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Inside Grant Thornton

Becoming Disability Confident Leaders

We are proud to announce that we have achieved a Disability Confident Leader rating, the highest level possible under the Government’s Disability Confident scheme.

We spoke to Ruth Topham, Finance Partner and Disability Convenor about the firm’s ongoing focus on improving inclusion for people with disabilities and the importance of achieving the Disability Confidence rating.

According to data from the Department of Work and Pensions (DWP), more than 4.7 million disabled people are in work, and yet disabled people are almost twice as likely to be unemployed as non-disabled people, and three times as likely to be economically inactive. Between 2013 and 2019 the disability employment gap has reduced slightly, but more work still needs to be done to continue closing it. 

From an employer’s perspective, as well as the opportunity of a vast and relatively untapped talent pool of people with disabilities, there are also many people in employment who don’t share their disability with their employer or who aren’t yet aware of it themselves. Over 80% of disabilities are invisible, in order to empower this talent pool it is vital that employers invest in creating supportive cultures which make people feel comfortable to disclose their disability, and build accessibility into everything they do. The Disability Confident scheme provides a best practice framework for employers to move towards improved disability inclusion.

Creating an inclusive environment is a top priority for our firm. Our latest data shows that 11% of our employees have one or more disabilities, which when compared with the UK-wide population of one in five declaring a disability, shows that whilst we have made great improvements, there is more to be done. As we continue to improve accessibility and support for our people with disabilities, we hope to increase the percentage of employees declaring disabilities and reduce the percentage of people answering “prefer not to answer” over time (currently 9.6%).

We also see a clear generational difference when it comes to talking about disability. On average, one in four of our trainees request exam adjustments, whereas disability disclosure rates in our Partner and Director group are one in ten. The younger generation has always had the Equality Act on their side, and social media helps to create a virtual community for many disabilities. We are seeing our young people are generally more open about their invisible disabilities, and that they, rightly, expect great support to do their roles well – we need to meet, and try to beat, their expectations.

To achieve Disability Confident Leader status is a fantastic recognition of the work the firm has done over recent years towards making Grant Thornton a more inclusive place to work, and we were only able to achieve this so quickly because of the importance the firm places on inclusion and with the engagement and support of our leadership. We have taken clear steps to achieve this, but also recognise that there is still a long way to go for businesses to be fully inclusive and fully accessible.

Since achieving Disability Confident Employer status in 2019, we have made tremendous progress across the firm to help improve the experiences for those with disabilities and spent the last 18 months working on an ambition plan to reach Level 3, including:

  • Our CEO has signed the Valuable 500 charter, making our commitment clear and visible and expanding our network to learn from other Valuable 500 members such as Microsoft and our industry peers
  • Our recruitment processes have been updated to include a Positive Action policy as well as bespoke adjustments for all candidates, contributing to an increase from 4% to 8% of experienced hires with a disability
  • We have changed processes and tools to improve accessibility and made digital accessibility training available to all staff through our Business School
  • We have worked closely with our Disability working group to amplify their voices across the firm to ensure their needs are better understood and influence decision making
  • An employee network, EMPOWER, has been launched to change the narrative around disability, drive awareness and provide a community space for people with disabilities and allies

Along with Neil Davies, an audit senior manager who is a member of our Inclusion Advisory Board, I recently attended the Harkin Global Disability Summit in Belfast as part of our ongoing work in this area, where I joined a panel discussion chaired by the Valuable 500, discussing ‘Fear and progression within the C-Suite’. It was a really positive discussion and a great experience to be on stage with others with lived experiences of disability. The importance of visible role models can’t be understated in this journey.

The two-day summit gave Neil and I the opportunity to discuss the progress our firm has made in this area, whilst also learning from others across various sectors to identify further improvement areas.

Over the next 12 months, we will keep progressing with a particular focus on accessibility and data. We have plans to take our workplace adjustments process to the next level, as well as collaborating and sharing best practice with our peers and key partners to keep improving accessibility for everyone. Disability is intersectional - it has a gender, an ethnicity, a social background and a sexual orientation, and is a club that anyone can join at any stage of their life. There is a very real business case for getting inclusion right and we look forward to working with the Valuable 500 collective and the Business Disability Forum to keep moving forward.”