Interview with Graeme Whippy MBE, leading Disability Consultant

Graeme has several years’ experience as a disability consultant, including working with Viacom, Channel 4 and Lloyds TSB to improve their processes and culture for recruiting and supporting disabled people in the workplace. Among other projects Graeme also works with the Business Disability Forum supporting businesses in improving their practises for both disabled customers and staff. He has kindly agreed to give some time to answer some questions for our blog.

1. One of our objectives as a group is to raise student awareness of positive employers and initiatives. From your experience as a disability consultant, please could you briefly share some positive initiatives or examples of employers supporting disabled candidates/employers that you thought worked well.

I think Channel 4 are a great example of a company that goes the extra mile in demonstrating that it welcomes disabled talent. Just look at the support page on the 4Careers website – they provide a named person that disabled applicants can contact for advice, they’re absolutely clear on the support that they provide to help disabled applicants be their best, and overall it just oozes encouragement.

It’s little wonder that in 2017 nearly half of apprenticeship places went to disabled applicants, and that was without any ring-fencing or positive action.

2. From your experience as a disability consultant over the last 15 years, how has processes to support disabled people in recruitment/work place changed?

I think that whether they know it or not, employers have been adapting their approach in line the social model of disability, that is recognising that it’s barriers that stop disabled people getting into and staying in employment.

It’s changed from being “how can we stop your impairment being a problem” to “what can we do to help you be the best you can be”.

I advocate taking a holistic view of the employment journey through attraction, recruitment, on-boarding, support, development and career progression and encourage employers to consider the barriers that disabled people face at each stage of that journey.

The hugely encouraging thing is that this is becoming common thinking, and is, for example, reflected in the government’s Disability Confident scheme.

The other massive change over the past 15 years is how we moved (with some encouragement from me!) from “reasonable adjustments” to “workplace adjustments” and the realisation that democratising adjustments benefits everyone.

 3. What advice would you give a student who lacks confidence applying for jobs because they feel employers will view disability negatively? 

Do what every other student does – focus absolutely on your strengths, capabilities, ambitions and sell yourself. I’m not saying deny or hide your disability – it’s part of what makes you you – just make it more of a mention-in-passing thing if you need to mention it at all.

Employer confidence around disability has improved enormously over the past 15 years and far fewer view it negatively, but some are less enlightened than others. So do your homework on each employer you’re going to approach – do they have a disabled staff network? Do they talk about making adjustments if needed during recruitment? Are they signed up to Disability Confident? Do they offer a Guaranteed Interview Scheme?

Things like this indicate that they ‘get it’ and will not be biased against you, and it will also help you tailor your approach in how open you are about your disability.

4. As a disability consultant, what are the main challenges you experience and what are you most looking forward to over the next few months?

I guess the thing that irks me the most is how disability is still the poor relation in the diversity world compared, in particular, to gender and ethnicity. It’s not that companies are ignoring disability, it’s just not as high on their priorities as it needs to be – they are #diversish companies.

I also get frustrated with D&I leads who are reluctant to bring specific focus to disability because they say they want to treat people all protected characteristics equally.

I get that, and if you can take a pan-diversity approach to an issue do so, but they have to understand that disability is different to the other protected characteristics; it’s the only one you can acquire (and not by choice), disabled people face practical as well as attitudinal barriers, and it’s the only one that carries a legal duty to make reasonable adjustments.

Sometimes to treat people fairly you have to treat them differently – equity versus equality.

What am I looking forward to? I feel 2019 is going to be the ‘break through’ year for disability in business. For the first time ever disability was on the agenda at the World Economic Forum in Davos, and Caroline Casey’s #Valuable campaign to get disability onto board agendas is gaining traction.

We’ve also got the #WorkWithMe alliance between Scope and Virgin Media, a call to action for CEOs and other C-suite executives on employing disabled people.

And in TV there’s the #DoublingDisability initiative that aims to double the number of disabled people working in TV.

So yes, I think we’re as well placed as we’ve ever been in getting real movement on addressing the employment gap between disabled and non-disabled people, and creating a situation where disabled people can have careers, not just jobs.

-Christian Jameson-Warren.

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