According to the World Bank, an estimated 15% of the world’s population lives with some form of disability. How can companies make their workplaces more accessible to their own employees and to talented job candidates who might require some accommodation to reach their full potential?
On Feb. 18, Quartz executive editor Heather Landy spoke with disability advocate Caroline Casey of The Valuable 500 and Hector Minto, Microsoft’s senior technology evangelist for accessibility, about the state of disability inclusion in the modern working world.
Click on the image above for the full video replay, or check out the complete transcript below. Find more replays and recaps of workshops in our Quartz at Work (from home) series here.
How to promote disability inclusion at your workplace
Thursday, Feb. 18, 2021 • 11am – 12pm US eastern time
- Caroline Casey, founder of The Valuable 500
- Hector Minto, senior technology evangelist at Microsoft
- Heather Landy, executive editor of Quartz and editor of Quartz at Work
HEATHER LANDY: The pandemic showed us that businesses can rapidly adjust and adapt to different styles of working. Companies that previously rejected work from home policies or flexible work hours were forced to figure out a way to do so in a matter of days. Many of these new policies and accommodations are things that people with different abilities were fighting for long before the pandemic. But remote work also creates new challenges for people with certain physical or mental disabilities. But today, we’re going to focus on ways to create accessible and inclusive workplaces for people of all abilities in ways that extend past the Covid-19 pandemic, and we have two amazing speakers to help us with that today. Caroline Casey is the founder of The Valuable 500, which launched two years ago at Davos seeking 500 companies that would commit to putting disability inclusion on their business agenda. I first saw Caroline at a panel where no fewer than three global CEOs were literally brought to tears discussing her initiative and the importance of disability inclusion, which gives you a good sense of how personal this issue can be and also how passionate some of the business sectors most powerful people feel about it. Hector Minto is the senior technology evangelist for Accessibility of Microsoft, which is a member of The Valuable 500 and under CEO Satya Nadella has made accessibility a cornerstone both as a maker of devices and products and as an employer. Hector has been working in the accessibility technology space for over two decades now from selling specialized devices that include a page turner for people who can’t move their limbs, to talking computers called Lightwriters, to helping people who can’t speak/communicate. (Side note, he worked with the late Stephen Hawking on his communication aid.) Hector is joining us from outside Oxford in the UK. Caroline is in Dublin at home. And Caroline, I’d like to start with you. Could you just tell everyone a little bit first about your own story managing a disability with a job where most of your colleagues didn’t even realize you were disabled?
CAROLINE CASEY: Yeah. So, 21 years ago, I came out of the closet. I was a management consultant with Accenture, and the big secret I was hiding was I am registered blind with a condition called ocular albinism, which means I have about one and a half feet vision and after that it’s like putting a pair of glasses on with a smeary kind of cream. What’s unusual about my story is that was no accident. I was born in 1971—I’m 50 years old this year—and diagnosed at six months with the condition, and it was my parents’ desire that I would never be labeled or limited more importantly by an impairment, a disability. And so, they decided to send me to a mainstream school and bring me up as a sighted child. I had no idea I had a bad vision impairment. They made me do everything every other kid does, which is hilarious, but they—I found out by accident at 17 when I went to get my driving license and it was, at that point that I was like, you know, that does not make sense. I want to have a life that does not … that is not limited by other people’s perceptions of my ability. And so, I went into the closet for 17 years and found my way into Accenture.
HEATHER LANDY: And what was that working experience like at the beginning?
CAROLINE CASEY: You know, I think people who know me, I certainly in that point in my life I—listen, I’m an A-type personality. I don’t deny that. I’ve been brought up directly in the background I was. I didn’t really know how to ask for help very much. And what I would say is I spent a lot of time fighting my sight trying to achieve beyond it, trying to prove I could. It was a battle with myself honestly. It really wasn’t a battle with the external world. It was about who I was and [my] sense of self-acceptance, but it’s exhausting. It’s exhausting hiding parts of yourself. You don’t need to have a disability to know what that feels like. It’s very hard and I think anybody in this time turning up on these Zoom calls, you know, what are we hiding sometimes behind that closed door, behind that Zoom lens? You know, it’s exhausting and I feel very strongly that for our world to be reaching its potential and to be as productive as we are as individuals and human beings in a society, we need to be authentically ourselves. But what’s very startling for me is before we launched The Valuable 500, which is really about breaking the CEO silence on disability business inclusion. EY did some research for us and we discovered that 7% of our C-Suite of a lived experience of disability, but four out of five of them are not declaring it, just like I did 21 years ago.
So, you know, in some ways things may be moving but, in other ways, you can still see there is still a lot of uncomfortable fear around this.
