Missing: Disability Data

Ask an organisation about their demographics and, as a while, they will be able to provide you with statistics on gender, ethnicity, sexual orientation, age, faith and nationality.

However, ask them about disability data and it all goes very quiet. Helen Cooke, Director at MyPlus, which works with organisations to help them to understand and address the issues around disability, looks at why many organisations are failing to collate and report these statistics – and how they can change.

Diversity data is a key way of understanding to what extent your organisation is representative of society; if your demographics don’t reflect that of the society in which you operate, something is amiss. Data also allows you to measure progress; it enables you to understand the effectiveness of your actions and your investments.

When it comes to disability specific data, it could be argued that it is even more important to collate than the other strands since it is widely recognised that disabled individuals are hugely underrepresented in the workplace. 

Disability data is also important because disabled students are requesting it. They want to know whether the organisations they are interested in applying to are inclusive of ‘people like me’; they want to know that there are already other disabled people working there. If this data can’t be accessed, disabled individuals are deciding not to apply and so the vicious circle continues. 

Having agreed that this information is important, we then need to understand why organisations are not collating it. A key reason is that organisations don’t know how to ask what can be seen as a personal and private question. They are unsure of the language to use, how to phrase the question and how much detail they should be asking for. As a result, it’s easier not to ask at all. Secondly, organisations are only too aware that they are not doing well in this area and are therefore almost too afraid to ask the question. And finally even if organisations do confirm that they are underrepresented in this area, they don’t know how to address this and so, again, it’s better to ignore it.

Sooner or later organisations will have to wake up to the fact that they need to provide data around disability if they are to be a genuinely diverse and inclusive employer. 

 The starting point is obviously to collate the data. To do this you have to ask in such a way that people will tell you what you want to know. Setting the context for the question is imperative: why are you asking it, how is the information going to be used, and who is the information going to be shared with? Ensuring confidentiality is crucial. 

One collated, the data needs to be reported – even if it shows that you are not doing well in this area and are lagging behind your competitors. That said, if you have asked ‘properly’ it is unlikely to be as bad as you had anticipated. However, if it is not as good as you would wish, use it as an opportunity to talk about what you are doing to address this going forward. 

And finally, it is likely that whatever the results are, you will want, and indeed need, to make further progress in this area of employing disabled school leavers and graduates. To do this your attraction strategy is key – you have to engage with this talent pool if you are to attract them to your organisation. In addition to ensuring that you are providing the relevant messages for this talent pool you should also use data to ensure your activities are targeted. HESA data not only informs you that 10% of graduates in 2013 had a disability, it also tells you where they were studying; using this data can help you get your marketing messages directly to those you wish to recruit.

It is definitely time to stop whispering about disability data and hoping that nobody notices that it is, in fact, missing. Instead it’s time to collate information that you can share – and that you actively want to share.