and added handles to all doors. By co-innovating with clients and employees alike, Bounteous makes both schedules and physical spaces more accommodating and flexible.13
In 2020, GSK signed up to the Valuable 500 pledge as part of their ongoing commitment to creating an inclusive workplace which enables their people to thrive. They’re also members of the UK government Disability Confidence Scheme and signatories to the UK Department for International Development’s Charter for Change, joining other organizations with a common aim to ensure rights, freedoms, dignity and inclusion for people with disabilities.
GSK leaders also serve as role models throughout the organization. For example, Tracy Lee Mitchelson, Training, Disability Inclusion Director, co-leads the company’s Disability Confidence network. According to her, “With the help of others, I launched the Disability Confidence Network (DCN) as a GSK Employee Resource Group.
DCN is a trusted internal resource that partners with our businesses to focus on the ability in disability and enable all GSK employees to reach their true potential at work. We’re advocates for those with disabilities, and we’ve helped individuals navigate their own particular challenges.14
The GINgroup, based in Latin America, is committed to including people with disabilities in the economic market in a dignified way.
The GINgroup developed the GINcluyete Program as a professional services platform for the employment and inclusion of persons with disabilities in direct jobs or through outsourcing, complying with labor regulations like fair pay and accessibility standards, reasonable adjustments, and compatibility of jobs with disabilities. The program includes a web platform and mobile application for attracting talent and job vacancies for people with disabilities, advice to interested companies, evaluation of persons with disabilities using soft skills and more.
The Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) selected the GINcluyete program as one of 12 projects that will be replicated in other countries.15
Intuit, a California-based software company, offers its employees a range of options that give them time away from work to rest, recover from illness or take care of personal matters.
Intuit offers four weeks of family support time to provide care and support for a family member who has a chronic condition. The company also offers its employees around the globe access to the Rethink Benefits, which offers an e-learning-style platform that teaches parents how to teach their special-needs and verbally challenged child.
Intuit also partners with Cognition Builders, a firm that works with adults and children with developmental delays to help them devise daily routines and gain greater independence through life-skill planning.16
Japan-based Sony endeavors to create inclusive working environments that enable employees to build successful careers regardless of any disabilities they might have. Sony hopes to be a place in which people of all backgrounds can flourish, resulting in new and exciting innovations and value creation for the company and society at large.
As one Sony employee with a disability said, “I get the impression that Sony is a workplace where nobody pays attention to whether people have disabilities or not. Some 20 people joined the information systems division when I entered the company, but we all worked together naturally during training, and people provided support as a matter of course when I needed it. I was also impressed by efforts to establish facilities that took disabilities into consideration.”17
Accenture offers a program called Thriving Mind, created in partnership with Stanford Medicine and Thrive Global, to focus on better understanding the impact of stress and steps we can take to build brain resiliency.
Thriving Mind is a self-directed learning journey leveraging cutting-edge brain science to teach recharge strategies especially when we find ourselves under cumulative negative stress.
In addition, Accenture has mental health ally programs in 24+ countries with more than 5,000 employees who are volunteers trained to listen, provide nonjudgmental support and point our people to the right resources for help.
Lemon Tree Hotels Limited, the largest hotel chain in India in the mid-priced segment with 82 hotels, employs approximately 550 persons with disabilities, accounting for 11-12% of its workforce. Lemon Tree hires people with a range of physical, intellectual/ developmental and special learning disabilities across nearly every department.
Training is infused throughout the organization for all disability types. For example, new recruits must take an introductory sign language course so they can communicate with non-hearing colleagues, and managers receive higher-level courses. Employees undergo training on how to work with colleagues with disabilities, for example by avoiding making too many last-minute changes to schedules, since advance planning is often key to an employee with a disability’s successful navigation of daily life and work.
It’s clear that extra training has contributed to the success of the chain and of individual employees. In housekeeping, hearing-impaired staff have been more productive than their hearing colleagues, while hearing-impaired restaurant workers are often far quicker to notice customers who are trying to attract a waiter’s attention. Lemon Tree’s commitment to hiring persons with disabilities and training everyone to work well together is a source of pride that generates high morale among all its employees.18
Regina Maruca Sotirios
The findings in this report are based from two online surveys fielded in 28 countries during October and November 2019. The executive survey was completed by 1,748 senior leaders (C-suite and direct reports; 675 with a disability) in companies with 50+ employees. The employee survey was completed by 5,870 persons with disabilities in companies with 5+ employees.