HEATHER LANDY: Absolutely. And let’s talk a bit about The Valuable 500. You launched it seeking 500 companies that would commit to putting disability inclusion on the agenda. You are almost there. You’re over 400 members now in less than two years, or just about two years, which is really remarkable on the one hand. And on the other hand, I can’t believe there weren’t 500 companies around the world that were willing to sign up for this on your very first day. It just seems like the kind of thing that companies would want to do in order to access the best and widest range of talent possible, in order to show their clients and their customers that this is an issue they care about. What has this been like for you? Are you surprised both ways like I am at the progress or…
CAROLINE CASEY: Look at the glass in front of my face. I definitely look 70. So first of all what was different about The Valuable 500, it was actually about the CEOs. It was the CEOs attention and intention and accountability. I mean, this is what’s so important. The reason we were not seeing accelerated and scaled change in the businesses is because it didn’t have the visibility of the CEO and the leadership. You know, 56% of our company boards had not had a conversation about disability. You know, Microsoft is one that has been leading for a long time; most companies hadn’t. So, your question is and what we want to do is to get that leadership support so that we could invest in the business to scale to change across their supply chain, which is really important for us. We’re at 435 as of this morning. And I say that as of this morning because it happens every morning more come through, which represents the power of 18 million employees, 36 countries, 64 sectors, and over $5 trillion in revenue. But why? Where was all of this before? Well, I think it is — I’m very proud of what we’ve done because we are the biggest system-change community in the world led by CEOs under any issue after UN Global Compact. Okay, like that’s incredible. And I think it’s incredible because people go “and it’s about disability” and I’m like, “I know.” The reason it didn’t happen before now is lots of things, which I’d love to hear what Hector’s got to say in it, but, I think, is the competing agendas in the diversity and corporate inclusion agenda, where disability just kept kind of falling off the edges, right? It was always the one that was the poor cousin and I think that was for many reasons. One is we didn’t have the CEO intention and interests and, therefore support, or it was there but it wasn’t visible. The second one is a complete lack of understanding that this community of 1.3 billion people, with a mother and a father, is 72% of our global economy, that at the very minimum is worth about a trillion, that is a source of innovation and insight for product development, and differentiation for next-generation employees’, retention of employees. I mean, it was always considered as something to be fixed or niche or even accessibility niche, not normal. It was never seen that the return on investment was worth investing in. But today, I can tell you something is changing and the accelerated change because we’re not—we started as a campaign to break that silence. And now, we are using the power of this community to literally, unapologetically shake up the business system. Can you imagine activating the power of these companies all over the world to a transformational change program, which we have created with them to drive the system change, and that to me is some form of tipping point for change. I think something is happening. People are getting that intersectional approach and I am excited and I am also proud, but I am also very sad that we’ve talked to over 3-5,000 companies and we still only have 430, which we should still be very proud of.
HEATHER LANDY: Yes, you should. One of those companies as I mentioned before is Microsoft, which has a CEO who in fact does have a deeply personal connection to the world of disability and maybe it’s not a coincidence, Hector, that you joined Microsoft five years ago, right around the same time as CEO Satya Nadella. Talk to us a little bit about your role at Microsoft, which is probably not a role that a lot of companies have right now.
What you do on a daily basis and what you think it really takes or a company to commit truly to disability inclusion?
HECTOR MINTO: Yeah. Thanks, Heather, for inviting me to join you today. And I think you’re absolutely right. I mean, I joined five years ago because you could see the tech industry at large and specifically Microsoft really starting to shift their narrative on disability technology and accessibility as a topic. I spent a whole career working with innovative small companies building great assistive technology to empower people with disabilities all around the world, you know on my knees next to wheelchairs, fitting computers onto people’s chairs, so they were able to communicate or control their home, control their environment. But suddenly, I saw Microsoft out as really kind of talking confidently about disability, and accessibility being seen as a deliverable, or disability inclusion being seen as a deliverable. You know, we are watching society, a global society, transform before our eyes with technology and Covid will come into this, I’m sure. But you know, that has accelerated this digital transformation and what always happens when we digitally transform too quickly is we risk leaving people behind. So, unless we have great representation of people with disabilities inside the fabric of all industries, we’re going to lock people out of society, and this is incredibly dangerous. So, this is the time to be having this conversation about accessibility. I joined because of this obvious digital transformation that’s happening all around us, but it’s been a bit of a rollercoaster of the last five years just watching it absolutely speed up, and I think that a lot of the work that Caroline’s doing has really helped us move the conversation away from the tech companies to everybody starting to see they have a role to play—not just in disability inclusion, in hiring great disability talent into your organization so that you can and do hear what’s happening and what, you know, what life is like for people using your products, your processes, your services, but what I’m starting to see now is that every industry is starting to take an interest in digital accessibility, be that media and telco through to financial services, education, health. How can you survive in a world that’s delivering services through all those industries if it’s not made accessible to people with disabilities? So, yeah, I may have started with—I mean, I should tell you about the page-turner that I started with—but I may have started with extremely niche technology 25 years ago. But now, I find myself in really influencing Microsoft globally around the world to have this, um, starting to get confident to have this conversation. Perhaps we maybe need to come onto that but that’s why I always describe what’s happening around what Caroline is doing and getting CEOs to talk about this. We’re just giving people permission to have this conversation really, and to get confident and to actually be a bit more kind of human in the way that we interact with our businesses around us, and recognize that disability is already there, reframe the disability that’s already there. You know, we suddenly discover when we have a conversation of this, there are hundreds of disabled people with disabilities and with great talent who are there within the fabric of your organization already, but you’re not necessarily catering for this exactly. [It’s] the same with people when you deliver your services as a business. So, yeah, this summarizes it I guess. This was the obvious time to come on board.
HEATHER LANDY: Are you sort of the conscience of Microsoft when it comes to dealing with [this]? Are you reminding product teams or HR teams if they’re looking at internal issues? Is that a role that you think other companies need? Maybe I’m overreaching.
