Day 2

Sessions cover workplace inclusion across all stages of an employee's journey. They also uncover the role of inclusive technology & Artificial Intelligence.

Have a look through all 6 sessions, or jump straight into the sessions that are relevant to you:

Welcome to Day 2

A opening session with, Gus Schmedlen, Texthelp's Chief Revenue Officer

Session details & slides

  • Watch Day 2's opening session and hear from Gus Schmedlen, Texthelp's Chief Revenue Officer. As an Eisenhower Fellow, Gus is part of a global group of change agents committed to creating a more peaceful, prosperous and just world. 

    Hear from Gus as he sheds light on our vision to transform the working world. Discover how to make the most of the festival so you too can become a change agent in your own organization.

  • Gus Schmedlen:

    Welcome everyone to day two of our Festival of Workplace Inclusion. If you missed yesterday, don't worry. All sessions have been recorded and we'll be sharing those with you after today. But for now, we have an exciting day ahead of us with another excellent lineup, including Disability In, the Business Disability Forum, CIPD, Genius Within, and KPMG, just to name a few. All of our speakers are geared up to explore some brilliant topics, from discovering how to create a universally inclusive working environment to exploring how we can align ESG goals to create a fair world for neurodivergent talent.

    And that brings me to shedding some light on our goal for this day and beyond. This, Martin shared yesterday, we're championing a world where neurodivergence and all differences are both valued and celebrated, a world where neurodivergent talent can access the same opportunities as their peers without barriers. We work hard to create technology that gives people the flexibility to choose how they understand, how they learn, how they work, and how they communicate. We create technology that helps businesses to be more inclusive across all digital channels. Our products support users throughout all stages of their lives, and we help organizations, from the education sector to the corporate world, to become more inclusive on that journey from K to gray.

    Having spent most of my working life focused on improving access to education and addressing the inclusivity of education settings, I'm excited to have joined Texthelp in 2022 as a company that tackles both sectors. So why is this of particular significance for me and Texthelp? Because throughout Texthelp's 27 years in the industry, we've seen great strides across educational establishments, with many creating inclusive spaces where learners are provided with multiple means of understanding and expressing their learning and their knowledge, and providing tools to help them excel everywhere, all the time.

    But often, when the students make the transition to workplace, their experiences can look very, very different. The environment that they enter isn't as universally inclusive as the one they've left in traditional education. The toolkit that they've built up in their school years is lost. That's because while workplaces are also becoming more inclusive, the prioritization of disability and neuro-inclusion is happening unfortunately at a slower rate. When we take steps in our own organizations, we can make a big impact in the corporate world and that moves us closer to a world where everyone, and all means all, everyone can prosper. That's really what this festival is all about, coming together to explore how we can make that transformation to a working world that's universally inclusive across every stage of the employee lifecycle, from recruitment to talent management and beyond.

    So first of all, thank you so much to our partners and attendees today. Today, you'll be hearing from some amazing organizations on the steps that they have taken, and of course, neurodivergent talent who will be sharing their ideas and desires for the future. I'd like to take a moment again to thank our partners for getting involved in helping us make this happen. We could not do this without you. And to our attendees, it's great to have you with us today. We're so pleased to see so many people interested and committed to improving workplace inclusion.

    So what can you expect for today? Today, we have a keynote that is really exceptional with Caroline Casey, founder of the Valuable 500, and that's what's up immediately following this. Then we'll be following four sessions where we'll explore topics across inclusive recruitment, retaining talent, creating an inclusive culture, and of course, inclusive technology.

    You can attend these sessions by clicking on the schedule tab at the top of your screen, and you can discover more about today's lineup by clicking on the speakers tab at the top of your screen as well. By clicking the booths tab at the top of your screen, you'll access lots of free resources to take away and bring back to your own organizations. And then finally, you can take part in our scavenger hunt, so keep an eye out for 10 hidden badges across the festival website today. When you find and click on all 10, you'll be entered into a prize draw to win some great prizes.

    So that is what to expect from today, and as you spend your time with us today, we'd love to hear your thoughts and insights and feedback, so join the chat on social media using our hashtag #Texthelpfest23. Thank you again for joining us today. We really hope that you leave today feeling inspired and confident for the future, and up next, we have a keynote session with, as I said, Caroline Casey. Like me, Caroline is an Eisenhower Fellow, meaning we're part of a global group of change agents committed to making the world more peaceful, just and prosperous, so head on over to the live tab and join us. Thank you and bye for now.

Keynote session - Raising the bar for workplace inclusion: Setting attainable goals

A session with Caroline Casey, Founder, Valuable 500 & Gus Schmedlen, Chief Revenue Officer, Texthelp

Session details & slides

  • Following his opening welcome, Gus is back with Eisenhower Fellow, and Founder of The Valuable 500 - Caroline Casey. As Eisenhower Fellows, they’re part of a network of 2,500 leaders across 115 countries taking action to serve the underserved - and more!

    In this keynote, they’ll be sharing their expertise as global change agents with ambitious goals. Gain advice that’ll help you to set achievable goals and measure success. Discover insights that’ll help you work effectively with your colleagues to make an impact - whether your organization is big or small, and your teams local or global.

  • Gus Schmedlen (00:00):

    Hello and welcome everyone to our keynote session. I'm Gus Schmedlen, Chief Revenue Officer at Texthelp. I'm very happy to be joined today by Caroline Casey, founder of The Valuable 500, a global business partnership of 500 companies working together to end disability exclusion. Today, Caroline will be sharing her insights as founder of an amazing organization where global companies work together in harmony to accelerate inclusion. She'll be sharing her learnings on taking a unified approach towards very ambitious goals. We'll also be sharing knowledge that we've gained as Eisenhower Fellows. Caroline and I are both part of the Eisenhower Fellowships Network, which connects 2,500 leaders across 115 countries, all in an effort to create a world that's more peaceful, more just, and more prosperous. Caroline, let's focus and let's get going. I can't wait for your audience to hear the insights. Can you just first tell us a little bit about The Valuable 500, how it was founded, and what it plans to do?

    Caroline Casey (01:00):

    Well, it was founded out of sheer frustration. I am a disability activist, troublemaker, campaigner for a long time now. I'm actually 23 years doing it. I, myself, am registered blind. I have ocular albinism. I'm an ex-management consultant with Accenture. I guess so I have a really clear understanding about if we want to really drive systemic change and to end global disability exclusion, it is absolutely not possible unless that we have business meaningfully at the table. I fundamentally believe that business is one of the most powerful forces on our planet. What business includes and value, society will include in value.


    I've been doing this work for a long time and I think The Valuable 500 really was a roar from my heart of sheer frustration that I hadn't seen accelerated change because disability, for so long, had been on the edges of diversity, equity, and inclusion in business. That just needed to change and I believe there's kind of three or four critical factors that can change that. One is you need the CEO to be accountable, the leader. We need to work collectively. I mean, seriously collective, like radical collective collaboration. We really need to bring a sense of humbleness and curiosity to the table and admit that we don't know what we're talking about. Lastly, we need intersectionality, the big word we are all using at the moment, but we need to take down the silos that exist within business around inclusion.


    That's really why The Valuable 500 was born. It now has 500 companies with 500 CEOs accountable for the leadership journey. Our job, after creating one of the world's biggest partnerships after UN Global Compact, don't even ask me how we could do that, is to use that opportunity to get our companies to work in that collective way together against what I believe is focused system barriers. Because I'm not interested in symptom problems, we have to drive system change. That's where we're at the moment. We're just about to challenge the 500 to get their skates on and work on three systemic barriers with us where we will have an accountability moment at the end of 2025 in Tokyo. Yeah. Big, ambitious, and scary, and hairy.

    Gus Schmedlen (03:24):

    Well, that's big, ambitious, scary, and hairy. Those are four great words. Ambitious is big. If you're a business that is interested, or you're a CEO, or you're a C-suite leader that's interested in getting your company to do more, what's the first thing? What's the first step that they can take that maybe isn't big, and hairy, and ambitious, et cetera?

    Caroline Casey (03:49):

    Well, actually, the big, hairy, ambitious thing is first to admit that you don't know. One of the greatest things one of our valuable 500 leaders has ever said is, "I don't know how to do this. I'm proud about what I've done in one area, but I just do not know how to do this." For me, that is the first, the biggest ambitious thing you can do is to be accountable. Say what you do and you don't know. The second thing is to ask your people. Ask your people, because we believe, actually not we believe, researchers proved that 80% of disability is invisible. Of that, we know that in most of your teams, anything between 12 to 15% of your teams currently have a lived connection and experience to disability, but are not disclosing it.


    Go talk to your teams, find out from your ERG groups. If you don't have an ERG group, get executive sponsorship money behind it. Currently, ask your customers. The most radical thing anybody can do is to say, "Right, we need to get on top of this. How do we do it? Business leaders know how to do this." Ask, be curious, talk to your people, inside and externally to your business, and most importantly, go out and find communities, organizations, networks that are already doing it. Do not spend time and energy recreating the wheel. We have so much learning that we can share.

    Gus Schmedlen (05:11):

    Boy, that's really, really good advice. At Texthelp, we're led by the EY Entrepreneur of the Year for Ireland 2022, Martin McKay, an amazing leader, and he has stated publicly that our goal is to help improve the literacy of a billion people by 2030. We're hoping to get there. We've just launched an initiative for employers, many of whom are on The Valuable 500, that if they go and they offer this product to their employees and they don't force disclosure, et cetera, then we will give the product free to all the families of those employees. I mean, that's one way we're getting to a billion and we're really excited about that. Your organization, you went through the stats earlier. I mean, it's pretty amazing, and so I have a very simple question. The Valuable 500, a globally significant incredible organization, it's a very simple question, how did you do it?

    Caroline Casey (06:04):

    Okay. Well, it was really hard, Gus. It was really hard. When I said that I wanted to create The Valuable 500 and I wanted the signature and accountability of 500 of the world's most influential CEOs, people I know rolled their eyes behind my back and went, "This Irish woman, who does she think she is?" I mean, it would be fair, because disability has been on the sidelines, as I've said before. Organizations, when I first started my journey, they were saying, "No, no. We don't do disability." We created a DIVERSish film. You can see it on YouTube. We won a Cannes Lion for it because it was calling out this a la carte version of, "Well, I'm going to do gender, but I'm maybe going to do LBGBTQ in a few years time." I mean, this is ridiculous. That's inclusion delusion.


