Blog by Mike Adams
I am passionate about disability. I am equally passionate about leadership and successful businesses.
As a disabled person myself, I have lived with impairment since birth. I have seen the changes society has made and recognise the world is a different place to how it was only 20 years ago. But I also see and feel the inequality that still exists and struggle to work out the reasons why.
With my business leader hat on, I can see the commercial opportunities that stem from engaging with the disability consumer market, and can’t fathom why no one has really cracked it.
We know the so-called Purple Pound is worth an estimated £212 billion a year but I see very few, if any, strategies by business to leverage this market. Conventional business text books will tell you that the most successful businesses reflect their consumer base in their employment workforce. The fact that disabled people are under-represented in most business workforces is probably the strongest indicator of a lost commercial opportunity.
This disconnect between business and disabled people and the fact that there is a (relatively) simple solution staring us in the face is the reason why Purple is being launched. Purple will provide the platform for bringing together the views and perceptions of both business and disabled people to find the right solutions. Businesses need to feel they are not being lectured to about what is right (or wrong) around disability and instead to see disabled people as a route to develop and expand their business.
Disabled people are frustrated at the perceived perceptions of them as recipients of benefits by the Government, a target for subsidised employment and forgotten consumers.
Let me explain the problem with two illustrative examples. Last summer I decided to go back to the floor to undertake some disability awareness training sessions for Essex and Kent Police. I soon realised there was a fundamental issue – a conversation without fear. The feedback from people was concern about saying the wrong thing, using the right language and understanding appropriate etiquette, and this dominated their thinking around disability. For those who managed to bite the bullet, their experience of managing disability-related issues was pretty straightforward.
A recent survey we have undertaken with 1,000 businesses uncovered almost half of UK businesses are apprehensive about employing someone with a disability because of fears they won’t be able to do the job and concerns about making inappropriate comments or actions.
For disabled people there is a different conversation without fear needed. I have been part of running a disability employment programme which one participant described as a ‘boot camp’! I suspect what they meant was we didn’t (and don’t) accept excuses around disability as a reason for not getting a job. Our success rate in getting people into employment is more than 50% which compared with other Government-financed initiatives (ours is no longer Government backed but supported through sponsored business bursaries) is high. Once people got over the initial shock they warmed to the approach and liked the fact first and foremost they were seen as individuals who happened to have a disability.
It is no coincidence that part of our approach has been to work with line managers of employers who hired the disabled person and acknowledge their needs to make it a success. This has been key in making it work for the business and disabled person.
And this is what Purple is about, and why our business approach is so different. We will have an offer to business. We will have an offer to disabled people. And in true Venn diagram fashion, we will marry the two communities together to develop new ideas, new thinking and future products and services which open up employment and consumer opportunities for both.
We have created an online disability recruitment agency to match talented disabled people to business vacancies; we are making a comprehensive offer to business to support them to become Disability Confident; we will work alongside businesses to develop and implement strategies for growth which are bespoke to individual organisations; and we will offer wider organisation design and capacity building support for individual leaders and teams within businesses.
We know to be successful we need to work alongside businesses and business leaders. And that means making the case for disability as a genuine business opportunity. On 12 July we are ringing the bell to open the London Stock Exchange and more importantly signal our Purple intent.
I want you to be passionate about disability and the opportunities it provides.
Be part of something new. Be a part of changing the conversation. Become a part of Purple.