HECTOR MINTO: I wouldn’t call it conscience. I mean, I think we tend to overuse words like conscience so much. Every single part of Microsoft can play a part in bringing more disability talent into Microsoft and to make sure that everything they do represents the wider society. So, we have conversations with HR, product development, real estate and facilities, business apps, you know, the people—the technology we’re building inside Microsoft—procurement, we’re having this conversation with regularly. You know, we kind of have a cobweb that runs throughout the organization kind of allowing us to have this conversation. It’s not conscience and I wouldn’t say it’s responsibility. I think under Satya Nadella it’s kind of new reframing of accessibility within Microsoft and obviously, Jenny Lay-Flurrie, our chief accessibility officer. It’s saying, you know, we’re going to tell you what the opportunity is. Come back to us with commitments that you’re going to make to us. And what we find is that when we create this culture of inclusion and where Satya is saying I want to kind of showcase the great work you’re doing on accessibility, what we are finding is amazing leaders from all across the organization come back with their commitments. I have no expertise in HR, you know, it’s not my game. I don’t know what their goals are on a daily basis. But as soon as we create this culture, we show what we want to achieve as a business around the culture of disability inclusion and deliverable digital accessibility, —
We suddenly will hear like an HR team say, “Hey, I’ve just realized our leave booking form in Austria is not accessible. I’m going to do something about it.” So, all I’m saying is we give people permission to make commitments to the agenda. That’s the strategy, but the — is only when you leave from the top do you get that happening. That’s really it and then, of course, measuring but maybe we can come to that.
CAROLINE CASEY: Yeah. We think—
HECTOR MINTO: You must measure progress. Yeah.
HEATHER LANDY: Yeah, we will definitely talk about that and I have many more questions for the both of you, but I want to jump to a couple of the audience questions that have come in already. So, Rushi asks, what are the first steps organizations can take to include persons with disabilities in the workplace? Any advice as—just first steps if you want to show?
CAROLINE CASEY: Do you mind if I just jump in, just two seconds? I think for me, Hector just said what Satya did was to create a culture of support and permission and I often quote a man called John Amaechi, you know leaders make choices and those choices create the culture, and I think this is a perfect example. For me, the most important thing any company and any person within the company [can do] is to ask the question: Where are we? You know, what are we doing? I don’t know what do you think, Hector, but I think that’s the most important part is we’ve got to create spaces for people to ask the question. What are we doing about this? I’m going to tell a very quick anecdote story, as you probably remember when Peter Grauer, who’s the chair of Bloomberg, was on that panel, you know that incredible panel where we launched the Valuable 500. He was like, you know, I’m really proud about what we’ve done about a, b, and c but, you know what, we’re not doing enough about disability, and I don’t know what to do. So, to answer your question, I think it’s to understand you’re not expected to know it all. You will not get canceled out by asking questions with the intention to change, and I think that is [about] reaching out to people with different lived experience who can help you. To Hector’s point, we most likely are employing anything between 11% to 15% of our organization who have lived experience of disability, but they are not speaking about it because 80% of disability is invisible. I would go talk to your customers, talk to your team members, the questions. I mean, that’s me. I don’t know what you think, Hector.
HECTOR MINTO: Yeah, I mean there’s no organization in the world that doesn’t employ somebody with a disability. Let’s just start there, okay?
CAROLINE CASEY: Yeah.
HECTOR MINTO: You’ve already got representation, but are you creating space to have that conversation around, you know, what it’s like to work here as a person with a disability. So, invest in your employee resource group mechanisms, whether you’re large or small; create space, create time in the calendar to have this conversation around disability. But what’s really fascinating to me is every organization—Microsoft is not just a technology provider. It’s not just Office. It’s not just Word. It’s not just Xbox, ok? We have an entire technology industry spun up around us to go and deliver technology all around the world. And some of the most exciting work I do is with our partners because when they see this leadership from Satya and Jenny on disability inclusion and accessibility as a deliverable, they see themselves as an industry that can actually help us create an inclusive society, and everybody wants to feel like they’re doing great, inclusive stuff as we’ve gone out and reached some of the smallest partners around the world. They’ve gone away and they’ve learned about digital accessibility, the technique, the deliverable, the responsibility, the opportunity, but then what they suddenly come back, they’ll come back to me and say to me, “I’ve got five dyslexic people in my organization I never even knew, you know, and suddenly you’ve made them more productive with the tools that you’re building—thank you.” And now they’re going to lead the project moving forward around how we engage with the customers around disability inclusion and accessibility. So, my point is there’s always people with disabilities who are not talking about their disabilities, who are not disclosing. Many people don’t disclose their disability because they’ve had poor experiences in the past, whether that be in school, in their social lives, and unfortunately, I do think the worst offenders are our workplaces. I mean, I just think, you know, it’s hard to talk about disability in the workplace if you don’t have a positive culture around the topic. And so, if you’ve had poor experiences, then you’re not going talk about it when you go to your next job because you had a poor experience before, yeah. So, this concept of leaders giving safe space to talk about the topic, moving away from risk mitigation to more of one of opportunity to just do great stuff out there whether you’re a bank, whether you’re an education authority, with your health authority, with your brand agency—it doesn’t really matter. But grasping that opportunity and then taking that disability talent you have within your organization giving it voice to influence your organization more, you know, more concretely—and then that’s where the measurement comes in.
HEATHER LANDY: Kaye has a question that dovetails what something I wanted to ask you both.
So, Kaye asks, “How can we extend the DEI philosophy, diversity, equity and inclusion with a focus on disability into not-for-profits, volunteer-driven, and voluntary organizations.” And the question I wanted to ask you both is that I think maybe one of the reasons why workplaces have been so tough for people with disabilities is the perception that any kind of accommodation will be extremely costly.
HECTOR MINTO: Yeah.
HEATHER LANDY: Can we talk a little bit about cost and what is really involved here? And could a not-for-profit on a shoestring budget make the kinds of accommodations that it would need if it wanted to be truly committed to this—or a for-profit business for that matter?
HECTOR MINTO: I’m happy to jump in first on this one.