    I think when you're faced up against that, what do you do? Well, you go in, what I believe is, with a head and a heart approach, you need to speak to the business, the data, the analytics that prove that this actually could have a monumental positive effect on your bottom line. We've got to talk to business in the way that it matters to their shareholders, to their employees, to attracting retaining talent, not disabled talent, any talent. You've got to speak to the head of that, but never underestimate. Never underestimate that the people at the top of the business are human beings. They're mothers and fathers, sisters and brothers, grandparents, uncles and aunts. We are all of that and use the heart of it. It is this duality that we use, this very data-driven approach, and this very heartfelt story approach which appealed to the two parts of us, our head and our heart.


    I think, also, the reason we got where we did... Can I be very clear, we got there in two years and four months. I mean, that's unheard of. There is nothing like The Valuable 500 in the world, not for any issue. We are the second biggest in the world after UN Global Compact. We represent 22 million employees, 23 trillion in market cap. I mean, it's massive. The way that we did it, it's how we launched. We launched it on the main stage of the World Economic Forum. That's the main stage, not an inspiring stage, not a special stage. We announced it with five very influential CEOs. The way we made it happen is to work off one at a time. Our chairman was Paul Polman, who was the CEO of Unilever. He got me Richard Branson. Richard Branson got me John Wren, and therefore it goes. You need to be feisty. Every time you fall down, you need to get back up again.


    I had to remortgage a house. That's not what you want to do, but it's about every time somebody said no, you had to find a way to jump that wall. Just to be clear, we talked to 2,500 companies before we got 500. I would say we're fairly gritty and resilient, and I think the Irish gift of the Gab helped. I can't deny, I did offer to buy a few people pints along the way, a pint of Guinness. I mean, they'll do anything, but that signature from that CEO was meaningful and it was accountable. Nobody had ever seen anything like this. Yeah. I think we were just a hurricane that couldn't be stopped, I guess.

    Gus Schmedlen (09:36):

    That's great. That's a great way to be. Here's for any sort of means, Irish or otherwise, to get them on board. I don't know if a lot of people know this, but you spent a lot of time in India on this big trek. Did the perseverance and grit come from that? Did it come from your youth? Maybe explain what I'm talking about here because I'm not sure a lot of people know.

    Caroline Casey (09:59):

    No, very few people know. They often say, "How did you get started on this journey?" I tell them, "Look, I've been a hustler and a troublemaker for 23 years," because I, when I was working with Accenture, never told anybody that I was registered blind. I never said that I only had a foot vision, that I had ocular albinism. I never spoke about it. When I eventually came out of the disability closet at the end of 1999, God, that sounds so hard saying 1999, but anyway, 1999 I was sent to an eye specialist and that specialist told me that, "Look, you need to take some time because you need to heal your eyes, and honestly, I don't understand why you're trying to hide who you are." It was one of my first therapy sessions. How I took time was to fulfill a childhood ambition and dream, because I had always wanted to be Mowgli from the Jungle Book.


    I mean, it's crazy, but that's what I wanted. About nine months after I had seen that doctor, I did become Mowgli from the Jungle Book because I went to India and I decided to become an elephant handler or a mahout, and I trekked a thousand kilometers through Karla, Karnataka and Tamil Nadu, and raised money for Sightsavers International for cataract operations. That is what started me on this journey. What I would say, never underestimate, again, the roar of our hearts to be who we want to be. Maya Angelou has a beautiful quote saying, "There's no agony than an untold story inside yourself." I think every single person in this world of ours, and you can feel it more now than ever, is yearning to be seen and heard and to be known and understood themselves. We don't want to fit in. We don't have to fit into these, I don't know, silos and boxes.


    I think that elephant journey was just this wild idea that I had to change something and that change had to begin with myself. You can't even know that those years ago, 23 years ago, I simply didn't think I was good enough, lovable enough. I hadn't done my work. I had been denying that I had a disability. It has taken over 20 years for me to go, "Yeah. Here I am," and I don't need to absolutely kill myself through work. It's not about saving the world, it's actually about really accepting myself. Before I do anything else, I've got to accept myself so I can actually be a better leader and work better on inclusion. It has been a very, very interesting 23 years, professionally and personally, but it did begin with that dream, and that dream is still in that magic of me. I will always be that dreamer, for sure.

    Gus Schmedlen (13:06):

    That's an absolutely amazing story. I mean, talk about hitting the heart. There's no question. It's so great and I think it's probably why you're one of the most inspirational people out there. If we switch gears and go to the head part, for your accountability summit in Tokyo in 2025, what specifically are you asking customers, or sorry, companies to measure or report on?

    Caroline Casey (13:35):

    No, it's great. I want to be really clear. There's no point us having an agenda, an ambition, a plan if you're not going to have a deadline, because deadlines, if we don't have deadlines, nothings going to happen. The real question that's coming into our world at the moment is we don't want you purplewashing, greenwashing, whitewashing. I want you to be accountable. We put a date, the 3rd of December 2025, in our diaries, and that's the International Day of People with Disabilities. I've asked our funders, Nippon, to host us in Tokyo because we are funded by the Nippon Foundation. I finally got funding so we can actually afford to eat, which was helpful.


    Anyway, I believed because the spirit of our ambition was supported by Mr. Sasakawa and the Nippon foundation, it felt the right place for us to go back and hold ourselves to account for the funding they gave us, but also for our companies. What we're asking our companies to do is to work with us against three system barriers that they themselves have told us block progress. What we're asking them to do is help us get disabled talent into the C-suite of tomorrow. We want you to report on disability performance in your annual reports on five harmonized metrics. Lastly, we want you to help us increase representation of people with disabilities in your internal and external communication by 25%. Now, that's what I want 500 companies to do, and I want them to continue doing their own work, but we have a particular way that I want them to work. Of course we do. It's called synchronized collective Action.


    For those of us who go synchronize, you think about the Olympic swimmers doing synchronized swimming, but synchronized collective action is asking our companies to work on each of those three things at the same time and in the same way, because when you focus energy in the same way at the same time and you're not scattered, then you are finding the might of influence. For a moment, just think of the metaphor. You have a 500 piece orchestra, and as they're tuning up, it's like, "Oh, whoa, the noise. I can't take the noise." But when the conductor comes in and goes and brings it all together, it is beautiful. That's essentially what the team, The Valuable 500, is trying to do, is try to conduct that energy and to tell the companies what it is we want them to do at the same time, because that's amplifying the change. Not 500 cats running in all different directions, but all of us working in harmony together.

    Gus Schmedlen (16:18):

    That's amazing. One other question for advice. I'm approached quite often with either parents of a child with a disability or learning difference, or people who work for these large international corporations who feel like they may not have a strong voice. If you're not talking to the leaders, but you're talking to people who are maybe more early stage in their career, what's your advice on how to amplify and elevate this issue of radical inclusion?

    Caroline Casey (16:49):

    Well, so firstly, I want to just make a shout-out to parents of children with disability. We often think, when we're talking about disability in business, we're only speaking to the person, for example, me who has a lived experience, but actually we are talking nearly more so about parents or siblings or spouses connected to disability. There's 1.3 billion people in the world who are currently living with a disability, but when you put a mom and a dad to that, we're talking about 54% of our global economy. Parents, know your power. You don't need to be the CEO at the very top of the organization, because actually, if you will turn it to your left and your right, you will know somebody either who has a direct experience or has a connection to, and carers and family members. When we talk in The Valuable 500, we're not just asking you for people with disabilities alone.


    We're asking you for their families and friends, if you don't have products and services designed for them, you're keeping them out. What I would suggest to anybody in business is there is a real appetite. My gosh, we can feel it right now. There is a real appetite for every voice to be heard. The employee resource group is something that is incredibly powerful within the company. No matter if the company is 10 people, 100 people, 100,000 people. What is key is bringing people together with a like-minded experience, being allies to other people who may feel excluded or not have their voices heard, and that is where we're seeing the connection to leadership. Because there's no point in employee resource group not having an executive sponsor from the top of the business with resource and money, so to ensure that those needs are being met.


    Within the business, use your voice, tell your story, ask questions. I think what we have to try to do is not make enemies, or not make not enemies, that's not the right word. It's not try to shame people who don't know, because I think an awful lot is people truly, genuinely want to do more and to do better, but they are really frightened of getting it wrong. That fear of not knowing what to do stops people doing anything at all. What I say to you is use your voice, tell your story, make it be teachable. Make it be accessible to people that your human story touches off another human story. That's what we're saying, is there is the world is opening now, make sure you step into that gap with pride, with a voice of encouraging people to be radically curious with you.

    Gus Schmedlen (19:29):

    Wow. That's amazing. I have to say that you epitomize the spirit of Eisenhower Fellowships, making the world a more peaceful, just, and prosperous place. Speaking of that, congratulations to the Eisenhower Fellowships organization who just celebrated its 70th anniversary in San Francisco. Again, for those of you who don't know, you can visit them on 70 years ago, a group of individuals in the United States, to celebrate President Eisenhower's service as president of the United States of America, created this people to people fellowship organization. Now, we have people from great countries like the Republic of Ireland, et cetera, come into the U.S. and stay for a term of six to eight weeks to learn all about the United States. Also, the United States sends out about eight individuals every year into other countries, again, to create global understanding, which Caroline, as you said earlier in the call, we need now more than ever.


    Thank you and congratulations to Eisenhower Fellowships. Caroline, I want to say with huge sincerity, thank you so much. Your story is amazing and inspiring, and just really thank you so much for your insights. To our listeners who are watching this live, we hope what Caroline has shared today will help you become more confident, whether you're the CEO or whether you're a concerned and caring parent, whether you are just starting out in the business. We hope that this is a roadmap for taking action within your organization and model some of these just outstanding behaviors and attitudes that Caroline related today. Up next is our session exploring why and how to incorporate disability and neuroinclusion in your company's ESG strategy. Head over to the live tab to check that out and gain insights from inclusion experts from great organizations like MassMutual, Disability:IN, and the Business Disability Forum. Caroline, thank you so much. Audience, bye for now. Thank you.