The questionnaires were constructed after extensive research (academic papers, literature search and drawing on Accenture’s experience with clients) into the personal and workplace factors that are believed to influence the likelihood of employees advancing at work.
Survey respondents were asked: Do you have any difficulty in performing day-to-day activities (e.g., walking, communicating, hearing, seeing even if wearing glasses) because of a mental, intellectual, sensory or physical health condition which has lasted, or is expected to last, at least 6 months?
And they were given the following response options: No; Yes, some difficulty; Yes, a lot of difficulty.
Any respondent who answered ‘Yes’ was defined as having a disability.
We used an econometric modeling methodology developed over the past three years of Accenture’s Getting to Equal research series to quantify the relationship between 200+ workplace culture factors and the levels of engagement of employees with disabilities. We define engagement using the following variables from the survey:
In addition to empirically connecting these outcomes to each of the culture factors, the modeling framework facilitates the measurement of the links between these outcomes and employee exposure to more (in the top 10% of the distribution) and fewer (bottom 10%) factors that drive workplace inclusion (“More equal” and “Less equal” organizations). Each model controls for a range of workplace and employee background characteristics such as organization size, industry, age, gender and education, which could also impact the outcomes.
For more information see Getting to Equal 2020: The Hidden Value of Culture Makers.
1 “Disability inclusion”; World Bank (2020) via https://www.worldbank.org/en/topic/disability & “Factsheet on Persons with Disabilities”; UN DESA; https://www.un.org/development/desa/disabilities/resources/factsheet-on-persons-with-disabilities.html
2 Sickness, Disability and Work: Breaking the Barriers”; OECD (2010); https://www.oecd.org/publications/sickness-disability-and-work-breaking-the-barriers-9789264088856-en.htm
3 US Bureau of Labor Statistics (2019): https://www.bls.gov/news.release/disabl.t01.htm
4 Disability and employment, UK: 2019”; ONS (2019); https://www.ons.gov.uk/peoplepopulationandcommunity/healthandsocialcare/disability/bulletins/disabilityandemploymentuk/2019
5 India Inc has long way to go in employing disabled people”; Economic Times (Dec 11, 2019); https://economictimes.indiatimes.com/jobs/india-inc-has-long-way-to-go-in-employing-disabled-people/articleshow/72449585.cms
6 “How the lessons of lockdown will help disabled people at work”; O’Brien, Amy (28 May, 2020); Financial Times via https://www.ft.com/content/07b5c778-9086-11ea-bc44-dbf6756c871a & “Businesses urged to take action over disability employment crisis”; Scope
7 Accenture’s Covid-19 Impact study was fielded online in August 2020. It surveyed 7,005 adults in 7 countries: Brazil, India, Japan, Saudi Arabia, South Africa, UK, USA
9 Analysis based on 30,419 public statements from 1,131 companies. See methodology for further detail.
10 The Right Culture: Not Just About Employee Satisfaction”; Gallup (2017); https://www.gallup.com/workplace/236366/right-culture-not-employee-satisfaction.aspx
11 Based on segmentation on self-reported financial performance data from 1748 executive interviews. See methodology for further detail.
12 https://news.microsoft.com/en-my/2019/02/14/empathy-and-innovation-how-microsofts-cultural-shift-is-leading-to-new-product-development/ https://news.microsoft.com/features/im-visually-impaired-sharing-disability-helped-others-feel-more-welcome/ https://news.microsoft.com/europe/features/why-disability-inclusion-is-everyones-business/
14 https://www.gsk.com/en-gb/responsibility/our-people/inclusion-and-diversity-at-gsk/ https://www.wherewomenwork.com/Career/2393/GSK-Tracy-Disability-Confidence-Network
15 https://caposts.com/business/gincluyete-programme-chosen-by-the-oecd-to-boost-job-inclusion/ https://www.b4ig.org/wp-content/uploads/2020/11/B4IG_WG2-Position-Paper_-To-Recovery-and-Beyond-Building-an-Equitable-and-Inclusive-Future-of-Work.pdf
16 https://www.intuitbenefits.com/family-support/child-care/family-support-time https://www.intuitbenefits.com/time-away/time-off https://www.benefitnews.com/news/more-employers-pursuing-autism-benefits
17 https://www.sony.net/SonyInfo/diversity/people/31.html https://www.sony.net/SonyInfo/diversity/report/05_31.html
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