CAROLINE CASEY: Yeah, I was —
HECTOR MINTO: This is a different conversation globally. So, different countries have different approaches to this. Wherever there is cost associated, in some countries, that’s just covered. In the UK, we have something called the Access to Work scheme, it’s covered. Your employer can go and get any extra cost covered, so that removes that conversation. However, it doesn’t take away the conversation of asking for an accommodation. It’s not good enough to just say, “Hey, we’ll pay for it.” People feel nervous about asking for that extra cost. It’s not just the cost, it’s the asking for the cost, or how is this perceived by the hiring manager that I do cost more than another employee to do the same job. That is deeply stressful to a lot of people. The cultural thing you can do here was twofold. We centralized accommodation budgets at Microsoft. Your manager doesn’t know any extra cost. And as we look across a company the size of Microsoft, the cost is tiny per employee. It’s just meaningless. It’s a meaningless cost compared to any other cost that a business has. So, we know that. That’s great for large-sized companies. Of course, when you take this down in terms of company size. What we’re starting to see is a lot of the investments we’re making in technology. I’m making the difference for, I would say, 80% or 90% of people who need some kind of accommodation, be that auto-captioning, be that magnification tools, be that dyslexia support built into mainstream products, be that dictation software for people who need to get words on a page in a different way. Increasingly, just raising your knowledge bar on what’s available, not just in Microsoft products, but in all technology products. And I would say small companies are much more flexible on bring your own device to work policies to allow people with disabilities to bring their own technology to work is another great strategy. But where there is cost, you’d be amazed at how low cost disability tech is actually becoming now. There are still some technologies that are incredibly expensive. But until we get Caroline driving the global conversation, Microsoft spreading its wings across the world to really influence … When we can get assistive technology to a global audience, including Asia, Africa, bits of the world where assistive technology companies have never sold before … If we can grow scale around this topic, that’s the other thing that’s going to drive the cost down. So, I’m not going to pretend that some assistive technology isn’t expensive. Some of it is expensive. But if you look at it on the whole, it’s really nothing compared to many of the costs that businesses pick up.
CAROLINE CASEY: I have to say —this is why I love you and—no, I do. See, this is why I think Hector and I are really good sides of this conversation. So, for me, I—listen, the greatest cost right now I see is not doing this and not creating cultures where they’re starting because I actually believe there’s a huge risk to companies around this space. I think we’re done with making the case for this. Well, the issue for me is not the actual dollar sign; that’s not the hard thing. It’s the six inches between our ears around this. And before Covid, we used to talk about the cost of accommodations and adjustments. Sorry, but, like, look what happened. As you so perfectly said, Heather, this system changed like that in days because the intention and the need and desire was there to do it and the companies who did it were lauded for being agile and flexible. They were accommodations. We all need accommodations. That being said, it’s so interesting when I listen to Hector talking about it. In the last 24 hours, we are ordering new tech for The Valuable 500 team, and I need a particular set of accommodations. This is my company. I set it up. And I looked at our CEO and I found myself squirming in my seat on the Zoom saying, “Do you mind if,” and of course she didn’t, but I can feel my heart being, you know, squishing and I was shaking, emotional. This is my company! And I was asking, “So, what is that about?
I think in some ways — here’s me saying this, right? But then here’s me actioning it as a human, and I think what is really interesting is this is head and heart stuff. This is not about cost. Petra said: “It’s there.” But I really feel we have to understand the human in us. And that’s why it keeps coming back to cultures, culture, culture, culture. That’s—
HEATHER LANDY: Yeah.
HECTOR MINTO: Quickly, adding something really interesting here. There’s also something about the way that this feeds into the design even on the mainstream assistive tech. So, we have people do captions in Teams and it was designed from the very outset that the person who is deaf or hard of hearing or needed extra language support on the call, they can turn that feature on without telling anybody on the call. Now, that might seem like a tiny thing—
CAROLINE CASEY: Brilliant.
HECTOR MINTO: That only happened—but let me just say—that only happened because a deaf individual was leading that project, leading that project saying, “Hang on, you shouldn’t have to ask for that button to be pressed for everybody. That’s deeply personal to me that that’s on, and I don’t want to tell everybody that I can’t hear.” And I can tell you there will be a lot more people who are covering their deafness or loss of hearing in the workplace who will benefit from that disability-influenced design decision. So, it’s not always the tech. It’s not always the cost. It’s also the signposting and the visibility of those features, and we are not there yet. Let me just say that across that piece, we’ve got so much more work to do on the visibility of accessibility settings or personal preferences in technology. Widen that out to everything in life, every experience.
CAROLINE CASEY: But isn’t that what they say, Hector? I love what you said about it. That is example of where the innovation came from somebody with a lived experience that actually pushes the product to its best. It’s pushing it forward. It’s pushing society forward. I mean, you just said that last week, and it’s so true, but we need to be in the design phase. We need to be experienced rather than coming in afterwards.
HECTOR MINTO: Yeah, yeah.
CAROLINE CASEY: I think that’s what is exciting when I hear you speaking about it. That it’s designing for all but having the experience right from the outset and pushing things forward.
