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How can directors become disability leaders?

25 Jan 2018

Purple background with a with 3D pound symbolAt the Director of the Year Awards last September I was honoured to be named as the IoD’s first Disability Employment Director of the Year. Receiving this award meant a lot to me. 

First and foremost, because it recognised my role as a business leader. Second, it was an acknowledgement of the sheer hard work involved in getting a new business off the ground (a feeling many of you will share). Third, because I was surrounded by highly inspirational business leaders who won other awards and in a room brimming with business creativity and innovation. And, last but definitely not least, because it provided a platform to promote disability as a commercial opportunity for business.

Here are some compelling disability facts:

  • The consumer spending power of disabled people and their families (the Purple Pound) equates to £249 billion a year to the UK economy, but yet less than 10% of businesses have a clear strategy for targeting this market. We also know that 75% of disabled people have left a store or website homepage due to poor accessibility or poor customer service. Estimates show that 4.3 million online disabled consumers who click away have a spending power of £11.75 billion in the UK and it’s growing.
  • 19% of the UK population have rights under current disability legislation. Out of that 19% only 4% are wheelchair users but the international sign for disability (the wheelchair) gives a different (but misleading) perception. Out of that 19%, 80% of disabled people have hidden impairments such as mental health conditions, dyslexia, etc.
  • Evidence shows disabled people have greater brand loyalty and increasingly customers look to their brands to reflect a commitment to wider inclusion issues.
As I often argue, if businesses can start to affect their bottom line by accessing the Purple Pound they will want to reflect in their increasingly diverse consumer base in their own workforces.

With the evidence showing higher loyalty by disabled employees to their employer, equivalent productivity and lower absence records to their peers, why shouldn’t more businesses be taking on disabled people as employees?

I had the chance to test out my theory at the autumn IoD Scotland Annual Conference where I was one of the speakers. To summarise the feedback in the room:

  • Business needs to be interested in such a large market to sell our products and services – and especially one that is so under-developed

  • The disproportionate number of disabled people either unemployed or under employed represents a huge waste of talent and businesses have a key role to play in changing the status quo

  • The Purple Pound is a powerful story but before we can begin to develop commercial strategies we need to ensure we are doing the right thing for our disabled staff and consumers and meeting our legal obligations.

Purple is at the cutting edge of this, leading the way in supporting both businesses (through business leaders) and disabled people to change the conversation about disability. To do this at the required speed we need to work closely with organisations like the IoD and their members – like you!

I am proud to be a fully paid up member of the IoD. The IoD has been ahead of the pack in making disability such a prominent issue – but they are also practising what they are eloquently starting to preach. At some point this year Purple will validate the IoD’s Disability Confident Level 3 (the highest award) submission to the Government. This accredited scheme encourages businesses to develop their policies and practices around the recruitment and retention of disabled people.

Over the last 12 months it has been fascinating to work with so many different businesses across all sectors on their Disability Confident journeys. 

Being Disability Confident is not just the domain of big corporates – increasingly SMEs are seeing the advantages of recruiting and retaining disabled employees.

From our experience it is the issue of mental health and how you positively support your workforce which is providing the catalyst for change. And the fear of unintentionally offending a disabled person by using (perceived) inappropriate language and etiquette which is making businesses nervous (we have run recent webinars on both issues which can be viewed here).

So what can you do?

Get involved. Provide disability leadership and commit to taking yourself and your business on the journey. It might be about deciding to become Disability Confident. It might be exploring the issues further before making the commitment. Purple has a membership offer to support you and your organisation. Go to for further information on how to join today.

If there is any other way I can help, please contact me on [email protected].

Help me to turn UK businesses Purple. And then at the next Director of the Year Awards hopefully the short list for the next Disability Employment Director will actually be a long list!

Mike Adams, CEO of PurpleEdwin Morgan

Mike Adams is CEO of Purple, a social enterprise that is ‘changing the conversation' on disability by bringing disabled people and businesses together. He was awarded the OBE in 2012 for services to disabled people and served as Chair of the Access to Work Expert Advisory Panel which reported to government in January 2013.

Earlier in his career he was part of the senior management team at the Disability Rights Commission, Director of the National Disability Team for higher education, and co-director of a disability research centre at Coventry University.

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