‘Everything you do needs to have accessibility in mind’

Morningstar, Axa and Invesco on bridging the disability employment gap

Colorful figurines on the dark surface. Diversity and inclusion concept.


Hannah Williford

Being a disability-inclusive employer has brought challenges and benefits to financial firms such as Morningstar, Invesco and Axa UK and Ireland, including leading to workplace policy adjustments in some cases.

Speaking at an event, Demystifying Disability Confident, hosted by the Diversity Project last month, members of the financial industry discussed their efforts to create accessible workplaces with the Disability Confident employer scheme, a programme that aims to promote an increase of opportunity and awareness for disabled people in the industry.

In a January 2023 report, the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) revealed a disability employment gap of 29.8% from July to September 2022, an increase of 1.7% on the previous year. While the years 2014 to 2019 showed an influx of disabled people into the workplace, with a net 40,000 disabled people joining the workforce, 2020 and 2021 saw a decrease, with a net 70,000 disabled people exiting the workforce.

In an attempt to bridge the gap for people with disabilities entering the workplace, the DWP launched the Disability Confident employment scheme in 2016. The system consists of three tiers of accreditation available to employers: disability committed, employer and leader.

At its base level, the programme requires employers to make a series of commitments and agree to take one of their listed actions to create an accessible workplace.

For second tier accreditation, companies must take a self-assessment and agree to business practices such as actively recruiting disabled people, creating an accessible recruitment process, and “promoting a culture of being disability confident”. At the highest level, the scheme requires reporting on disability, receiving validation from an outside group, and encouraging other businesses to become disability confident.

Morningstar, Invesco and Axa UK and Ireland are each part of the Disability Confident scheme, representing levels one, two and three respectively.

Barriers to entering the workplace

Speaking at the Diversity Project event, minister of state for disabled people, health and work Tom Pursglove said: “The vast majority of people in our country want to do the right thing. They want to be inclusive, they want to provide opportunities.

“But it’s about making sure that there are the right skills and the right tools that workplaces have available to them to support disability employment.”

In the Disability Confident Scheme’s September 2023 report, it found 67% of those who joined the scheme reported a positive impact on the company.

Meanwhile, 37% of employers who had joined the scheme had not recruited an employee with a disability since signing up, which was a decrease from 51% in 2018. Even among those who had recruited someone with a disability, 58% of firms had recruited less than five people with a disability.

Pursglove identified one barrier to people with disabilities entering the workforce was the risk of forfeiting and needing to reapply for other government benefits if the job did not end up suiting them.

“People say to me, I’d really like to try work… but they get closer to taking that important opportunity on and then the fear factor gets in the way,” he said. “The fear that you’ll take on that work, you’ll try it, it won’t work out, and then you lose your benefits entirely, and then you have to reapply and be reassessed. That has to stop.”

Morningstar driven by data

In a panel for Demistifying Disability Confident, spokespeople from each company discussed their experiences with the accreditation and where they plan to expand in the future.

Emily Brady, business partner specialist at Morningstar, said it took her team less than a year to reach the first level of accreditation, a project she began after starting with the company in 2022. One of the main projects she has taken on as part of the initiative is making the office technology accessible to different disabilities, and having this set up before their new hire enters the office.

Brady said that as a data-based company, what pushed Morningstar towards the initiative was showing the benefits for the business.

“Morningstar is a very data-driven company, so to be able to speak the language of those leaders to get that buy in was crucial,” Brady said. “Presenting the argument that creating a disability-infused environment is good from a commercial point of view really helped kind of drive our business case.”

Invesco’s neurodiversity internship

Invesco has taken the reins in its inclusion campaign by creating a neurodiversity internship in its UK and Europe offices for the past two years.

Devvya Sharma, EMEA D&I manager for Invesco, said the scheme has been extremely successful in its UK offices, where it partners with a recruiter to find people who are neurodivergent for the programme, but have had trouble attracting talent for their Europe programme.

Invesco also ran a training where colleagues could become a “neurodiversity champion” serving as a front-line resource for those looking for assistance. Sharma said there are 50 employees in the region who took on the training.

“Neurodiversity as a topic is not very widely spoken about, in fact many people are not even aware of what it actually consists of,” Sharma said.

See also: – What every company will need for neurodiverse inclusion

“Through our neurodiversity and disability business resource groups, we’ve actually had a workplace adjustment policy created by colleagues who have lived experience and an understanding of what candidates and colleagues go through in their journey at Invesco. That’s a policy we’re about to roll out.”

Axa supports older workers

Jess Hardy, inclusion manager of Axa UK and Ireland, has worked with her team to achieve the highest level of accreditation, leader, due to the prevalence of disabilities with a team of aging employees, with 25% of its workforce over the age of 50. Hardy said her team feared losing that talent if they were not able to adapt. According to the Patchwork hub, 83% of disabilities are acquired during working life.

“For us it was around relating to a business challenge, and the labour market was a business challenge in that period when we wanted to become a leader,” she said.

“We were missing out on some really crucial talent because we mainly couldn’t give them the reasonable adjustments that they needed. I think by relating it to a business challenge, the leaders did want to listen because obviously it was going to have an impact on profit and the ability to do business.”

In reaching the final level of the scheme, Hardy said one of the main challenges the company faced was within its diversity data campaign, an issue that was echoed by Sharma.

“People weren’t forthcoming to disclose their disability,” Hardy said. “It was the second least answered question. We weren’t at a place where we could do anything with the data because we didn’t really have enough.”

Hardy said a cultural shift within the company had to occur before there was a positive response with the data, which did begin to occur a few years after the programme was launched. She said working from a top-down level in small groups allowed people to become more comfortable with sharing. Sharma said within her team, demonstrating the importance of collecting the information allowed for more open communication.

Axa is now working on creating more accessible tech for people with disabilities, similar to Morningstar, and hired a dedicated workplace accessibility manager to streamline the process.

“Everything you do needs to have accessibility and disability in mind,” Hardy said.

A version of this article first appeared on ESG Clarity’s sister site Portfolio Adviser.

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