Making a case for mandatory disability workforce reporting

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Over the coming months, the Government’s consultation on voluntary and mandatory disability workforce reporting will be published. This will hopefully go a long way to improving inclusive practices across the UK’s biggest employers. The consultation, which closed on the 8th of April, explored workforce reporting on disability for employers with more than 250 employees.

On 25th April, the ONS (Office for National Statistics) shockingly found that the disability pay gap, the gap between median pay for disabled employees and non-disabled employees, has widened nearly two points from 11.7% in 2014 to 13.8% in 2021. Mandatory disability workforce reporting would be transformative for shrinking the disability pay gap and improving disabled people’s rights within the workplace. It would push the issues facing people with disabilities to the front of the business agenda and make disability in the workplace a boardroom issue, alongside other key facets of diversity such as gender and ethnicity. The legal obligation would make businesses accountable for accessibility improvements, hiring processes, promotion criteria and other areas of concern more consistently.

By Steve Ingham CBE, CEO, PageGroup

Like mandatory gender pay gap reporting, which was introduced 5 years ago, workforce and disability pay gap reporting may take businesses some time to develop a process. But it is imperative in creating more equal opportunities. Not only will mandatory disability reporting help to identify whether disabled people are paid fairly compared to non-disabled people, but it could also help identify the seniority of the roles disabled people hold and, thus, their career progression.

This reporting would highlight the truth; that people with disabilities are often limited to lower-level jobs and pay grades, restricting them from leadership roles due to conscious and unconscious bias. This is wrong. People with disabilities have faced more adversity and challenges than non-disabled people, which can make them stronger and more empathetic leaders with unique perspectives.

According to The Valuable 500, 90% of companies claim to prioritise diversity, yet only 4% of businesses are focused on making offerings inclusive of disabilities. People with disabilities have waited too many years for a strategy that sets out and drives a transformative plan for equality and inclusion. The Government must dedicate ample resources to ensure people with disabilities and other marginalised groups are heard. Our recent research revealed that 22% of business leaders are unlikely to hire candidates with known disabilities. This is unacceptable.

As a global recruitment business, naturally we are acutely aware of the high demand for talent across the UK and, indeed, around the world. We know exactly how big a challenge it’s been for businesses to find and hire great talent, and we are also in the unique position of understanding the candidate perspective too – the real reasons why the so-called ‘Great Resignation’ has impacted the workforce so dramatically. For example, an employee may not give the whole truth to an employer when they resign from a role, but invariably we go on to hear the real reasons they have decided to leave their company. And, crucially, at the top of the list is D&I (or lack thereof) and a lack of vision or strategy to improve things internally.

Businesses should want to build a company culture that is inclusive, but clearly some need the nudge to do this and that is why the extension of mandatory workforce reporting to disability is so important. Evidence shows that inclusive workforces have greater access to talent with specialist skills and diverse experiences.

Of course, some areas of D&I are harder to address than others – for example, disability presents its own challenges; people may not identify as being disabled, others don’t want to admit it (often through fear of discrimination) and in many cases, a disability can be invisible. But this is no excuse for businesses to shy away from stepping forward and committing to inclusion across the board. Measurement is crucial when it comes to closing the gap, but it only provides truthful data and actionable insights when the work environment feels inclusive and employees feel comfortable in being open about their experiences of disability, or other areas such as ethnicity or sexual orientation.

I will stress however that reporting is not the only answer. Leaders must also realise that to make real change in their businesses, they must invest in the resource, and encourage two-way open communication with their employees. We have seen first-hand at PageGroup that sharing stories has opened the door to empower our employees to talk about their own disabilities, knowing that there is no judgement, only support.

We may have a long way to go, but businesses need to start somewhere. Mandatory disability workforce reporting must become a reality to make the inclusion of disabled people in the workplace a legal issue, not a choice.