HECTOR MINTO: The challenge we’ve got, I think, is that people expect Microsoft to be doing this stuff, right? It’s like, we design tech. We design personal devices in many ways, right? It’s not until we have the confidence to turn around, though, to our health boards, to our schools, to our colleges, to our banks, to our retailers, and start putting the same demands on disability inclusion in those industries that will see inclusive society—because we’re not just all going to be selling this single device. You have to be able to access everything else out there. So, we’ve got loads of work to do. Well, I mean, we’re not retiring anytime soon, Caroline. That’s—
CAROLINE CASEY: No, we’re not. But the point is, we’re not. And god knows we’re here forever. But you see, inclusive business creates inclusive societies, right? That is it. Business leaders can make change in days that politicians can’t. And it’s so important. When people first asked us about The Valuable 500, and they’re like, “Well, you’re just getting intention.” We’re turning that new intention into action, into systemic action. We got you, 500 CEOs. Now you’re going to activate your influence and you are going to start seeing the trickle of change. And as the business system changes, then we hope the education systems change, and we start seeing that interweaved approach. But until business truly holds the privilege and impact that it has to drive inclusion in society, I don’t think we’re going to see the change. And that’s why it’s so important that we see these solutions coming from business. But it’s not just about a device and it’s not just about the CEO, it’s the interconnectedness of it all.
HECTOR MINTO: Did we answer the diversity and inclusion question though? I’m not sure we did.
CAROLINE CASEY: We didn’t. Sorry.
HECTOR MINTO: Can I just say something to the rest of inclusion piece as well, just to round off and make sure we answer that question?
CAROLINE CASEY: Intersectionality. Come on, we’ve got to say the word, right?
HECTOR MINTO: It’s definitely—I mean, that’s clear. But one thing I would say is, again, maybe people are just nervous about having this conversation about what they don’t know, about disability and about the workplace and some of the issues. I think it’s like any other diversity topic. You’ve got to have a few brave individuals who start it within any organization. So, my general thing is given that some of the disadvantages of disclosing a disability in the workplace that people have experienced, you’ve got—what we try to do at Microsoft, and we just put our numbers out for America this year in our diversity and inclusion report, we survey our employees, but we survey with an opportunity as in: Here, we’re asking you the question, but even if you don’t want to answer yes on this, here’s the tools, the knowledge, the spaces where you can meet, the support that we’ve got in place. I think surveys and numbers are really interesting. But also just finding time to get the message out to all your employees that here is where the support is if you are covering, if you are not disclosing it this time—I think that’s one thing that the diversity inclusion folks should be taking away as an action item.
HEATHER LANDY: Yeah. I almost feel like there’d be — I would have benefited from having a guidebook to the things that I ought to be thinking about that I’m probably not, even for this workshop. When we started, our platform didn’t have closed captioning, and every time we had a workshop, people would come on to the chat and say, “Is there close captioning available?” And thankfully, the technology provider finally added that feature and now we call it out every time we do a workshop because we know people obviously are looking for it and wanting it. And I would never again sign up for any other platform for managing an event that didn’t have that feature.
HECTOR MINTO: Brilliant.
HEATHER LANDY: I know that now. But when we started, it hadn’t occurred to me. Like, I almost want to create a one-pager for anyone at my company, or any company that’s putting on events, about here are 10 easy things that you should just be thinking about or keeping in the back of your mind if you’re planning an event and you want it to be accessible to as many people as possible.
HECTOR MINTO: We have a guide that I’ll put in the chat so people can leverage that as well.
HEATHER LANDY: Wow. Thank you, Hector. Caroline, Rita has a question for you. She’s asking what are the primary reasons more than half the companies you’ve interviewed give your initiative a pass. Why are good companies you were approaching to join The Valuable saying no? You don’t have to throw anyone under the bus by name.
CAROLINE CASEY: No, I never would. No, I never would actually. It’s well known, first, I don’t throw people under the bus. I don’t focus on the negative. But I do really appreciate the question, and I’m going to be honest with you. It’s changed from when we launched because it was 2019 and the world is very different now. Do you know that we probably only have five no’s? So, I really—in fairness, I appreciate the people who said no and had the courage to say no. Then there’s the other ones who just kind of ghost you and that’s—well, it starts to sound like dating. And the real reasons are this: Are these the answers? How would I give them to you? We aren’t doing enough, and so we don’t feel we’re in the right place right now. The problem with that is actually it shows the fear of people and organizations worried that they’re going to be canceled out or treated negatively, and a fear of showing something off without having it all perfect. But that fear of perfection is really stopping scaled progress. The second one is, we’ve heard: It’s not a strategic priority for us right now. And that comes to this. We did a film called #DIVERSish. You should look at it. It’s a very satirical view of the diversity and inclusion agenda and it was the days when people say, “Well, this year, we’re focusing on gender and next year, we’re focusing on ice caps.” Like, how ludicrous is that? We call that the à la carte inclusion or inclusion’s illusion, whatever. We gently come back and say, “Well you’re a company –” So, [of that] 90% of companies who claim and very publicly say they’re passionate about inclusion, only 4% consider disability. And so, we would often say to them is what part — so, for me, what part of me are you going to work with today? The fact that I’m a woman or the fact that I have a disability? And I don’t think people mean it badly, but you can just see where that is. And the third piece truly is we’ve never had a CEO say no. We have never had a CEO say no. It’s the business, the kind of the business of the business, who truly only have—because often D&I sits [under the] CHRO or chief diversity officer, in one pillar function of the business, and not cross-functional, which it should do, is they only have a finite of time and resources. And that’s the reasons why, and they are changing now. What is really good for us is that companies are coming into the community now because they know we are a community for change on activating it and they’re saying, “Can we be safe and learn with you?” And that’s a big relief. So, I hope that answers the question and I’m not telling anybody who hasn’t said yes. That will all be very obvious in a few weeks’ time.
HEATHER LANDY: That is absolutely fine. Catherine has a question for either or both of you. She says, “We are working to advance neuro diversity in our company. There is hot debate around self-disclosure. What are your thoughts on this?” Does anyone has advice for Catherine?
