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min read

Your D&I strategy is incomplete without disability data. Here’s why.

Written by
David Whitfield
Your D&I strategy is incomplete without disability data. Here’s why.

Disability is the largest representative group in the workplace, which means organisations ought to pay close attention to the experience of their disabled employees.

And yet, it appears to be one of the most overlooked diversity characteristics in a diversity and inclusion strategy.

In fact, the average disability disclosure rate is just 25%.

This is not only shockingly low, but it would also suggest that businesses are not engaging with disabled employees.

And this is a big issue.

The reality is, like all other representative groups in the workplace, data on disability is essential to building a diversity and inclusion strategy that delivers impact.

We appreciate that disability disclosure can feel complex. But don’t let that prevent you from focusing on it.

Because without the data, it is impossible to understand the true needs of your workforce

In this blog post, you’ll learn: 

  • What disability disclosure is 
  • Why so few employees disclose disability
  • What impact low disclosure rates has
  • How encouraging disability disclosure benefits organisations

What is disability disclosure?

Disability disclosure is when an employee divulges information about a disability to their employer.

When we refer to disability in the workplace, this includes any impairment that requires some form of accommodation by an employer to allow their employee to succeed in their role.

In fact, legislation under the Equality Act 2010 is in place to assist and protect employed and unemployed workers with a disability.

However, disclosing a disability is entirely down to the employee. In other words, if employees don’t feel comfortable disclosing a disability, they could be working without the assistance and support they need.

What is the rate of disability disclosure in the UK?

Our cross-sector survey of 125 senior HR, D&I, reward and people professionals - including 12 FTSE 100 - revealed an average disability disclosure rate of just 25%.

Given disability is the nation’s largest minority, this disclosure rate is shockingly low.

It would suggest that very few companies are actively engaging with their colleagues to collect data on visible and non-visible impairments.

And it also goes some way to explaining why so few companies report their disability data externally.

Because without employee disclosure, it is impossible to report. In fact, in the same survey, we also found that only 7% of organisations in the UK have come forward to report their disability data.

And more than half (54%) said they have no intention to report their disability data externally. Not this year, or next year.

It would be an understatement to say that this is worrying. Because having a diversity and inclusion strategy that is underpinned by data is no longer a ‘nice-to-have’. It is a business imperative.

Why do so few people disclose disabilities in the workplace?

Many people choose not to disclose a disability because they are concerned about the impact of sharing this information with their employer.

In reality, nearly half of disabled people worry about sharing their impairment or condition at work.

It’s widely acknowledged that many employees with disabilities generally fear that disclosing their disability will lead to prejudice in the form of slower progression, less meaningful roles or segregation.

Sadly, research by Scope has shown that one-in-three disabled people feel there’s a lot of disability prejudice, in general.

This is, perhaps, unsurprising when we look at data which shows how little organisations are doing to support and reach those with disability:

First, according to the Return on Disability Group, although 90% of companies claim to prioritise diversity, only 4% are focused on making the environment in which they are running a business, inclusive of disability.

Second, the disability rights group, Radar, found that three-quarters of disabled people working in senior management roles who had the option to conceal their disability, still chose to do so.

This is concerning, particularly given that greater openness around disability is a crucial factor in improving equality and creating positive workplace environments.

Third, less than 10% of organisations have a targeted plan to access the disability market. 

That’s despite the spending power of disabled people and their families being worth a staggering £274 billion - and rising 14% per year.

What is the impact of low disability disclosure rates?

Without disability disclosure, an employer can never fully evaluate the experiences of their disabled employees.

Which could mean that they are building a diversity and inclusion strategy based on only on opinion.

And that is a BIG problem.

Let me ask you a question: When asked to picture disability, what do you envisage?

Unfortunately, one’s perception of disability has long been based on what one can see, and not what one cannot.

The danger is that employers may think they know how a person is challenged from what they see on the outside. 

And whilst great work is being done to change entrenched attitudes and perceptions of disability.

There is still a long way to go.

In conclusion: A diversity and inclusion strategy must be built around genuine needs and challenges of people.

And therefore, it must be one that is rooted in data, not opinion.

Important facts you need to know about disability

To appreciate why disability disclosure is important, it’s helpful to understand some key facts:

First, just half of disabled people are in employment.

However, there are more than one million disabled people who are not in work who would like to work.

Second, 70% of people live with non-visible conditions and impairments.

That’s nearly three-quarters of the population who are challenged by something which we cannot see.

Third, the Family Resources Survey found that between 2017 and 2020, mental health - a person’s condition with regard to their psychological and emotional well-being - was the only category of impairment to have increased. 

And finally, in the workplace, people with disabilities are underrepresented in senior roles. 

According to Scope, Just 8% of people who are in managerial positions are disabled (compared with 92% of non-disabled people).

How will encouraging disability disclosure benefit your organisation?

You don’t need to look far to see the benefits of increased disability disclosure in your organisation.

Not only will you have the evidence you need to improve the personal and professional lives of disabled employees.

For instance, taking this valuable insight to break down the barriers that impede the advancement of people with disability.

And making adjustments to support disabled employees with specific needs.

But those organisations who create an inclusive culture will also have a competitive advantage.

And the research is there to prove it. According to Deloitte, companies with an inclusive culture are:

  • Eight times more likely to achieve better business outcomes
  • Six times more likely to be innovative and agile
  • Three times more likely to be high performing
  • Two times more likely to meet financial targets

Improving disability disclosure has the power to put you one step ahead in today’s competitive talent marketplace and organisations working on creating equal and fair workplaces will improve their chances of retaining their disabled employees.

And will help attract new employees from the rich pool of disabled talent.

How to encourage employees to disclose disability

It is critical to encourage employees to disclose their disability because low disclosure rates means the needs of individuals are not being met.

However, we know that many employees worry that disclosing a disability will lead to prejudice. Therefore, it is essential for organisations to create a culture that promotes open discussion - one where disabled people feel comfortable to ask questions and talk about their disability, without fear of judgement.

In addition, it is important to master your data collection method and consider the best way to gather insight from your employees.

For instance, data collection should be done as part of a company wide census so that the company is not seen to choose one diversity and inclusion characteristic over another.

Not only will this help prevent segregation but it will also give colleagues the opportunity to declare their true selves.

Our D&I Index provides easy-to-follow guidance on how to build trust with your employees. It also includes best practices to gather disability data, including communication techniques and case studies.

Final thoughts on disability disclosure

To make a long story short, your diversity and inclusion strategy is not whole without disability data.

Because if you don’t have the data, it is not only impossible to understand the changes needed. But it is also impossible to report your company’s progress on diversity and inclusion.