ESG: The code to unlocking a fairer working world

A session with Marcia Dukes, Diversity Equity and Inclusion Lead, MassMutual, Jill Houghton, CEO, Disability:IN & Diane Lightfoot, CEO, Business Disability Forum

Session details & slides

  • As organizations we all have a social responsibility to make a difference outside of our organization. It's well known that among disabled and neurodivergent talent there are higher rates of unemployment and underemployment compared to the general population. In fact, research shows that less than 29% of autistic adults are in employment.

    In this session, we explore why and how to incorporate disability and neuro-inclusion into your company's ESG (Environmental, Social, Governance) strategy. Uncover how to create a fairer working world, while driving benefits for your business.

  • Donna Thomson (00:01):

    Good morning everyone, and welcome to day two of this year's Festival of Workplace Inclusion, and thank you for joining our inclusive recruitment session on ESG: The Code to Unlocking a Fairer Working World. So it's great to have you with us, and especially if you tuned into any of our sessions yesterday, were you lucky enough to win any of our DENI prizes we had up for grabs? Let us know in the chat, and if you have no idea what I'm talking about, stay tuned because we have more prizes to give away today.

    So keep an eye on the main chat feed after the session for more information. Just speaking about yesterday, I should mention that all the presentations and discussions from the festival will be available on demand within a few days. So you'll have plenty of time to catch up on anything that you may have missed over the two days. I'm Donna, by the way, from Texthelp and I'll be hosting this session. And just to give you a brief audio description of me, I'm a white female with very short bleached and spiky hair.


    I'm wearing glasses and a navy Texthelp sweater, and I'm joining you from my home in Belfast, Northern Ireland. So for those of you who haven't heard of Texthelp before, I should probably say a few words about who we are and why we care about inclusion before we start. So at Texthelp, we've been creating inclusive software for over 27 years now.

    And to give you a little bit of background into the company, when our founder and CEO, Martin McKay was 12 years old, his dad had a stroke and he lost the ability to read, write, and communicate. So this had a profound impact on Martin, and as soon as he was old enough, he started making assistive technology to help people. So he started Texthelp in 1996 and inclusion has always been at the heart of everything that we do here. So we started making software for kids in school who find it difficult to read and write. So kids with dyslexia and English as a second language primarily, but fast-forward to today, and the Texthelp group has 375 employees, and our tools are helping over 200 million people worldwide. And we're not stopping there.


    We have set ourselves a pretty big goal to have positively impacted the lives of 1 billion people by 2030, and we're determined to reach that goal, but we know we can't reach it on our own. So if you would like to partner with us and share any of our tools with your staff and their family members for free, then we'd love to hear from you. And the easiest way to do that is to drop a "Let's chat" into the questions window and we'll reach out to you after today's session. But look back to today, I am thrilled to be joined by three fabulous women who will explore the why and the how for incorporating disability and neuro-inclusion into your company's ESG, that's your environmental, social, and government strategy. They'll also uncover how to create a fairer working world while driving benefits for your business. So let's get started. Jill, Diane, and Marcia, great to have you with us. Could I ask each of you to start by introducing yourselves first? And Diane, why don't you kick us off?

    Diane Lightfoot (02:56):

    Hi Donna, thanks very much for inviting me to be here today. I'm Diane Lightfoot, I'm CEO of Business Disability Forum, which is a UK-based membership organization. We're a nonprofit and UK registered charity, and we work with coming up to 570 businesses across the private, public, and voluntary sector. And I'm a white, 50-year-old woman, wearing reading glasses, a very bright yellow jumper, and quite lairy scarf, and I'm proudly transitioning to gray hair. So that's my audio description.

    Donna Thomson (03:35):

    Brilliant. Thank you, Diane. Great to have you with us. Marcia, why don't you go next?

    Marcia Dukes (03:39):

    Thank you so much Donna. So Marcia Dukes, I'm delighted to be here today, and thank you for the invitation. I work for MassMutual, we're a financial insurance company, and really providing financial wellness to Americans, and we've been in business for over 170 years. I'm delighted to lead our DEI strategy for our product, our sales and distribution, as well as some of our other clients within our organization. And I am a black female wearing glasses. I have long highlighted hair, and I am wearing a pink butterfly, because I do love butterflies. I think they bring in changes, and that signatures of what we are trying to do, at least from a DEI position. And I am delighted to be here, so thank you.

    Donna Thomson (04:36):

    Lovely. That's great, Marcia. Thank you. And Jill, I did leave you to the end so that you can go straight into your presentation.

    Jill Houghton (04:43):

    Thank you so much for the opportunity to be here. I was getting excited when I was listening to you talk about Texthelp because as a person who has dyslexia, I could have really benefited from that growing up in school, so I'm excited about the work that you're leading. My name is Jill Houghton, I'm the president and CEO of Disability:IN, we are a global nonprofit. And if you were to close your eyes and think about who are we, we are the intersection of where business and disability come together. I am a white female, wearing a hot pink, magenta shirt with shoulder-length hair. I'm not brave enough to go gray yet, I could be going gray, but I'm still fighting the power and coloring my hair, so I speak my truth here. So today, this is an awesome opportunity to dig into such an important topic around ESG, and how does disability fit into ESG? At Disability:IN, I'll just give you a story. We believe that disability is a strength, that it's a beautiful part of the human experience, and it's natural.


    In fact, there are over a billion people with disabilities, with apparent and non-apparent disabilities, all different kinds of disabilities, around the globe. And yet we, as people, have been faced... Lack of access, and discrimination, and underrepresentation in the workforce, unemployment and underemployment. And so at Disability:IN, we've been laser focused on addressing that. And we created something called the Disability Equality Index, which we like to say it's our engine. It's our engine to help business identify actions that they can take, inside and outside of the company, to advance their work around disability inclusion. And I flagged this because we use this tool, this engine called the Disability Equality Index, to team with Accenture. And we did that because we wanted to demonstrate that disability is material to investors, that disability is a material issue. And so Accenture studied the data from the Disability Equality Index, from the first five years, and what did they find? They found that companies that were actually improving their journey, improving their efforts around disability inclusion over time, actually had four times greater total shareholder returns.


    They found 28% higher revenue among top scoring companies, two times higher on net income, and 30% more on economic profit margins. And so using that data, using that business case, we joined forces with our co-chair of the Disability Equality Index, Ted Kennedy Jr., and we went to one of the largest pension funds, public pension funds, in the US. We went to Comptroller DiNapoli at New York State with that business case, and what he said was, "This is the case that we need to demonstrate that disability is the next chapter of ESG." So fast-forward to where we're at today, and we have a joint investor letter calling on corporations to advance disability inclusion, to prioritize it, and to utilize tools like the Disability Equality Index on their journey. We have over 32 investors to date that represent almost $3 trillion in assets under management, and they're from the Netherlands, and Australia, and Canada, and the US, and they're engaging with the companies as shareholders that they invest in to ask what they're doing around sustainability and governance to include disability in their efforts.


    So if we fast-forward to where we're at today, the good news is we're getting ready to come out with an updated business case, and we're continuing to pick up speed with more participation in the Disability Equality Index. This year in 2023, we celebrated a couple things. We celebrated almost 485 companies that participated, and you know what? We're barely scratching the surface, let's be for real here. And we celebrated a two-year pilot that we've been doing in over 60 countries with more than... Almost a hundred companies. So where are we moving? We are opening up registration actually in the coming weeks for the Disability Equality Index, and it's actually going to expand its territory, and be a tool that's going to be available not only in the United States, but also in Brazil, and Canada, and Germany, and India, and Japan, and the Philippines, and the United Kingdom. So we're really excited about the expansion of the Disability Equality Index, and using this tool to shine a light on issues like workforce representation. When you're reporting out on your workforce representation, are you including disability in your data?


    When your non-gov charters, your board governance documents, are you including disability in your governance? So we've got a campaign called Boards Are In, where we are working with these joint investors and the asset manager community to engage with companies. In fact, just last week, Comptroller DiNapoli sent almost 30 letters to some of the world's largest corporations, calling on them and inviting them to include disability in governance, because we can't be what we can't see, and so we want disability to be included. Now, I'll just leave you with the fact that when disability is included, when we're included, what do we see as an impact? We see things like increases in innovation, we see improved shareholder value, improved productivity, access to a greater supplier ecosystem. And the lesson goes on, I'll leave you with a story, and the story goes like this. We were recently at Governance Week, and we were there with some of the world's largest asset managers from around the globe, along with a lot of corporate board leaders. And there were some individuals who were blind, who were leading disability inclusion in one of the world's largest corporations.


    And they were telling the story about accessibility, and they were talking about things like, for example, this is an e-commerce platform, and when you rate a purchase, you use stars and bars. And they were talking about how when they improved the color contrast so that it was accessible of the stars and bars, they actually saw a greater return to their bottom line. So accessibility wasn't just the right thing to do, it was good business. And so they were talking and sharing the story, and at the end, one of the largest asset managers in the room, a very, very powerful individual, came up and said, "I have to share my truth." He said, "I've never told anybody this, but I'm deaf. I've hidden my disability because I was afraid. I've been afraid, my whole career, that if I told people that I couldn't hear, that I wouldn't have the opportunities that I've had." So he said, "I've actually sat in the back of the room, and I've had my phone, and I've turned on Google Meet, and I've turned on the captions, and that's how I've been able to participate in a meeting like today.


    So as a result of what I've heard you talk about, I'm going to now own this part of my identity." And I think that that's part of the journey that we're working on, is creating those cultures and environments in business, where disability is included. And not from a mandatory standpoint, but from a voluntary standpoint. So again, such a privilege to be part of this amazing event and I'm looking forward to engage.

    Donna Thomson (14:33):

    Hello, Jill, that's great. Thank you so much, and thanks for sharing information on your Disability Equality Index that helps businesses advance their work around inclusion, I thought that was really useful. You also shared some compelling stats around the positive impact inclusion has on businesses, 30% higher revenue. So I mean, that really grabs attention if the story didn't. But Jill, yes, thank you for very nicely setting the scene into why disability inclusion matters, and the role of ESG. And next up we have Diane Lightfoot from Business Disability Forum, who will delve into some of the ways we can incorporate disability inclusion into our ESG strategy. So Diane, thank you, over to you.