HECTOR MINTO: Sorry. I missed the last bit. Sorry, Heather. Can you take —
HEATHER LANDY: There’s hot debate. They’re looking to advance neurodiversity, but there’s hot debate around the idea of self-disclosure. I guess asking people at the company if they are on—where they are on the neurodiversity spectrum. For that, or any kind of disability, or accessibility—do we need rely on self-disclosure?
CAROLINE CASEY: You need to know about the legislation of the country, which does actually determine whether a company can ask that question, and it comes back to me what I believe is around the culture.
I’ll be honest with you, if I was—I am virtually unemployable now. I’ve been an entrepreneur for too long, right? But if I was to go back and try and get a job, would I disclose? And with my husband, who is neurodiverse as well, would he? I’m not sure, and it would really, really depend on the leadership and the culture. I don’t need to lead with my sight loss. By the way, I think my sight loss is an incredible asset now that I’ve learned how to manage it and be proud of it and accept it, but do I lead with this? Not really. And I think it’s part of who I am and I accept it now. With my husband? I don’t think so either. I think it’s very personal and it keeps going back to cultures where people can truly feel that they are able to talk about themselves and their needs in a very non-judgmental way.
HECTOR MINTO: Yeah. I mean, we don’t measure specific disability characteristics. So, we have —we measure disability, yes or no. Really, it’s as a simple as that. And then we create spaces, employee resource groups, forums for people with a range of disabilities to meet and discuss what it’s like to be an employee at Microsoft. In terms of measuring numbers, you have to ask yourself why you’re measuring—why are you looking to measure that number. That’s an interesting thing, right? If you’re looking to measure people’s confidence on that topic, that might be a different thing to go for as opposed to measuring that number, and maybe what you’re looking for is a shift in the overall metric. I don’t see a benefit specifically in asking for a specific measure on that as a characteristic. That would be my general feeling about it. Interesting—just on measurement, I do think measuring knowledge and training and setting up your own resources around training around your industry and disability, is a really nice way though to get some momentum going on this, where you actually say, “Hey, yeah, this is about us, and we need to be a better company with greater representation of the lived experience of society out there. So, we’re putting some information out there about banking and disability. We’re putting some money out there about health and disability.” I think if you make it mission-important, you know, like something that you’re delivering as a business, you’ll get more buy-in to the agenda and then you’ll get more culture and more safety to disclose. That’s generally my view. Remember, my job is to go and have this conversation in different countries where the attitude towards disability and inclusion is completely different across the world. So, if we just went out with a pure survey, we wouldn’t have the impact we’re having. I don’t think you can just rely on survey and just a pure D&I metric. That would just be my general advice.
CAROLINE CASEY: And to pick up on the measurement piece, because it’s one of the—we have a group of iconic partners who are delivering against some of these really critical mega problems that we have in business, and how are we going to hack these solutions together. And one of them that we’re working on right now is this reporting piece. How are we going to report on disability performance and turning our business and it not be about how many employees?
So, where are we putting our time or energy, the employee resource groups that I have to talk to? What are the other areas that we can show that this is something visible in the culture of our organization? But externally, I just want to talk about something very briefly. In 2020, only 3% of articles which were talking about corporate diversity and inclusion mentioned the word “disability”. There’s something really oddly off there. And I think that is because we’re not seeing disability metrics in some of the big sustainability indexes or responsibility indexes or diversity indexes, and we do need to change that. But once again, if it’s not in the annual reports, how do we get it into the tools? And so, you hear people saying, “This is just too difficult and it’s too complicated.” No, it’s not. We have start somewhere and it has to be done. And so, what are the pieces that we can begin with? And I like the idea of: it’s the mission. So, if it’s not going to be about employees, what are the other areas that we can start putting it in and building it in? Because the more we leave it off, it’s not going to get any better. So, yeah, that’s one of our big ones we’re trying to crack at the moment.
HECTOR MINTO: And the more you shift your perspective towards what you deliver as a business, the more that people with disabilities will want to come in and help you influence that deliverable and then you’ll help your numbers. A number of people who I’ve got, who have been covering their disability for years inside Microsoft, suddenly they see we’re going out deliberately, we’re going to drive accessibility in our industry conversations, and they start putting their hands up for that work because they have great lived experience, knowledge, expertise in that topic—and I want them. So, seeing something that’s, like, advantageous given what we’re trying to do—and the thing I would say is that every business should have an accessible website, every business should have an accessible app. People with disabilities are your best experts inside your organization to tell you how to deliver on some of those deliverables that every business has got.
CAROLINE CASEY: Can I also say something? I’m sorry. I just feel like—because, for me, it is also like when you have people like Hector—and I’m not saying this just to make you big as you are, Hector. But when you’ve got people in the business who are in position of power, you got Jenny Lay-Flurrie in a position of power because she is a chief accessibility officer. You’ve got Hector going around the world and he is incredibly compelling and very bright. That actually is important. I’m sorry, but that is really important. It’s essential to the business. Even the word “evangelist”—do you what I mean? It’s just got a different—no but it does. And that’s important because disability is sort of going through a re-branding. Do you know what I mean? We’re seeing the younger generation are talking about disability pride. Well, thank God. When I was growing up, there was no such thing as disability pride. You’re talking about using the word—we use disability now—and I have a disability. That’s okay. We’re not dancing around the word anymore like we used to. I think that’s very, very important. We don’t underestimate how we frame it, where is it in the business, what attention it’s getting, what energy it brings with it. And I think that’s changing and that’s excites me. That really excites me. And I think that’s where we’re going to start seeing different conversations that aren’t as threatening anymore.
