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National Inclusion Week: Not just an empty 'tick box'

24 Sep 2019
parlympian high jumper

Competing all over the world, former Paralympic swimming champion Liz Johnson was no stranger to being defined by her ability, rather than disability; however, she was very aware that her experience of the working world as a Paralympian was markedly different from that of the majority of disabled people trying to get ahead business. 
Determined to alter the way in which companies view and utilise disabled talent, Liz co-founded The Ability People, ‘built upon the skills and drive of individuals who have overcome extraordinary challenges to achieve success’. Here, in her own words, Liz gives us her take on the significant role Diversity & Inclusion has to play in your - and any - business.

Diversity and inclusion, or D&I for short, is at the top of the business agenda right now. As society wakes up to the level of bias which exists in every area of life and the countless barriers holding marginalised groups back, companies understand they need to tackle this. However, if we’re to see real, lasting progress, this appreciation needs to translate into concrete action. And there’s another thing the business world needs to understand: D&I isn’t just a tick box exercise to prove your company’s values- it’s essential for your profits.

This is what I and my business, The Ability People (TAP), are on a mission to prove. I’m a Paralympian with a 20 year swimming career and medals to my name, but I was keenly aware that acceptance of

disability doesn’t extend beyond the Paralympic world. This has always troubled me, but I was watching the news one night, after retirement, when I realised there was something very practical I could do about it. I was watching a piece on the UK’s disability employment gap, which has stood at 30% for the past decade. I knew that closing this employment gap and proving disabled people are equally talented was my new goal.

This led me to create TAP with my co-founder Steve Carter and we launched last summer. TAP is a unique consultancy whose aim is to end disability discrimination in the workplace. What enables us to do this is the fact that our entire team is disabled. Our consultants represent a range of disabilities and backgrounds and includes everyone from Paralympians through to recent graduates and former finance managers. TAP works directly with companies to educate them and make the practical changes needed to be truly inclusive at every level. Whether that’s running workshops, seminars, 1-1 coaching sessions or disability simulation exercises, we tailor our work to each business’s needs. However, the objective remains the same: breaking down the barriers to disabled employment.  

Though we work with companies on practical, small steps that doesn’t mean we lack a bigger vision. TAP’s mission is nothing short of a complete culture change at work and in society, achieved through these smaller actions. We want to rewrite the current narrative around disability so that disabled people’s difference is accepted and celebrated, not condemned. Our work revolves around helping companies understand that disabled people are equally as talented as non-disabled people and their work is no worse. TAP’s team in itself is living proof of this.

Changing the culture around disability also involves changing the culture around diversity and inclusion. These aren’t criteria to be checked off for the end of year review but essential considerations if a business is to grow, thrive and keep ahead of the competition. Increasing diversity in your team means increasing your profits: using the different experiences, ideas and skills which each employee has to offer. Disabled people, for example, are incredibly resourceful, resilient and creative due to the number of obstacles and barriers they have to navigate - both physical and invisible - on a daily basis. In an increasingly competitive world, these qualities aren’t something you can afford to turn down.

Of course, tokenistic employment isn’t the answer and creates many problems as it tries to solve others. But making meaningful change so companies are authentically inclusive and teams can be more diverse is vital in every sector. Diversity pays dividends - for your business and society.

Liz Johnson will be appearing at the IoD Open House on the Road Inclusive Business event on 8 November in London. Free-to-attend for members, register here

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