    Diane Lightfoot (15:14):

    Thank you so much, Donna, and to Jill for setting the scene so beautifully. So I said that at BDF, we have 560, 570 odd members, and we support them to get better at recruiting and retaining disabled employees, and at serving disabled customers. And we see our role very much as critical friends, and we support them wherever they are on their disability smart journey. So some of the organizations with us have been with us 30-plus years, some are brand new, and at least half our members and partners are global organizations, whether they are truly global, like the HSBCs of this world, or whether they work in a few markets outside the UK. So because of that, we established a global task force back in April 2018. And from quite small beginnings, it's really gone from strength to strength, which really demonstrates to me the interest and appetite in this area. And that task force has been instrumental in creating a range of reports and resources. So first up, our global version of our disability smart assessment tool, we called it our Global Business Disability Framework, which is a maturity model.


    Then we created our first report on how to develop a global disability inclusion strategy. I thought we'd start big there, supported by Shell, which we launched just at the beginning of the pandemic. Then we produced four more deep dive reports with HSBC on global data monitoring, workplace adjustments and accommodations built environment, and language around disability. And of course, in this context, data particularly is a subject I'll come back to, though I think may probably all resonate. And still in the UK, we see too often that disability is put in the too difficult box, and the message we try to get across is that it doesn't have to be, and we provide lots of very practical support and advice. And I like to say that I try to move people from "Why?" To "Why not?" From "Why should I do this or provide this?" To "Why on earth wouldn't I want to give all my employees the tools they need to do a great job for us? The tools they need to do the job that we've hired them for?" And this is particularly true around workplace adjustments or accommodations, which are pivotal.


    And so often the difference between thriving, or just surviving, or indeed not surviving at all, at work. And workplace adjustments remains one of the top topics to our advice service, including how to decide what's reasonable. I should give a little plug to our great big workplace adjustment survey, we carried out the second iteration of that earlier this year to find out what the experience of getting adjustments looks like in 2023 and post-pandemic, so do have a look on our website if you're interested in that. But ultimately, this is about talent, and it is so important we change the narrative to reflect that. And we know, don't we, that diverse teams are more productive, creative, bring better problem-solving, avoid groupthink, better reflect the communities they serve. Customers, clients, service users, patients, students, families, you name it. And yet at a UK level, there is still more to be done. When you layer on the complexities of working at a global level, then it's even more complicated. So different attitudes around disability, different legislative frameworks where you can, can't, or must ask about disability quotas and targets.


    So thinking about ESG, we started thinking about ESG reporting last year really, 2022. And it was inspired by conversation at the Disability Confident Business Leaders Group, and Microsoft's Hector Minto, I'm sure many people here will know Hector well, asked me if we at BDF did anything on ESG, and we didn't. And the fact that we hadn't even considered it probably says a lot about how we traditionally think about corporate reporting. And it made me think that there used to be CSR, corporate social responsibility, and that, in the context of disability inclusion, was too often positioned about doing good or charitable... I'm doing air quotes, works, rather than as fundamental to good business and success. It also highlighted for me how in the current climate, the focus in the media very much is on just that, climate change and the environment, and the E of ESG reporting, which of course, is very important, including for disabled people. But what about the S and the G? So like Jill, we got to thinking, "Where does disability fit in?"


    And the answer we came up with, rather over simplistically I grant you, is it should fit in everywhere. Yet we know it's too often forgotten in ESG reporting, and indeed other reporting, I'm sure we've all seen numerous reports about diversity that don't even mention disability. But so thinking about all those facets. So climate change and the environment, energy prices, for example, disproportionately affect disabled people. Whether it's needing to heat your home to a higher temperature to manage pain, or fatigue, or specific conditions like sickle cell, or because you need to charge electronic equipment, like assistive tech or a wheelchair. With the cost of living crisis, this is a very real issue. And there's also the law of unintended consequences. Motor Village's CEO told me a couple of years ago that electric cars couldn't be adapted, or certainly not easily adapted, for wheelchair users because the battery, the electric batteries in the base of the car, which meant that the chassis couldn't be lowered. Hopefully that's changed now, but it really shows the problem if you look through one lens.


    The same thing in banning plastic straws for disabled people who rely on them to be able to eat thick liquid meals, for example. At the G, governance level, how many businesses ensure disability is central to how they report on their corporate decision-making, and on how policies and procedures are reported and reviewed? And as Jill said, "You can't be what you can't see," and we do need to see disabled people in senior roles and talking about disability to become role models for others. And when it comes to the S, of course, disability inclusion is a global societal and social issue. But we were discussing just recently, again at the Business Leaders Group, funnily enough, that the S is still ill-defined. And thinking about this, I think businesses need to look at their social purpose, and look beyond the scope of what they need to report, and instead to lead the agenda. So going from compliance to best practice, if you will. And as an example, the disability employment gap in the UK overlooks that there are multiple gaps underneath that.


    So the headline figure of 53% of working age disabled adults in work, as compared to about 81% of their non-disabled peers, masks that for autistic adults, the figure is more like 16%. For adults with learning disabilities, disabilities rather than difficulties, it's less than 6%. But if you are thinking about that as a business, that can feel overwhelming, and it's difficult to know how to start and how to actually make a difference given those figures, and I think this links to storytelling too. And at our global conference last year, I interviewed John McCalla-Leacy, who is Global Head of ESG Reporting at KPMG. He's a fabulous speaker, I highly recommend him, and I'm paraphrasing him, but one of his key messages was that we need to get better at finding a really compelling narrative around ESG, something that excites people and brings the numbers to life. And we know when it comes to disability, the numbers can be tricky, and I'll say a bit more about that in a moment. So how can you do that?


    So I mentioned HSBC, and they have a project in the UK to recruit disabled people who face greater barriers to working in work than people who might usually think of HSBC as a career option. So they already employ many disabled people, but they wanted to go further. And the numbers of people they've employed aren't huge yet, and if they were included in an ESG report on their own, would probably look and feel quite insignificant compared to the scale of HSBC's overall workforce. But when you think about it as storytelling, hearing firsthand, reading firsthand, the stories of the young people they've recruited. Seeing how they've grown in confidence, and one example, hearing that someone was now able to take their mom out to dinner and pay for them, and how proud they were to be able to do that, and have their own income, paints such a different picture and one that really is compelling. And of course, it's not just the right thing to do, it's good for your business too.


    And what I think is missing in the context of too much of ESG and other reporting, is a narrative about talent and opportunity. It's not just a moral imperative, but it's critical for business survival, and there are skills shortages in so many sectors, so no business can afford to exclude a significant part of the talent pool or consumer market, come to that. It also sends a very clear message about your values as a brand, and consumers will see that. And I was looking, and the World Economic Forum lists sustainable purpose among the growing business trends, and it cites three reasons. Customers prefer businesses that do good, it will mean that employees want to work for them, and increasingly, as Jill touched on, investors are demanding it. And who wouldn't want that? So wouldn't it be great if we could create a virtuous circle, one where businesses commit to proactively, voluntarily including disability in their ESG reporting, and in turn, where customers, employees, and investors actively look for that information and act on the results.


    So I said I would come back to the challenge of data, and given that over 90% of disabilities aren't immediately visible, so much of this is about building trust so that people feel safe to tell you they have a disability rather than fearing negative repercussions, which sadly we know is still too often the case. And data collection is a top topic for our global members, which is why we created a report dedicated to it. And in that report, on global disability data, we identified four key building blocks which are fundamental to successful data collection. So the first one, fairly obviously, is purpose. So really having a clear and compelling reason, or set of reasons, why you are collecting data and what you want to achieve. And starting with the end in mind, what data are you seeking and why? What do you want to know, and what will you do with that information once you have gathered it? Sounds so obvious, but too often it isn't considered at the beginning. It's also really important, of course, to map the legal requirements and restrictions where you work.


    So what you have to do, for example, reporting on quotas and also what's possible, bearing in mind the constraints of where you are working is so important. And if you don't know what the law says in different countries, I highly recommend the ILO website, which gives lots of information on where there are quotas and targets, for example. And a lot of it comes back to the fundamental question, how can we use data and how will collecting this data improve the working lives of people with disabilities? And once you've got that clear purpose, making sure that you communicate this clearly and consistently is crucial in building trust. Second one, we've called fundamentals, and this is about systems, and it's also about terminology. And across all we do really, we encourage our members to go beyond compliance to best practice. And that includes adopting a global approach and a global definition of disability, that goes beyond the minimum in-country requirements. So if we're asked, we typically recommend the United Nations' definition, which is very broad.


    And I won't name names, but very encouragingly, we have more than one global organization that says, "This is our definition of disability and it doesn't matter to us if, for example, mental health or neurodiversity doesn't "count," air quotes again, as a disability in a certain country, it counts to us, it matters to us, and this is about talent. So we still require you to make adjustments and accommodations, it doesn't matter if you don't legally have to. And that visible and global commitments really speaks volumes. It does, however, need to be backed up by practical action, of course. So those workplace adjustments and accommodations, and cultural change programs. Systems, of course, is an absolutely massive topic, particularly for global business. But creating a platform where employees can feel safe to self-ID, and where they're confident their data will be secure, it sounds really obvious, but it's really important. And being clear whether data and self-ID is identifiable or anonymous, and in either case, who can see the data, who has access to it, and how it'll be used.


    Also asking the right question is important, so it's really worth developing that question with your people, and creating a globally acceptable, and also resonant, question. So for example, "Do you consider yourself to have a disability, or long-term conditions such as X, Y, or Z?" And list some, so that more people see themselves in that definition. And of course, you can create additional in-country questions, if you need to, for more detailed information. You can also use data that already exists, like workplace adjustments data. This can help you avoid duplication, and you can also triangulate data to make sense of what you are seeing. And I also say to people, bear in mind too, the bell curve, which I'm graphically doing. So we see often that the most inclusive, as well as the least inclusive companies, can have the lowest rates of people sharing a disability. The least inclusive, because people are afraid to or don't think there's any point. The most inclusive, because they don't need to, because it's already flexible, they've already got what they need. So it's really important to look behind the numbers and what they're telling you.


    I think in this space, data is an art not to science. Third is leadership, senior leaders have such a key role in driving change, and that's just the same for data collection. The HSBC project worked because it was championed by the UK CEO and Global Disability champion, Ian Stuart. So communicate that commitment from the top, and also encourage senior leaders to use their position to role model inclusion, and open up the dialogue for others. We know often they're scared to do so, but really encouraging them is key. And then lastly, in this context culture. And I love that saying that culture eats strategy for breakfast. And so key is creating a culture of psychological safety and trust, where people feel safe to talk about disability and their lived experience. And this links very much to leadership, and also remembering the privilege that we have as senior people in feeling safe to self-ID, and passing that on to others.