HEATHER LANDY: I want to wrap in a couple of questions that I think are sort of from a common thread of people just looking for community and connection on this issue. So, Linda asks, “Are there consultants that will come in and help my company to be better at this?” Nicole asks,” What’s the best way to get in touch with CEOs or diversity and inclusion directors that companies where you might not have a connection?” Where are the communities and the sort of common spaces that people can go to for advice and best practices, and that sort of thing?”
CAROLINE CASEY: I mean, I’m going to jump in. Come on, seriously. The Valuable 500 community and collective is the only and the biggest, as I said in the world, and it has the support of CEOs. So, for any organization who has 1,000 employees plus, please—you’re so very welcome. We only have 60 places left, but, hey, that’s fantastic. Good news to have. And we’ve already been pushed to consider “500-plus.” But actually, one of the other things that we feel is so important is the collaborating communities around us to which we have a very, very many. So, these disability inclusion experts, they are everywhere and I am more than happy because they’re our partners. Business Disability Forum in the UK, you have [PH 00:42:42] Disability-In in the US, you have Enable India in India, and Access Israel, our glorious friends in Israel, Mirairo in Japan. They’re there, okay? And they are part of communities that we work with. You have the ILO GBDN National Disability Network, where businesses are networks together whether it’s in Bangladesh or Ethiopia or in India. It doesn’t matter. The community place is exactly where we are learning together in a safe place, doing best practice, getting there quicker, better, faster. And then, simply within the businesses, you have your employee resource groups. So, yes, community is the way forward and actually, businesses are competing around it and I think they’re everywhere. Please get in touch with us because whether you can join The Valuable 500 or not, we can certainly help you go to the communities who are there to help.
HECTOR MINTO: I had a couple of more —
HEATHER LANDY: Go ahead, because I was going to say, Microsoft does a lot of outreach on this, too.
HECTOR MINTO: We do have outreach. So, we’re setting up teams all around the world to essentially engage with any business around accessibility. Now, we tend to work with the largest companies in the world, so we’re then relying on our partner network to go in there and engage with other businesses. But know that it’s on the agenda. I think once you know it’s on the agenda, you can go and have that conversation. And there’s a couple of other models that I would just like to mention. We’ve got our big Ability Summit in May. I’ve put a link to the chat. We think 20,000 people will be attending that to just hear what we are doing, and that’s a great community event actually. The chat is really encouraging as well in that event. But in the UK, we also have this called Disability Confident. Now, government schemes on disability and business have a long, checkered past. There had been some awful examples in the past, literally meaningless. Like, you put your hand up and you say, “I’m in,” and then there’s nothing. But interestingly, what they did this time is they said you’re not allowed to stand still. So, you come in as a level 1 and then we ask you to make certain commitments in level 2, otherwise you’ll lose your level 1 and then you can become a leader. So, Microsoft UK, a disability company and leaders in the UK, and what we’re doing there is—what the government asks us to do is make a commitment to influence your industry on disability. So, I think that’s an amazing model. They got 20,000 businesses in the UK signed up, a mix of public sector, small to medium-sized companies, and the largest enterprises joining.
But they’re kind of forcing some commitments through. It was not perfect by any means and their knowledge of absolutely every aspect of the disability inclusion or disability workplace is not absolutely perfect, but we’re influencing them. I do think it’s an interesting model to follow actually, and that government should say, “Actually, this is something we want the businesses to do, but we want you to make a progress.” I think that’s a great model.
HEATHER LANDY: Absolutely. You both have talked a lot about sort of the corporate level and the leadership level. Can we bring it down a few notches to the everyday colleague level? [PH 00:45:36] Yesina asks, “How do you encourage employees without disabilities to change their behavior and work in a way that accommodates disabled employee’s needs?” What are the things that people who are maybe not in charge of decision-making at their companies can still do to be an effective ally on this issue?
CAROLINE CASEY: They’re the most important people, actually. I mean, I was a colleague. I am a colleague. Forget all—can we just take all the stuff now off and let’s just get down to how is it like to be living here. Because you heard me say early on, I’m asking my colleagues for something. In a way, I was like, “Why did I have to ask? Why wasn’t it just obvious?” And we only have a small team. Here’s the emotion, okay? So, you can hear it coming up. And so, why do I have to keep disclosing? Why do I have to keep coming out every single time because there’s a little part of Caroline every single day that has to live with this. It’s really hard, ok? You know what’s really hard as well? Coming on to these BlueJeans or Zooms, or whatever, and people are doing chat and I can’t see chat. And I remember what it feels like to feel left out. And even though I’ve come on and I’ve disclosed and I said it, and everybody’s chatting away in the chat box and I’m going, “But I can’t see you. And I’m not in the chat.” So, the hard truth about this is the person who is with a lived experience has to help other people along, right? It’s like being in a relationship. You got to talk about your needs, ok? You got to talk about your needs in a way that doesn’t sound angry. That is my responsibility. And then, on the other side is allies are the most important thing and what somebody can do in the business that has nothing to do with disability, if it’s something—because if you are passionate about belonging and inclusion, it doesn’t matter whether it’s about disability, sexuality, gender, racial background, it doesn’t matter. Inclusion means looking around you and saying, “Is this place ok for me, for everybody else?” And it’s asking questions. Actually, I will say, the more that you ask the questions in your business, the more the leadership will take notice. Actually, employee activism—business activism—is the most powerful tool we have. So, that’s a very emotional response, but I know it’s not an easy road and I have to work on it every day, and I certainly know my colleagues and team members and friends don’t mean to freak out about what I need, but they’re also thinking about what they need as well, which is equally as important.
