Why does Inclusion matter?
We are facing an ageing population, with more people off work due to ill health. Alongside this, there is a persistent disability employment gap and ever growing evidence that work (and particularly good work) is good for our health and wellbeing.
Through The Inclusivity Project, ECEHH staff explored issues of health and inclusion in the workplace. Employment (both whether we have a job, and what kind of job we have) makes a big difference to people’s health and wellbeing.
The research aimed to build understanding about challenges facing people aged 50+, disabled people and people with long-term health conditions in relation to work. Looking at this from the employer side to understand barriers. Particularly wanted to look at the small business perspective, which is under-researched.
The project worked closely with local partners Age UK, disAbility Cornwall and the Cornwall and Isles of Scilly Local Enterprise Partnership, with funding from the European Regional Development Fund.
- The work of The Inclusivity Project started a conversation about this issue which will continue beyond the life of the project. The pandemic also meant this was incredibly relevant.
- Worked with local businesses, provide research and financial support
- Findings: systems approach identified practical and attitudinal barriers (unconscious bias and fear of getting it wrong). Unconscious bias work looked at this in more depth, and calls for disabled people to be better represented among those making hiring decisions. Meanwhile, hybrid working guide was result of co-design process with Age UK and aims to help frontline organisations make a success of hybrid working.
Influencing government on invisible disabilities
The Inclusivity Project team contributed research to a parliamentary briefing that highlights the challenges faced by people with invisible disabilities in education and work. ThanDr Daniel Derbyshire and Kirsten Whiting were among the external reviewers for the Invisible Disabilities in Education and Employment report published by the Parliamentary Office of Science and Technology (POST), which aims to make research evidence accessible to decision-makers in parliament.
An invisible disability is a condition or impairment not visible to others, such as a mental health condition, cognitive impairment, hearing, vision and speech impairments and energy-limiting conditions. The report found that those with invisible disabilities are conflicted over whether to disclose them due to concerns about disbelief, stigma or confidentiality, and experience difficulties accessing the services and support they need in employment, higher education and further education. It suggested that removing societal barriers for people with invisible disabilities would enable them to participate more fully in work and education, which would also have social and economic benefits.
Dr Daniel Derbyshire’s research into unconscious bias found no difference between attitudes in small and large businesses, suggesting that equality, diversity and inclusion (EDI) initiatives may not be effective. His research, which was covered in SME Today, also found disabled people under-represented among those making hiring decisions
Unconscious bias against Disabled people
There is significant unconscious bias against disabled people among the business community causing an instant barrier to recruitment, with persistent myths about lower productivity, high physical adaptation costs and high absenteeism.
The UK unemployment rate for disabled people, for example, is nearly twice the rate for non-disabled people (7.5% against 4%). Such inequalities place a substantial cost on the welfare system.
Our findings also suggest that:
- disabled people are underrepresented in the HR profession and in making hiring decisions.
- a person with a poor overall health status shows lower implicit bias towards disabled people.
- women have significantly lower biases towards disabled people than men.
Unconscious bias against older people
We found substantial levels of implicit bias against older people, with no significant differences in the levels of implicit bias for either the disability or age IAT.
Unemployment of over-50s has also increased post-furlough. The Centre for Ageing Better cites latest labour market figures showing that 355,000 over-50s are currently unemployed, with 31,000 having been made redundant between May and July 2021 alone.
A recent report by the Organisation of Economic and Co-operation Development found that age-diverse workforces could raise GDP per capita by almost 19% in the next three decades, indicating the need to overcome this bias towards older people
Is unconscious bias training working?
We found that both large firms and SMEs are failing at inclusivity.
Our findings show that there are no differences between those who work for large compared to small companies. This is despite the amount of money large organisations spend on equality, diversity and inclusion (EDI) and unconscious bias training (UBT) – up to $8 billion each year in the USA.
Similarly, there has been a substantial increase in the number of diversity and inclusion-based job roles over recent years, with LinkedIn suggesting a global rise of 71% from 2015 to 2020. People involved in recruitment and retention decisions – especially HR professionals – are also often specifically trained in EDI issues given their remit of ensuring compliance with relevant legislation such as the Equality Act 2010.
However we found that the significant efforts of large companies in the EDI space, especially relating to disability, are ineffective at reducing unconscious bias. Indeed, neither working for a large company nor being involved in HR have a significant effect on implicit attitudes towards disabled people or older people.
Navigating the transition to hybrid working
Working closely with staff and volunteers at Age UK Cornwall and Isles of Scilly, researcher Dr Shruti Raghuraman co-produced a guide to help organisations, particularly charities working at the frontline of social issues, navigate the transition to hybrid working. The guide aims to help organisations get the benefits from hybrid working, and serves as a reminder that it may not work for everyone.
The move to a hybrid work environment can provide benefits for both the organisation and its workforce. However a co-design approach where there is engagement between all parties is key to making hybrid working effective. It’s vital to state here that one size does not fit all. Any co-design approach must be tailored to:
- the organisation’s size, capacity and goals.
- staff roles, responsibilities, needs and preferences.
Culture change is a slow process and will require adjustments over time: it is important to set these expectations at the start of the process.
Periodic review and feedback from the workforce not only ensures transparency and consultation, but also creates expectations that this is a marathon, not a sprint.
Finally, any development of hybrid working must be genuine and transparent, and not just a managerial ‘tick-box’ exercise. It must have real impact to the wellbeing of the workforce. Hybrid work offers up an opportunity to make work more accessible, enjoyable and enriching to our lives.
Challenging the image of disability
Frustrated by the clichéd stock imagery depicting disabled people and older workers, the project team worked with Falmouth University lecturer Tom Ingate who led a participatory photo project. With tutoring from Tom, members of the community took photos illustrating their working lives. The project was featured on the Royal Photographic Society website and gives an insight into the reality of day-to-day working life for disabled people or those managing a health condition.