    I often talk about the fact that I have a long-term condition, I have a form of blood cancer, and I also have long-term depression, and I do that to try and make it feel safer for others. And this, again, links back to the purpose for any data collection and what the benefits will be, that, "What's in it for me?" Factor is so important. Working with your EIG, if you have one, to create the best approach and getting their support is also really important. What should you collect? Well, this goes back to purpose and also what you are able to collect. But one extra thing I'd say is we think it's important, not just to look at numbers, but the quality of the employee and indeed customer experience. So rather than just the number of disabled people in your workforce, things like how they feel about your workplace adjustments process, their job satisfaction, progression engagement, what does it feel like to work here?


    And we are very much in favor of driving up voluntary reporting, regardless of legal requirements, that proactive reporting that becomes an attraction strategy and which says, "We are serious about this and about getting it right." And we also hear that the value of the data, collecting it, reporting it, is so often in the conversations that it sparks. That's the message we get loud and clear from our members and partners. It's about having a conversation about what might be going on behind the numbers, talking about it with your people, and together figuring out what you need to do with it. So just to close, Donna, you asked for advice on starting out. So I'd say start at the top, get a champion to drive this, and then embed it. Make sure there is accountability to make this happen. And I also want to say don't boil the ocean. Firstly, of course, boiling the ocean, it's very bad for climate change. But more seriously, if you want to try something new, it doesn't have to be large scale.


    Just starting small, taking something outside of your normal HR process, if you need to, and trying it out to make a difference. Focus on priorities, where actually can you make a difference and impact? And also celebrate successes. We tend to be so focused on what we need to do next and what we haven't done yet, that really recognizing and celebrating how far you've come is so important, and use the levers that resonate locally. You'll only get engagement and traction if you use messages that land and work in different countries and different cultures. So that very much echoes the key message of our first global report, which was focus on intention, not perfection. And I'd add to that, don't let the perfect be the enemy of the good, but get started. Thank you.

    Donna Thomson (33:48):

    That's lovely, Diane. Thank you so much. It is always great to hear about the approach taken at Business Disability Forum, and from some of your members too, on incorporating disability inclusion. And you're right, it should fit in everywhere. I think that presentation really nicely leads us into Marcia's presentation, where we will hear how MassMutual have incorporated disability inclusion into their ESG strategy. So Marcia, over to you.

    Marcia Dukes (34:16):

    Perfect. Thank you so much, pleasure to be here. So I really wanted to start out with what we had to focus in on internally. As I mentioned, MassMutual, financial service company around for over 170 years. And really, their mission is to bring financial wellness to every American. And so being that we all know basically one in five people will be with a disability, we knew that that is a focus that we had to have. And so what we did is started with our internal employees, which was really a huge initiative in building basically a population of people with disabilities, as well as allies within a Business Resource Group. So I heard, mentioned by Diane, an ERG, I would say ours is called a Business Resource Group. And how do we bring businesses information for populations and communities that we feel they need support or need to be serviced? And one of the things that we did was look at how we would bring in people with disabilities into what our BRG is called Adapt. Adapt has been working on strategies to help our businesses for over the last five years or more.


    We've been doing DEI for over 10 years, and what we've decided was how do we take people with real live experiences and real life stories, bring them to our different business units, and really talk about some of the challenges that we are facing within specific communities? And so one that we really looked at was how do we become what we call an Employer of Choice, that was looking at what we had from our current population of people with disabilities to what we need to grow to, and in partnership with disability, and understanding that we wanted to be the best of the best. And so we wanted to make sure that we had a disability inclusion workforce and workplace. And so we did partner with the Disability Equality Index, and our CEO, Roger Crandall, did sign onto that, with over 70 CEOs signing on at the time. And again, looking at data where we were, and where we knew we needed to be. I believe last year, we really started to really pull back the layers and say, "Okay, right now we realize from a employment standpoint, we did have people that would self-identify."


    The number was about 4.2 or so, and we were looking to increase that to make it benchmark. And so what we set out to do was actually in small communities, small focus groups, we literally would build in these networks where we could talk to our employees to determine what is it like to work for MassMutual? What are some of your challenges? What are some of the things that we could do better? And what we did see is that when we did build these small focus groups, people would share, they would tell their lived experiences. The other thing that we started to do was saying, "How can we have more of our employees sharing their own personal journeys?" So we did have people within our BRGs that were okay with sharing what their disability is. So like how Jill just shared the employee that had a disability, and who was deaf and did not want to say that he was deaf at the time. We found we had the same thing at MassMutual, there are employees that were afraid to share what their disability was thinking that that would hinder their career.


    I will use that I have a phenomenal partner in this work, and what she tried to do was really say, "You know what? I'm going to take a risk, and my risk is, is that I am going to share." And she did a video, and that video went live to all of the MassMutual employees to say, "I have a disability, this is what it looks like, and these are some of my challenges that I am faced with." And once she was able to do that, we did notice that other people were able to do the same thing. So we have a community internet newspaper, where people can share stories, and the comment section went really, really positive on, "Thank you for sharing, I now can share mine." And so this has helped us, again, increase the number of people that are willing to self-identify, which I'll share more about in a little bit. But once we started seeing that work, we said, "Okay, we need more people to actually share their stories, whoever is willing to share their stories."


    We now have started where we have employees that actually will do a podcast on their disability and some of their challenges. And then one of the things that we did notice, again, doing the self-work internally first, what we noticed was some people did not understand the difference between an invisible disability and a disability that you can actually see, whether it be handicap or something that you can literally see, and that told us that we need to do a lot more work. What do we need to do to help educate our employees on invisible disabilities are just there as well as apparent disabilities? So what we said is, "Okay, we needed to start doing some really impactful training." So again, we have employees that are there, we have allies that are there, we have a population that really wanted to learn, and we did not do any type of training to get them into the position of learning. So we did a phased approach.


    We went for the entire year and really started saying, "Okay, we're going to build out modules where people can come into an hour session and really just talk about disability in a way that it doesn't feel like it's something wrong." What we learned from our employee space is that they basically felt they were afraid to say anything because they thought they would say the wrong thing. And so again, understanding where they were, meeting them, where they were, bringing in professionals to do that, we were able to actually come up with some ways that you could talk about it, give them language, understand where everybody is in this journey and saying, "It's okay to make a mistake, it's a learning process for us all." And so we did probably about... We had a goal of about 300, we doubled that number, we did 600. We now realize that we can't just do that in a vacuum, we actually need to build a strategy for that. And so we are now building in an actual education strategy that will focus on people with disability and understanding how to support people with disabilities within the workplace.


    Then we said, "Okay, what more work do we need to do?" And again, our partnership with Disability:IN, and I cannot speak enough about, literally having a consultant, Deb Dagit, come in and do those focus groups, get the information that we needed that we couldn't get out of the employees, but she was able to actually get that for us. We then said, "Okay, how do we take this information, bring it back to our leadership team, and say, "We need to address some of these things?"" And so we are still working on this journey. I would say this month actually, for Disability Employment Awareness Month, we have Deb Dagit coming in and speaking with one of our leaders who's been very, very thoughtful. He's been an executive sponsor, and his executive sponsorship is because of his personal lived experience with his sister who has a disability, so he's been able to champion the work. What we have found is that most of the people that are championing this work do have some form of a lived experience.


    Personally, myself, I will share, my daughter had an invisible learning disability that we did not discover until she joined elementary school. And so that journey for me was very, very difficult over the years, but I did manage it, and I now actually support others in how they can build that journey for themselves, and advocate for people with difference where you can't see it. And sometimes, people honestly don't believe it, and that was my personal lived experience. And so with all that work, and again, this is a journey, we're still doing it. One thing that we really are proud of is that our DAP BRG, which is our Business Resource Group, that supports the business, and then it brings in insight from a population that our business may not have so much information about. We grew our membership in one year phenomenally, about 23%, so that spoke volumes that we are engaging in the right way. The other celebrating of a win, as we just talked about, is that we actually moved our score to benchmarks. So we started out at 4.2, and within a year, we moved it up to 6.4 for self-IDing.


    And again, it's a continual journey, we will continue to talk to our employees, finding out how do we support them, and then we are also partnering locally with our communities. Those partnerships are critical for us because that's the way that we align ourselves with the community external. So we're doing internal work and then supporting externally, and we are learning more about that community, and then servicing that community. We do have our financial professionals that also have a program that supports children with special needs, and a whole wealth of information and knowledge on financial products that we do. We partner with the American College as being a thought leader, and they actually are a college that supports financial professionals. And so we sit on that committee to really raise our voices and really share in what we can do more of. And so all of that, I think, we really have been intentional. This work has been started at least since 2019, it's been a four-year, five-year journey. We're still trying to figure out how do we do more.


    Our ultimate goal is to become an employer of choice for people with disabilities, giving them the types of jobs that will allow them to build wealth. And so we are now, again, looking to do more, but last year, this was our second year of doing an ESG report. We felt with the work that we did internally, and the work that we have going on externally, we could actually promote this in our ESG report. And so in July of this year, our 2022 report was released. And you will see that disability is included in that from a workforce standpoint, and that's what we're really focusing on. So we're excited to continue the work, we have done, again, volunteerism. We've done sponsorships, we've done grants. We're really trying to do the work in the right way, and we feel that the way that we do this is by partnering internally with our allies, also our people with disabilities, and then understanding our audience externally by partnering with those that are in our local community. And so more to come, but we are excited.


    We're still challenging ourselves to do more, so I hope that helps. And again, it's a journey, and we will continue.

    Donna Thomson (46:12):

    That's lovely, Marcia. Thank you so much. It's great to hear about the real life examples at MassMutual, and I think often, we do find that businesses are unsure where to start to make that difference. And interestingly, all three of you mentioned the part of storytelling, and how encouraging it really is to hear personal stories told by our colleagues. And I think also from our leadership as well, it really helps to open up the door to educating and understanding how we all think differently, and all bring different things to the table. And that really does encourage the out of the box thinking and the innovation that we all need in our businesses today. But look, that really brings us to the end of the session, I can't believe it. A massive thank you to Jill, Diane, and Marcia for sharing their experiences and expertise. I hope that we've inspired you and given you some insights into how you can strengthen inclusion in your own workplace while driving change for society as a whole. If you have any questions for our speakers, drop them into the main chat, and we'll get back to you shortly.