HECTOR MINTO: You’re on mute. Face your fear.
HEATHER LANDY: I did it. I finally did it. I was put on mute. It has never happened in all of these workshops I’ve done and it finally happened. During the racial reckoning in the United States with protests across America this past summer and elsewhere in the world, there was a very interesting change in the conversations I was having with business leaders about diversity where suddenly instead of just saying diversity or DEI, they’re actually using the word “Black.” Many of them had never talked about Black people specifically and what they were doing to include them and it seemed in that moment, including for many Black leaders I was speaking with, it was very important to them to specifically call that out, that there was something specific happening to this specific community. And so, we needed to say the word, use the descriptors, and talk specifically about what we were going to do to make companies more inclusive of Black talent. That is not the way that most companies are set up to deal with diversity and inclusion issues. It’s usually a much more centralized kind of approach. Caroline, you mentioned how few articles in the world about diversity and inclusion actually mentioned the word “disability”—3% I think you said.
CAROLINE CASEY: Yup.
HEATHER LANDY: Does this need to be a separate conversation about disability, which I can see on the one hand? On the other hand, what you just said, Caroline, that people should be looking at their company’s policies and products and saying, “What are we doing here? Is this for everyone? Is anyone getting left out essentially?”
That would kind of speak to a more centralized approach. What is the right way, or maybe we need both?
CAROLINE CASEY: I say I don’t know and I wish I had all the solutions. For me, at the very core of inclusion, it means everyone, for all. That’s a lovely thing to say, isn’t it? But how hard is that? How hard is it to do that? Because you’re balancing specific needs against a collective inclusion. However, when we leave disability out of this conversation, we are leaving out just a huge human experience. And it’s a human experience that will touch every single one of us at some point in our lives, and it does not discriminate. I think the issue is, I don’t want a separate conversation. I wanted to be part of a collective conversation. That’s why that word “intersectionality,” which simply means the multiple facets of being a human being. But the part for me is, if we don’t speak to it, then we are not seeing the value and we are losing out on that potential and we’re putting barriers in the way. What I would love to say, and what I speak to a lot is, it’s not even intersectionality. I want to see integrated approaches to inclusion. I don’t want standalone standards on disability. I would prefer to see disability metrics integrated into other performance. I’d like to see accessibility integrated and fused and normalized. But before we do that, we have to speak to it. We have to speak to it. I really wish I have all the answers, I don’t. Anybody that does, well, you’re a genius and come this way because I’d love to hear what you’ve got to say.
HECTOR MINTO: I think knowledge is critical here. A number of times, I’m just saying to somebody, I’m saying, “Do you know how a blind person reads an email?” And they’re like, “I have got no idea. I had never even thought about it.” And you can just see them—and you tell them and you show them and then you extend the conversation on and say, “Well, do you know that a blind person can get through their inbox eight times quicker than I can because of the way that they actually access their tech?” And they look at me like, “What?” Now, wouldn’t you want all of your administrators to be getting through their inboxes eight times quicker? Right, start changing your view of disability. But it starts with knowledge. Like, just meet some people and having a conversation is a great way. It is always amazing to me how people kind of just assume—they’re almost like, “They couldn’t do that, could they?” One of the things that we’ve posted on our YouTube channel, I’ll put a link up in a minute, is little teaser videos or, like, animated videos on how to interview a blind person. I mean, simple as that. How to interview a wheelchair user. Just simple business considerations where you just think, “Shouldn’t everyone know this,” but actually you do have to reset and just get level-101 information in there. Once people know my general view of human beings—honestly, it may be a bit optimistic. But my general view of human beings is once they know, they’re in. And once they know it’s easy, they’re in. What we’ve got a problem with is that people are scared of this. They’ve lost their inner child. Kids. I used to run these sessions. I used to work with people with cerebral palsy, with very complex disabilities. I used to do school visits, like, to go and show how people use technology, how people with disabilities use technology. And the kids would ask the questions you wish you could ask. I mean, they were just—I literally am with somebody with cerebral palsy and they would say, “How do you eat?” And you’d be sitting and go, “Actually, that’s a really fascinating question.” But only a 6-year-old would ask that question. So, my general advice to business people is, like, invoke your inner 6-year-old. Be curious, right? Go and ask, have a conversation. It’s pretty easy.
CAROLINE CASEY: It’s lovely to be asked if the intention behind the question is to learn. It’s lovely to be asked.
HECTOR MINTO: Exactly.
CAROLINE CASEY: Really nice.
HEATHER LANDY: That would be the perfect note to end this on. I can’t believe our hour has gone through so quickly. I do want to read out a couple of things that were in the chat. Hector, you were thanked many times for the various links and bits of advice that you were providing people in the chat as it was going on. So, thank you for that. Rita made a general comment that I think is important to share. She said, “I’m glad to hear SMEs, small- to medium-sized enterprise, is mentioned. Thank you, Hector. Comments more than a question. The unemployment rates for persons with disabilities is higher than most groups. SMEs have the largest growth in jobs. We must include SMEs in this conversation,” Rita says. And Kate says, “Caroline, your passion as a speaker on this topic is a role model to every woman, every changemaker out there. It is so important to hear and see modeled. Thank you.” So, thank you so much to Hector, and to Caroline, and to Diana. We so appreciate you. And thank you to everyone for listening. Again, this recording will be made available, the playback, for all of our Quartz members, or sign up for your free trial if you’re not yet a member and you can access the recording that way, and we hope to see you all again in another two weeks.
HECTOR MINTO: Thanks, Heather.
CAROLINE CASEY: Thank you.