Equity, Diversity and Inclusion

How disability self-ID can transform businesses for the benefit of all

Asian Indian Disable man in wheelchair listening to presenter's speech in a blog about disability data

Disability inclusion data can accelerate systemic change in the workplace. Image: Getty Images

Katy Talikowska
CEO, The Valuable 500
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Equity, Diversity and Inclusion

  • Some 1.3 billion people – a sixth of the global population – lives with a disability but this is not represented in the worldwide workforce.
  • Leaders know that diversity is key to success, but many businesses struggle to make progress when it comes to disability inclusion.
  • Empowering employees to self-identify as having a disability paves the way for transformative change and a more inclusive world.

One in six (16%) of the global population lives with a disability – some 1.3 billion people – yet the workforce representation of disabled individuals in most companies falls significantly short of this figure.

Business leaders know that diversity is a key driver of innovation and success. But many companies are still struggling to make meaningful progress when it comes to disability inclusion.

This is due in no small part to a critical data gap: disability inclusion is notably absent from key performance indicators (KPIs), metrics or targets through which organizations measure their impact, performance and the value they bring to society.

Disability inclusion data key to progress

At the Valuable 500, we believe that standardized and transparent disability inclusion data is essential for driving progress.

Our white paper on ESG and Disability Data issues a call to the global business community to adopt and publicly report on five disability-related metrics that are key to hardwiring accountability and accelerating systemic change. These are: workforce representation, goals, training, employee resource groups and digital accessibility.

Of these five metrics, 'workforce representation' is determined by the answer to a deceptively simple question: "What percentage of the company's workforce identifies as disabled/living with a disability?"

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The answer reveals not just raw demographic data, but insights into the very culture of an organization – the level of psychological safety employees feel, the visible and invisible barriers that may be holding people back, and the untapped potential waiting to be unleashed.

The key to unlocking this powerful metric is self-ID – inviting employees to voluntarily disclose information including disability status, gender, LGBTQIA+ identity and ethnicity. Self-ID is a key tool in addressing the disability data gap, but it’s much more than just a data collection exercise – it's the cornerstone of driving inclusion throughout an organization.

Self-ID as a driver for business-wide inclusion

The Valuable 500's Self-ID Resource Guide, launched earlier this year in collaboration with Google and Deloitte, provides a blueprint for empowering employees to voluntarily self-identify as having a disability.

The guide equips companies with best practices for building trust and unlocking the power of employee data, featuring insights like the personal reflections of Tim, a visually impaired Head of IT Architecture, on his journey to proudly identifying as disabled and encouraging others to self-ID. “It is only through representation and reporting that we can change the perception within society and ensure our children grow up in a more inclusive world,” he says.

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By empowering employees to bring their whole selves to work and share their experiences, self-ID paves the way for transformative change.

The insights gained from self-ID data can inform every aspect of the business – from shaping inclusive hiring practices and designing accessible products, to enhancing customer service and driving innovation. It's the key to unlocking the full potential of disabled talent and creating a workplace where everyone can thrive.

Our research tells us that, by breaking down the barriers to inclusion for disabled staff, companies can also expect a wealth of business benefits that run the gamut from heightened innovation and boosted morale, to enhanced customer satisfaction and improved financial performance.

Building a culture of trust is key to workplace inclusion

Building a culture of trust is vital here: if disabled employees don't feel comfortable disclosing their disability at work, employers cannot measure representation, tailor strategies and build cultures of belonging.

Leaders must take visible, accountable steps to prioritize disability inclusion before, during and after the self-ID process. This includes communicating clearly how the valuable insights gained from self-ID will be translated into concrete actions that drive inclusion progress.

Equally important is recognising that disability is just one aspect of an individual's identity. To create truly inclusive workplaces, self-ID practices must take an intersectional approach that acknowledges and address the unique challenges faced by individuals with overlapping marginalized identities.

The World Economic Forum’s Diversity, Equity and Inclusion Lighthouses 2024 Insight Report features a powerful example of intersectional self-ID in action at PepsiCo.

As part of its global diversity, equity, and inclusion efforts, PepsiCo launched a campaign encouraging employees to voluntarily self-identify across various dimensions of diversity, including sexual orientation, gender identity and disability status.

Taking a holistic approach to self-ID enabled PepsiCo to gather more granular data about the diverse composition of its workforce, which not only helped to measure representation but also informed targeted initiatives to support and empower employees with intersecting marginalized identities.

By creating a safe and supportive environment for employees to share their full selves, companies can gain a more nuanced understanding of the experiences and needs of their workforce. This, in turn, enables them to develop more targeted and effective inclusion strategies that account for the unique challenges faced by individuals with multiple marginalized identities.

Key considerations for self-ID success

While self-ID may seem straightforward, many companies are hesitant to embark on this journey.

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Some fear getting it wrong, worrying that missteps could erode trust or even expose them to legal risk. Others are intimidated by the complex web of national and regional legal frameworks governing data collection and privacy. And some simply do not know where to start, lacking the tools and best practices to design an inclusive and effective self-ID process.

These concerns are understandable, but they shouldn’t be barriers to action. With the right approach and guidance, every company can implement self-ID in a way that is both compliant and transformative. Key points to consider are:

  • The psychology of self-ID is complex
    Stigma, fear of discrimination and privacy concerns can make disclosure feel risky. Employers must lead with empathy, transparently communicating intentions and signalling that self-ID is about understanding and supporting, not box-ticking.
  • Language and representation matter immensely
    Using inclusive terminology, respecting individual preferences for identity-first language, and rooting out ableist phrases send a clear message. Seeing authentic portrayals in advertising and disabled colleagues thriving at all levels makes a statement.
  • Self-ID is a business-wide endeavour
    Accessibility must be woven into IT systems, procurement processes and product design. Disability data should inform analytics and leadership KPIs.
  • Legal questions needn’t be a barrier
    Collecting data raises valid legal questions, but with proper processes for consent, anonymity and data governance, self-ID is achievable in most jurisdictions. Compliance with regulations like the EU’s General Data Protection Regulations is an opportunity to design transparent and secure self-ID practices.
  • At every step, leadership sets the tone
    Visible executive sponsorship, honest reflection on current gaps and transparent reporting build trust. Impact is maximized when leaders demonstrate their commitment and share their own disability experiences.

The road ahead for disability inclusion

We recently announced SYNC25, the Valuable 500 Accountability Summit in Tokyo, 2025, which will be an opportunity for our companies to come together to build on successes, learn from failures, and set the stage for the work that’s yet to come.

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Our launch video for the event put disabled talent front and centre both in front of and behind the camera. This is a reminder to our companies and partners that the journey to disability inclusion demands not just acknowledgement of disabled voices, but the active celebration of their participation and leadership at every turn.

Moving beyond mere compliance, embracing disability representation in business opens up myriad opportunities. When employees can bring their authentic selves to work, innovation thrives, accessibility becomes non-negotiable and representation soars.

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The views expressed in this article are those of the author alone and not the World Economic Forum.

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