    And if you'd like to share any of the learnings from this session with your social followers, we'd love you to include the festival hashtag, and that is #TexthelpFest23. Now up next, we have a session on universal design, and why it should become your new approach to improving the employee experience. So you can head over there now by clicking on the live tab at the top of your screen, we hope you enjoy the rest of the festival and it's goodbye from us.

    Jill Houghton (47:43):

    Thank you.

    Marcia Dukes (47:44):

    Thank you. Bye.

    Jill Houghton (47:44):


How does Universal Design improve the employee experience?

A session with Prof. Amanda Kirby, Founder and CEO, Do-IT Solutions, Nancy Doyle, Chief Research Officer, Genius Within, and Jason Carroll, Chief Product Officer, Texthelp

Session details and slides

  • Universal Design makes sure that products and environments are usable to all people, by design. Educators have long adopted this concept, creating classrooms where learners with diverse abilities can work together side by side. They're provided with multiple means of perceiving, comprehending and expressing their learning. 

    In this session, we explore how this mindset can create more flexible work environments where everyone’s potential can shine. Gain key actions that’ll empower your employees to work how they do best - for today’s workforce and the next.

  • Jason Carroll, Chief Product Officer, Texthelp:

    Welcome to today's session where we'll be exploring the concept of Universal Design and how to use this mindset to improve employee experience in the workplace. Hi, I'm Jason Carroll. I'm the Chief Product officer here at Texthelp. I have short brown hair, a male. I'm five nine on a good day and happy to be here. So as the CPO I set the strategy and direction for all Texthelp products.

    And as a previous assistive and instructional technology consultant, I live inclusion and Universal Design every day here at Texthelp. So I am super excited about this session today. I'm most excited to be joined by two true experts in our field. We have Amanda Kirby, who is the founder and CEO of Do-It Solutions, and Nancy Doyle, she's the Chief Research Officer of Genius Within. So welcome all. It is great to have you here today.

    Over the next hour you'll hear from both of our guests and myself as we each present on the topic. So kicking us off is Amanda Kirby who will be sharing what is Universal Design for work. So Amanda couldn't make it today in person, but she has recorded her presentation for us. So I'll pass that over to Amanda now. 

    Amanda Kirby:

    Hello, my name's Professor Amanda Kirby, and in the next few minutes I'm going to talk to you about universal design to personalization in the workplace. I've done a lot of work in this field and published books in neurodiversity at work and in education and being part of the guidelines for working places and spaces. I'm interested to speak with you today.

    The aims of this presentation are that we're all neurodiverse, but some people are neurodivergent and vary from the expected social norms. I'll come back to that. We all have spiky, different profiles, and it's people that don't need fixing, but the environment and the people around us sometimes need changes to attitudes, place, processes, and I'll go into that in a bit more detail.

    So, the environment we're in and the people we work with make all the difference to success, productivity, and wellbeing, and I'm going to give you five ways to embed universal design principles effectively in the workplace.

    But who's really normal? What is typical? "Normal," as Jody Foster said, "is not something to aspire to, it's something to get away from." And if we try to design systems which are for the average or the normal person, who's being left out of that all the time?

    What does average really mean? If we look at the average age to walk as 11 to 13 months, I was 22 months when I started walking. Einstein didn't talk in full sentences until he was five years. If you look at this map across the world, you can see the varying average heights for men in different countries born in 1980. What does average mean?

    We often design our environments by these ridged specifications for this average mythical person. And if you are like me, relatively not very tall, then kitchens are always at the wrong height, for example, and they're designed for men of a certain height. And you start to see that, in our population, we've got one in three people are shortsighted. One in 12 males are colorblind, 10% of people in the UK write with their left hand. You start to say, what is average and who is actually average?

    So, education's been focused on the past on ensuring average standards, average approaches. We've done industrial type learning. Workplaces have often had standardized recruitment processes in the same way.

    So, society favors those who do things in a certain way that fits in the way that society does them. But, by having these rigid approaches, we miss out on those people who do things differently from the norm.

    So, what is neurodiversity? Neurodiversity is the different ways we all think, move, act, process information, and communicate differently. So, neurodiversity isn't a thing, it's not a trait or a condition. It's the variable ways that we all do this. We've got billions of brain cells connecting in billions of different ways. So, it's not a surprise that we do things differently. But what it means when society's got this rigid structure, 15 to 20% of people who do things differently from that social norm are excluded from workplaces or can't optimize their talents, or we create barriers to their potential success.

    So, when we're talking about neurotypical and neurodivergent, actually, sometimes, we're diverging a way where we've got those magic skills, talents that we want for the workplace and are really important today. Those people are being excluded because of our systems and processes, not because of the people, and I think that's really important.

    And what we can see is that employment is changing, now faster than ever. There are new jobs that weren't there five years ago, like drone traffic optimizers, earthquake forecasters, algorithm bias auditors. And, from the World Economic Forum, this year, earlier this year, there was a report about the future of jobs showing that analytical thinking, creative thinking remain the most important skills for workers in 2023. So, we need to capture those neurodivergent thinkers.

    The other thing is carrot or stick. We can see increases in employment tribunals, increases going to court where organizations have not made anticipatory adjustments, even when somebody doesn't have a diagnosis or doesn't have a named medical condition, and this drives us to think, we need to be having universal design principles in the workplace to put the person at the greatest advantage and not to disadvantage organizations, as well.

    So, what are universal design principles? Well, they come from UDL Principles for Learning, and it's not about fixing the person. It's based on three primary principles. Why engage, what do we do to engage, and how do we make the environment work for all? And what are we doing to measure that effectiveness as well?

    So, we have to start by inclusive but equitable approaches, recognizing that doesn't mean equal, it means not the same for all. We need to start creating common languages between agencies. So, we're talking and describing the same things. That helps a lot and stops confusion. We need to be anticipatory in our approaches and we really need to be thinking about that inclusive training for senior leadership and managers. Rather than using the medical model, you have to have it to get it, and if you can't get it or you don't know you've got it, then you can't get anything.

    So, there are key advantages for utilizing universal design principles. A broader talent pool, increased productivity and better team cohesion. Actually, we get better communication within teams because we understand each other better. Better creativity, because you're allowing people who've got novel solutions to thrive, and also the ones you've already got in your organization. Legal compliance, good for your reputation and employee satisfaction and retention, and we've got this talent drain and talent problem at the moment.

    So, we've seen there's good evidence to show that when we think about universal design and we think about the environment, we can really have an impact on people's productivity. There've been 11 studies showing the relationship between environmental factors or sensory adjustments and various performance-related outcomes. We've got some evidence to show doing this has an impact. We've got eight studies reporting a relationship between enhanced performance and environmental modifications, and they can be really low cost, low tech. It could be about thinking about lighting, ambient noise, dampening sound. It can be, think about expanding your desk size or having up-down desks so people could vary the height accordingly if they need to. Having quiet spaces, if that's appropriate. Thinking about traffic, design of buildings, as well, and thinking about how open plan offices can affect different people.

    So, go away and think about what's your ecology, and, I think we've got to think about universal design. We can't separate out for some people, we need personalization, but the big key is, the environment and the tasks that we're being asked to do have an effect on that individual. So, this is an integrated approach. Adjustments can be time, tasks, space, place, tools, process, training, and people. There's lots of things we can do, and many of them are low cost and some of them are to do with attitude about communication, about having regular check-ins, to check that something's changing. People, place, tasks. What adjustments do we need? And we need that approach for everybody, not just for those people. Universal design is about thinking about, we all might need adjustments at different times of the day and our work and over our lifespan. So, we need to be thinking about what makes us perform at our best.

    So, think about this: task, individual, and environment. We often think about what we need to do for them, but actually, thinking about what we do for us and universal design principles means it is much more useful because it's useful for those people who have a diagnosis of X. Those people who don't know they've got a diagnosis of XX, or don't want that, can't get access to it. There's lots of reasons why somebody may not be coming forward and saying, "I've got X or Y." And really, the honest truth is giving adjustments by diagnosis doesn't describe the person in the context of their lives and where they live either. So, this is a much more universal approach to be person centered and not label-led.

    There's some good papers. This were by Almuth McDowall's group, looking at the physical workplace adjustments to support neuro divergent workers. And, I was very proud to be part of the BSI guidelines that came out for Design for the Mind and the Built Environment, too, and I've got links to those resources if you want to know more.

    Last year, we brought out the neurodiversity index. This was the first index that sought with City and Guilds. We've got great news because we're going to be doing the year two bigger and better. And, at that time, we were asked about senior leadership having any specific training for neurodiversity in the last 12 months, and 29% yes. We want to see if that's changed. And we also asked managers and HR managers, as well. This is important, because if we want to get buy-in, we need to start at the top. We need to affect managers. We need to be creating that ecosystem.

    So, what are the five approaches to universal design for the workplace? Commit to accessibility and inclusion for all, and it means that we ensure adjustments are available in a stigma-free environment. You don't need to have that ticket to get the adjustments that you require. One size fits all policies rarely accommodate everyone's needs, so, we need to be recognizing that flexibility. People have life experiences, they have things going on at home, things change. You may become physically unwell. There are lots of reasons why we might need to make adjustments throughout somebody's work life. Inclusive communication. I really think this is important. This is about two-way feedback. The more we understand each other, the more we are going to get better outcomes. Really thinking about sensory-friendly considerations. So, that is about creating inclusive workplaces and meetings as well. And then, ongoing education. This isn't just for today, it's not just a great awareness, off we go, but it should be a cycle of practice, which is measuring our outcomes and seeing how we can improve. So, constantly improving to ensure that we're becoming a more universal workplace.

    Bought out a couple of books this year, Neurodiversity and Education, last year Neurodiversity at Work which won an award we're very proud of, and we've got another book coming out with Theo next year. So, really excited. We'll launch that soon.

    So, thank you very much for listening to me today, and some links for further reading if you want that.

    Jason Carroll, Chief Product Officer, Texthelp:

    Okay, that's great. Fantastic words of wisdom there from Amanda. I personally really liked the part early on where she was talking about what is average. And we've had this discussion several times.

