Equity, Diversity and Inclusion

Driving disability inclusion is more than a moral imperative – it’s a business one

Three male coworkers, one with robotic arm, looking at computer monitor: The World Economic Forum and Valuable 500 work to drive disability inclusion across the global business ecosystem.

The World Economic Forum and Valuable 500 work to drive disability inclusion across the global business ecosystem. Image: Unsplash/ThisisEngineering RAEng

Katy Talikowska
CEO, The Valuable 500
Fernando Alonso Perez-Chao
Action Lead, Diversity, Equity, Inclusion and Social Justice, World Economic Forum Geneva
Silja Baller
Head of Mission, Diversity, Equity and Inclusion, World Economic Forum
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Society and Equity

  • The World Health Organization estimates that over 1.3 billion people – 15% to 20% of the global population – experience disability. This group, along with their friends and family, has a spending power of $13 trillion.
  • Extensive research highlights the enduring benefits of inclusive policies and sustained diversity programmes in private and public sectors, leading to higher quality decisions and increased innovation.
  • The World Economic Forum and the Valuable 500 collaborate throughout the year to drive disability inclusion across the global business ecosystem, ultimately shaping more inclusive and equitable economies for persons with disabilities.

The International Day of Persons with Disabilities, celebrated annually on 3 December, is a beacon for raising awareness and fostering acceptance of persons with disabilities. The World Health Organization estimates that currently, more than 1.3 billion people – about 15% to 20% of the global population – experience disability.

This year, the International Day of Persons with Disabilities coincided with the 2023 United Nations Climate Change Conference (COP28) in the United Arab Emirates. This overlap is particularly poignant when considering the disability and climate nexus. For instance, according to co-founder and executive director of the Harvard Law School Project on Disability Michael Ashley Stein, people with disabilities are two to four times more likely to die or be injured in climate emergencies, including heatwaves, hurricanes and floods.

People with disabilities are diverse and heterogeneous: disabilities can be visible or invisible and temporary or permanent. The number of persons who live with a disability is increasing due to demographic trends and increases in chronic health conditions, among other causes. Almost everyone will temporarily or permanently experience disability at some point in their life.

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The business case for disability inclusion

Extensive research highlights the enduring benefits of inclusive policies and sustained diversity programmes in private and public sectors, leading to higher quality decisions and increased innovation. Organizations with a diverse workforce are more adaptable to change and are often at the forefront of leading transformations.

Recent research from Investec of UK mid-market businesses highlights the link between strong environmental, social and corporate governance (ESG) performance strengthening companies’ operations, risk management strategies and enhancing brand reputation and attractiveness to potential investors, acquirers and partners. In addition, PwC’s 2022 Global Investor Survey suggests that more than a quarter of investors said they were willing to accept a lower rate of return on investment from a company that does activities benefiting society and the environment.

The spending power of people with disabilities and their families, estimated at $13 trillion, is a significant market that businesses cannot afford to ignore. By failing to include people with disabilities in their workforce and their customer base, companies are missing out on a vast pool of talent and potential revenue.

“It is important to remember that the way in which the world has been set up has created many economic, social, cultural and environmental barriers for people with disabilities, preventing them from living and participating in an equal way to others. We need to recognize this and focus on what can be done to support an environment where everyone can thrive rather than focusing on a person’s disability,” said PwC’s Global Disability Inclusion Leader Leandro Camilo in a recent conversation with the Valuable 500.

“As a human-led and tech-powered organization we know that a strong commitment to disability inclusion and accessibility is both the right thing to do and a vital ingredient to our success,” he added.

Weaving inclusivity into business

In the past years, the Valuable 500 – a global business partnership of 500 companies working together to end disability exclusion – with the World Economic Forum’s Centre for the New Economy and Society, has coordinated three synchronized collective actions to address three main barriers to disability inclusion: inclusive leadership, inclusive reporting and inclusive representation.

The tone for Inclusion is often started at ‘grassroots’, but it should be set at the very top.

Raj Verma, Chief Diversity, Culture & Experience Officer, Sanofi.
  • Inclusive leadership means that leaders at all levels of the organization are committed to promoting and implementing disability inclusion. Launched at the Forum’s Annual Meeting in Davos, Switzerland, the valuable 500’s Generation Valuable programme has paired 75 talented managers with disabilities to executive or C-suite mentors across 71 organizations, ensuring that persons with disabilities are represented in leadership positions of tomorrow.
  • Inclusive reporting ensures companies are transparent about their efforts towards disability inclusion. At the Forum’s Annual Meeting 2023, the Valuable 500 presented ESG & Disability Data: A Call for Inclusive Reporting, a call to action to the business community to align around five publicly reported disability inclusion key performance indicators. The upcoming Valuable 500 Accountability Summit in Tokyo 2025 will allow companies to share their progress and be held accountable for their inclusive reporting commitments.
  • Inclusive representation ensures that people with disabilities are accurately and positively portrayed in the media and advertising with a forthcoming report to create a global business case for inclusive representation. Nielsen and Open Inclusion have already begun to demonstrate this evidence base but there is yet a global dataset. Such research would refine how disability-inclusive representation is defined globally, identify companies doing it well and create a data-driven business case for inclusive representation strategy and practice.

“We believe that our leadership and co-workers should reflect the diversity of the societies in which we operate. We want IKEA to always be a place where people feel a sense of belonging and know that having diverse and inclusive teams makes us more innovative and relevant for more people,” said Jesper Brodin, CEO of the IKEA Group, the latest company to join the Valuable 500.

There are companies already demonstrating good practice in creating inclusive workplaces for persons with disabilities, including IKEA, PwC and Sanofi and the World Economic Forum’s Lighthouse Programme identifies others.

“The tone for Inclusion is often started at ‘grassroots' but it should be set at the very top. Getting this in sync creates a catalyst big enough to spark systemic change across our organizations,” commented Raj Verma, Chief Diversity, Culture & Experience Officer at Sanofi.

Disability inclusion is not just a moral imperative; it’s a business one. As we move forward, we must continue to push for more inclusive representation, accessible content and accountability in our efforts to create a more inclusive world.

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