The tech industry is where innovation meets creativity. This industry is at the forefront of embracing diversity and inclusion. It is no secret that for any industry to thrive, it must reflect and embrace the wider society at large. This is particularly true when considering the potential of the 7.7 million disabled people of working age (DWP) in the UK, a significant yet underemployed talent pool that could add immense value to the tech ecosystem. Recognising this untapped potential leads us to explore the compelling reasons behind disability inclusion in the workplace.
The case for disability inclusion
According to our latest Diversity in Tech Report, this represents a massive pool of underemployed talent that could add tremendous value to the tech ecosystem. This is particularly relevant when considering the recent findings from Tech Nation's People and Skills report 2022, which highlighted that tech job opportunities hit a ten-year high, with approximately 870,000 tech and digital jobs available between January and May 2022.
However, despite this surge in tech opportunities, there remains a notable employment gap. Data from the Office for National Statistics (January to March 2023) reveals that only 53.7% of disabled people in the UK are employed. With this understanding of the employment gap and its implications, it's essential to recognise the broader societal impact of disability and the universal benefits of inclusion.
There is a strong business case for why organisations should endeavor to be disability inclusive: they are a source of untapped talent; they bring a diversity of thought that reflects a significant group in the general population; and making adjustments to include them is typically extremely low-cost and straightforward. These factors, combined with the prevalence of flexible working and ever-improving assistive technology, make the tech sector a natural home for many disabled workers with digital skills.
The integration of disabled individuals into the workforce brings more than just diversity; it brings a competitive edge. Contrary to common misconceptions, accommodating disabled employees is often straightforward and low-cost, thanks in part to flexible work arrangements and advancements in assistive technology. This inclusive approach not only fosters a positive work environment but also propels organisations forward in a market that values diversity and inclusivity.
Disability affects us all
Building on this business case, it's crucial to understand the broader impact of disability inclusion. Disability is a universal aspect of human experience, touching the lives of nearly everyone, either directly or indirectly. Acknowledging this universality is crucial in understanding the importance of inclusion. The innovations and improvements made to accommodate disabled individuals often have broader applications, benefiting the entire society, especially within the realm of technology.
Active steps toward inclusion
As we delve deeper into practical steps, our report revealed a growing recognition of the importance of disability inclusion. With 79% of Signatories reporting active measures of disability diversity in their workforce. Common activities include establishing employee networks, enhancing recruitment and workplace adjustments, providing training and education on disability-related issues, joining pledge organisations, obtaining accreditations, and promoting flexible working.
To achieve this, organisations can implement these top 10 interventions on disability:
Schemes like Disability Confident play a pivotal role in promoting disability inclusion in the tech industry. With over 50 signatories, the scheme has established a consistent and widely recognised standard of practice.
However, true inclusion goes beyond mere accreditation. It requires a deep understanding of the structural barriers that might disadvantage disabled employees, from the physical workspace to the digital environment. Organizations must continuously strive to integrate disability inclusion into every facet of their culture, ensuring that it becomes a lived experience for all employees.
Emphasising the depth of true inclusion, organisations must recognise the structural barriers that disabled employees face. By embedding disability inclusion into their core values, organisations can attract and retain top talent, foster a culture of innovation, and build a more inclusive and equitable tech ecosystem.
A needs-led approach
Understanding and supporting disabled colleagues requires a needs-led approach, rather than assuming what those needs are or what their limitations will be. It's about asking the right questions, which can involve things like asking a person whether they identify as disabled and their preferred language to self-describe. Understanding their preferences, and making adjustments not just for productivity but for holistic inclusion. For instance, hardware adjustments like a specialist keyboard are practical, but cultural inclusivity can be as simple as an adapted kitchen tray, enabling everyone to participate in communal activities.
Mental health and wellbeing
A critical aspect of disability inclusion is the focus on mental health and wellbeing, an area receiving increasing attention in recent times. Historically, men's mental health has been a focal point, particularly considering the alarming statistic that suicide is the leading cause of death for men under 50.
New research released in 2022 by Covid Social Mobility Opportunities (COSMO) adds new and wider context to the issue. It found that nearly half of young people now experience mental health problems, up by a quarter compared to five years earlier. The same study found that mental health presented a stark challenge for those who identified as non-binary, that women experience worse mental health than men, mental health issues affected those of multi-ethnic and White ethnic groups more than other ethnicities and mental health was worse amongst those with caring responsibilities compared to those without.
With this generation of future talent about to join the working-age population, businesses must prepare to support an intergenerational workforce where large groups face generationally specific mental health challenges.
This is what one of our Signatories, Three UK, had to say about Disability inclusion, health and wellbeing.
“We have an important Wellbeing strategy which has four pillars: social; mental; financial and physical. We have over 170 employees across the UK and Ireland who have undertaken Mental Health First Aid and who are Time to Talk representatives for anyone who wishes to reach out for a chat or support. We offer access to a range of support, benefits, and tools that make caring for wellbeing that little bit easier including a free subscription to Headspace for all our employees.” Three UK
The tech industry is always pushing the boundaries of innovation. But true innovation doesn't just come from new technologies and software, it comes from embracing a diverse range of perspectives. The business benefits are clear: attracting top talent, fostering a culture of creativity, and paving the way for an equitable and inclusive future.
For more resources on Disability, visit our Open Playbook here.