    I recall a UDL session I was actually at, where they were describing at one time when the Air force was trying to design the cockpit for a new fighter jet and so they went around and measured every pilot that was in the Air Force so they could make the perfect seating arrangement inside of the cockpit. And then what happens when you measure and then you put the average size seat in, it ends up not working for anyone.

    So they obviously had to go and change the seating arrangement for there, but that rang true during some of her presentation. So anyway, now it's time to hear from Nancy and I know I'm excited to hear about all the work and research that she has been doing this year into Universal Design and the topic of neurodiversity. So having said that, over to you Nancy. I will stop sharing my screen and then leave it to you.

    Nancy Doyle, Chief Research Officer, Genius Within:

    Thank you, Jason. And hi, everybody. Lovely to be here. So I'm Professor Nancy Doyle. I have short brown hair and I'm wearing a black blazer with a red top underneath and I identify as she/her. I'm going to share my slides now, she says confidently, and we will talk through how we can apply the concept of Universal Design to human resources. So I was introduced to Universal Design with the kind of tech development, user experience or UX industry.

    And just to remind, there are seven principles of Universal Design. Number one, perceptible information. Number two, equitable use. Three, low physical effort. Four, simple and intuitive use. And please, please can tech designers remember this. Five is tolerance for, a big plea as an ADHDer that this is used. Flexibility in use and size and space for approach. And in human resource and management science, we talk about the employee life cycle, which we also think of as having six key stages.

    So we look at designing of jobs, so how do we design jobs so that they can be delivered by people who might be non average, which as my colleague has already said here, average is kind of designed for no one. How do we look at hiring programs and recruitment and selection, the contracting that we do when somebody starts work? And by that I don't just mean the kind of written contract with your terms and conditions of employment. I mean the psychological contract as well and the expectations that people have about their role.

    We also look at training and ongoing talent management and how people progress within an organization, how we review performance and how we maintain wellbeing in our workspaces. So some of the research that I've been doing with, I've got two hats I founded and I am the Chief Research Officer for Genius Within, but I also am the co-director of the Center for Neurodiversity at Work at Birkbeck College in the University of London.

    And something we've been looking at a lot over the last couple of years is how do we create a synergy between these principles of Universal Design and the employee lifecycle? So I'm just going to roll you through each of these six stages and give you some ideas, some strategies of how we could kind of implement the principles of Universal Design in each. So when we're designing jobs, we need to focus on avoiding structural exclusion by focusing on the performance of the job, the output rather than the input.

    So some ideas is we could use role descriptions in an accessible format using multisensory adjustable text size, background, printable, editable, language to be behavioral and output driven, avoiding nuance and interpretation such as influencing skills. What does influencing skills even mean? How you influence is very dependent on your neuro type, but also your gender, your culture, your age.

    We ensure equitable use by focusing on the performance of the job rather than how the job is done. So we think about has someone met their targets? Have they delivered the work rather than how many hours they spent sat at a desk? We think about simple and intuitive use. So over time roles tend to creep and become overlaid with sometimes inconsistent responsibilities. This can be really difficult for neurodivergent people.

    If there's ambiguity, it can sometimes put us into a bit of an overwhelm, and so when we design jobs that have very clear behavioral outputs and we also kind of make sure that we constantly go back to that design and review it, that's very helpful. We can also look at tolerance for error and ensure that safety and risk and client facing deliverables have second checks. We can craft roles for specialists as well as generalists.

    For example, when we have senior strategic roles, do they always have to come with supervision responsibilities or can we lose supervision responsibilities so that we get really good strategic thinkers at the leadership table without burdening them with kind of management, bureaucracy and admin? We look at the size and space for approach for roles and similarly to previous, we look at specialist input into the design of workspaces and allow flexibility or compromise and shifts in attendance on busy work sites.

    We think about low physical effort and we have to really understand the additional burden on commuting and busy workspaces For neuro minorities, this can sometimes cause physical pain and extreme fatigue leading to poor performance. Now when we look at hiring, I mean, hiring gets a lot of attention in the research. It's almost like the whole of neurodiversity research at work is really focused on hiring and getting people into jobs.

    So I'm going to go through this one quite quickly because I think there's quite a lot of information out there already. We need to look at the application process and how easy it is to get the information you need about where the interviews are. If there are interviews, what's going to happen, how you fill in forms online. Equitable use, I think this is really important.

    Using work sample tests to measure performance in the actual role rather than the kind of social expectation loaded interviews or proxy measures such as timed intelligence tests. These are sometimes particularly difficult for neurodivergent people. When we have flexibility in use in the hiring process, we can offer a menu of adjustments as standard which signals that organizations intend to be welcoming of difference.

    When we invite candidates to contact recruiters, we can actually say to them right then, "Here's a list of adjustments that we've provided in the past. Would these be of help to you?" And our research shows that when you offer a list of, a menu of adjustments that gives a subtle signal that you are genuine rather than that question, "Are you disabled? If so, contact." Just don't even ask, "Are you disabled?"

    "These are some adjustments we've provided in the past, would these be useful for you?" When we look at simple and intuitive use in the hiring process, we think about clear instructions on how to complete application forms, making sure they've been tested and that they work and that they've got that, all of that kind of ease of click this button there, it's quite simple of how to get through it.

    Tolerance for error as well. I nearly went there already because it's so important. When you've got those online application forms but you don't let candidates go back and forth and change things and check things before they submit, that's really important. We can encourage applicants to pause or take breaks in interviews if they need them. We can be clear on directions and login details. Many neuro minorities have significant impairments in way finding in actually being on time to a location because they've got lost on the way.

    So don't penalize this specifically. When we think about the size and space for approach when we're hiring, match the hiring environment to the job performance so that you can assess in the right context. With a little caveat though, that there should be a bit of a quiet environment for preparation so that we can kind of reduce sensory overwhelm and anxiety for neuro minorities.

    We want to ensure low physical efforts so we could provide assistive technology or materials in formats that are compatible with assistive technology and consider the timing of interviews offering flexibility around location and the need to commute in rush hour. Next we come onto contracting and we think about perceptible information, the principle of perceptible information. We need to understand the additional needs for the psychological contract.

    What might seem obvious might need to be explicit to avoid misunderstandings, multisensory options for policy and compliance are obviously good here, so a safeguarding video rather than a long policy to read. Having a written contract that's accessible and even maybe having a couple of debrief sessions so that people really understand what's required of them and giving them that opportunity to ask questions.

    When we think about equitable use and we're contracting with people, is there a possibility of remote working, flexible hours and general reduction in commuting obligations? Commuting is really a sensory overwhelm and since so many neuro minorities have sensory sensitivity, this is a really important adjustment and something that you should contract from the start rather than waiting for people to fail, be really stressed and get overwhelmed and then thinking, "Oh, I wonder if we could have offered an early start and an early finish. That might have helped all along."

    Offer it straight up front at the contracting process. Thinking about simple and intuitive use, have well laid out terms and conditions and signpost to relevant policies and procedures with covering notes. Use a Flesch-Kincaid score to assess language accessibility. This is one of the optional advanced functions in a Microsoft Word document. You can look at readability statistics and find out what the average reading age is of the document that you are providing and the rule of thumb is to go to it for a reading age of 11.

    That's what's considered most accessible. We also need to think about providing flexible options for standard systems such as how frequent supervision and feedback is, which may need to be increased during onboarding for some neuro minorities because people aren't always sure what the rules are of the organization.

    We can reduce physical effort by creating as much time as possible for reviewing and completing the contracting process to avoid slow processing speed anxiety, and we can think about the size and space of our approach, defined location of a workstation rather than hot desking. Provision of dual monitors, sit stand desks and acoustic barriers are standard options and these can be added to contracts. And with tolerance for error, standard contract process can be reviewed verbally as I've already said.

    The more opportunity you give to ask questions and do exchanges of expectations at an early stage, the better the employment relationship will go. When you're training in the workplace, again, simple and intuitive use, consistency of formatting and training scheduling rather than things popping up all over the time. Have a kind of calendar, have a menu and a that people can really plan in advance and book training for when they're at their best.

    We can allow for an adjustable pace in a learning program. So if you've got online e-learning, make sure that it's got the ability to go faster or slower. As an ADHDer, I can't really process video content unless I can speed it up to at least 1.5 and I know other people who much prefer it at sort of 0.75. And you can allow additional time and preparation for post training testing.

    We can ensure that we have equitable use by having access to standard training through best practice in preparation and delivery for all house, in-house provision as the details are showing. We can have materials that include an accessible written pack, an opportunity for discussion, reflection, and action before the completion of the training.

    We need to set a tone when we're training that has tolerance for error, permission for silly questions and create an environment of positive regard. And we need to permit multiple attempts at knowledge tests and allow practice tests. We need to make sure that assistive technology is built into training programs that we use and use and have regular comfort breaks so that people who need to move can move and people who need quiet to decompress can have quiet to decompress.

    We can have flexibility around onsite versus remote delivery and just bear in mind that that will be different. Not all neuro minorities are the same. As an ADHDer, I much prefer onsite. I find it really hard to engage electronically, but for other neurotype such as autistic people or people who are dyspraxic and find getting lost easy that it might be better to have remote options as well. So it's the flexibility around those options that really make it neuro inclusive.

    When we're thinking about reviewing performance, oh my goodness, this is the worst thing for most managers and the worst things for most employees. Researchers far back as the nineties was concluding after several decades of little pilot studies and single studies that actually performance review has more chance of demotivating than it does of motivating, which is really counterproductive. And so we've really need to think about how we do performance review for all.

    So I'm going to tell you what we should do for neuro minorities, but genuinely this is for everybody. So think about the provision of personal performance training as a standard company offer. For example, time management planning, prioritizing these performance issues are common to neuro minorities, but they are so relevant to everybody. When you do performance review, have a simple intuitive use, have a standard format for assessing and reporting performance that is consistent across all people and that's communicated clearly in advance so that people know what they're being assessed against.

    You can permit mentors in performance reviews if people are anxious. Allow them to bring someone with them. You can provide feedback and written in advance too so that people have a chance to reflect and think rather than being put on the spot. When you're scoring appraisals you can avoid penalizing. When employees are particularly brilliant at one thing or two things or three things, but they've got a couple of things that don't work so much, be flexible about that rather than expecting everybody to get to a kind of B or C grade.

    Allow people to have three things that they're A's at, that they get A's at and a couple of things that they get D'S at without that affecting their overall score. Particularly if performance is linked to pay, which by the way almost always serves to demotivate because there's so many perceptions of what's fair and unfair.

    I think investment banking is the only industry in which performance related pay motivates people to produce more work. In all other industries, it's the other way around. So when we're thinking about perceptible information and performance review, we need feedback to be factual and not interpretive. So don't say things like, "Oh, you were really confident," be accurate. You stood up, you made reference to everyone in the room, you had a smile on your face and from that I interpreted that you were confident.

    I think people need specific training about how to give and receive feedback. Supervisors really struggle with this. They struggle to be accurate, they struggle to deliver constructive or developmental feedback. And when they say things like, "Oh, you were really confident," the person receiving that information has to go away and think, "Well, what did they mean by confident? What was it I did? Or maybe it was because I spoke really loudly."

    And actually that wasn't it. It was because you didn't just speak to one person in the room, you spoke to everybody and you moved your body around and kind of delivered the information widely. So be specific in your feedback. You can reduce physical effort for neuro minorities when giving feedback by providing breaks actually. And particularly when you've given a lot of information people need time to process.

    You need to conduct performance reviews in a friendly location, in a quiet, calm environment with sufficient notice of who will be present and what's going to happen as a result of the performance review. Again, my caveat, please not pay. Honestly, organizational psychologists have known this for decades. I remember learning it in my master's degree when I was in my twenties and yet still people think performance related pay is somehow going to improve productivity. With tolerance for error I would allow for appeal or negotiation where performance ratings have resulted from misunderstandings.

    So don't have systems where you enter it all in advance and then you can't change it once you've had a chat to somebody. Those really aren't going to work. When we're thinking about wellbeing for neuro minorities at work, we need to really think about it being specific for neuro minorities. Some recent research that we did at the Center of Neurodiversity at Work, which is actually on our website, you can download it for free, we found that wellbeing coaching was the most common form of coaching provided, but it was also one of the least rated.

    People aren't enjoying the wellbeing coaching that they're getting when they're neuro minorities because the sort of standard approaches that we give to managing anxiety and calm aren't helpful if the reason that you're stressed is because your processing speed is low or your sensory sensitivity means you can't concentrate in the office.

    Thinking about your happy place and doing some mindfulness isn't going to solve your problem if you have a working memory deficit and you need assistive technology. You need assistive technology. So if you're providing wellbeing support and you have neuro minority staff, which almost every business does because we are 15 to 20 percent of the population, think about whether that wellbeing provision is neurodiversity affirmative. And that means incorporating specialists because the standard advice isn't always appropriate for neuro minorities.

    We can ensure equitable use by having a variety of wellbeing initiatives including physical health as equal to mental health, building access to wellbeing supports into standard onboarding and reviewing protocols so that it's available. We can have simple intuitive use, we can be very well advertised in terms of how we do wellbeing initiatives. If people need to be referred to EAP, which stands for Employee Assistance Programs, we can do this in a simple step-by-step format.

    We can be transparent about the purpose of wellbeing initiatives, ensuring that it's perceived as optional rather than mandated acquiescence. Many neuro minority people have had negative experiences with mental health practice, particularly when they weren't diagnosed. And so sometimes people have a reaction to being told, "You need to go for some counseling" or "Have you tried going for some counseling?"

    It almost sometimes feels like you're saying to us, "You're broken and you need fixing" when actually what we need is a headset and some assistive technology or a sit stand desk or the ability to work from home on Fridays. It's kind of gaslighty. So thinking about when you have got good wellbeing provision in place, making sure that the support is accessible, that you can go there without too much travel, that there's remote options and that they meet multisensory design and assistive technology compatible standards.

    And that you can maybe offer app versions, video, phone, face-to-face and avoid reliance on a single delivery method. You can also create feedback loops for employees to submit their experiences both negative and positive to ensure that employee voice is captured and acted upon. And I think that's the best way to make sure that your wellbeing provision is neurodiversity affirmative.

    So I hope that was really useful and I think one of the things we have to remember about neuro minorities is that we're spiky. There are things that we do well and there are things that we struggle with. I'm just showing you my own spiky profile from the GeniusFinder needs assessment tool. And what you'll see is that I find numeracy very easy. It doesn't take me any effort at all to do management accounts and financial reporting.

    I'm quite creative, but I have quite a high sensory burden at work and so I need that peace and quiet and I'm not particularly good at self-organizing. And so this spiky profile is why when we think about employees and we think about Universal Design, the most resounding message I can give to you is plan for specialists in your business as we don't want jacks of all trades. Imagine if everyone in the world got a C or a B in everything that they did. The human race would be very boring and nothing would ever get done.

    So you have specialists, allow them to be specialists, craft their roles around the things that they do well. In my leadership team we have a balance of specialists. So one of my colleagues, Fiona Barrett, who's our Chief Operating Officer is in organizing and she's got a great memory and so she balances off some of the things that I can't do. I might be more insightful than her in terms of finding the holes in a set of management accounts, but she'll have planned the meeting that have got us to that conversation.

    So it's all about balance. And when you think about Universal Design as well, you can think about kind of assessing across the whole business. So something we do at Genius Within with our GeniusFinder is we look at aggregate scores. So I'm now showing you Genius Within's spiky profile and what you can see is compared to mine, it's a lot more balanced. But what you will also see is that for the company as a whole, we're generally quite low in sensory needs.

    We don't have anybody that's really strong at managing sensory overwhelm at work. And so as a result, we have a really flexible homeworking policy and we really plan and think about that. So when you've got this sort of team aggregate profile and you've worked out what your team's strengths and weaknesses are, you can predict where the challenges are coming from. And so you can build these things into your human resource management strategy as preventative rather than reactive measures.

    So rather than waiting for someone to struggle, you can plan what's going to happen in advance. So here you can see that we need to plan for sensory needs and we need to really think about the size and space of use when people are at work. That's the Universal Design principle that's really important for us. So if you want to have a find out more about anything that we do at Genius Within, please do go and have a little look at our website.

    And also, I'm getting used to this because this is my first book that I've ever written, but I've written a book with my lovely colleague, Almuth McDowall from Birkbeck University of London around coaching, which is written for neurodiversity coaches, but also for managers who want to take a proactive coaching approach to how they implement Universal Design for their teams at work. So I hope that was interesting and I'd just like to leave you with the thought that Universal Design promotes inclusion, which is a moral, social and economic imperative and that we all lose when diverse human potential is squandered. Thank you very much for listening.

    Jason Carroll, Chief Product Officer, Texthelp:

    That's great. Thank you so much, Nancy. I jotted several notes down. First of all, congrats on the book. That's great. I look forward to checking that out. And I also want to check out the spiky profile for my team as well that I already see places to where our team would be at different places on it. So that's great. So very good-

    Nancy Doyle, Chief Research Officer, Genius Within:

    It makes the most sense when you have the team profile because when you have the team profile, you can see what's missing. And the other thing that we did the first time we did the team team spiky profile of Genius Within, we realized how few people we had that were good at self-organizing. And so we instantly hired a project manager and two admin staff to support some of our senior leadership team. And it made an instant difference. We were thinking, "Well, we could put in more training and more coaching for ourselves, or we could just bring people in who this is their natural genius within, and then they just immediately add value."

    Jason Carroll, Chief Product Officer, Texthelp:

    It's an interesting recruiting tool if you think about it that way, right? To-

    Nancy Doyle, Chief Research Officer, Genius Within:


    Jason Carroll, Chief Product Officer, Texthelp:

    See how can you fill holes that you have. That's great. I made several notes on that. I always think about the design and Universal Design. You talked a lot about the working spaces and how you set it up. I think those are very practical things that workplaces can take away and make a really immediate difference. We do some stuff with readability with some of our tools that totally makes sense to me. I see apps about, "Oh, increase your kind of language skills" and you start using all these jargon words, and then I'm like, "Well, nobody understands when you do that." So yeah.

    Nancy Doyle, Chief Research Officer, Genius Within:

    We've done some exercises at Genius Within where we've made our diagnostic assessment templates at a reading level of age 11. Because when I came into psychology, it always seemed really counterproductive to me that we were diagnosing people with conditions like dyslexia where they struggle to read, and then writing reports that you need a master's degree in psychology to understand. How disempowering is that to get a report that's been written about you that essentially says, "Here's some stuff you can't do, and by the way, you're too stupid to read it." It just instantly makes you feel stupid.

    And we just thought that that's... We know that dyslexic people are visual thinkers. Why are we putting all of these numbers of their scores into paragraphs of text? Why haven't we got graphs and spider chart diagrams to explain the concepts of what we're measuring? And so we went through all of our templates and made them Flesch-Kincaid level reading age 11, and really work on the language that we're pitching to when we are writing reports on our clients. And I think it's made a real difference to the experience that people have. We regularly evaluate, one of the questions we ask is, "Did you understand your report?" And the answer is 90%, yes. And that for me-

    Jason Carroll, Chief Product Officer, Texthelp:

    That's great.

    Nancy Doyle, Chief Research Officer, Genius Within:

    Well, it's great. Yeah. When I was coaching in this field early on, I used to have people come to me for coaching so that I could decode their report for them. And I just thought to myself, "That's a waste of money." You paid for that report, you should be able to go to the person who wrote it and get them to decode it for you. And also why are they writing it in a way that you can't understand?" That just blew my mind.

    Jason Carroll, Chief Product Officer, Texthelp:

    Right. No, that's very good. We do similar things on any message we send out on our website, all that sort of stuff. We always monitor it. And I mean, the thing I like about it, which is the Universal Design part, right? Is it benefits everyone. Who couldn't benefit from having very easy to understand policies and procedures, it's just [inaudible 00:29:42]

    Nancy Doyle, Chief Research Officer, Genius Within:

    Totally. Totally. Yeah. And particularly when you're a psychologist, you've been trained to speak in mumbo jumbo, so you have to kind of go back to normal.

    Jason Carroll, Chief Product Officer, Texthelp:

    Yeah. Well, you paid for that degree, so you need to use the terminology, right?

    Nancy Doyle, Chief Research Officer, Genius Within:

    You also need to know when to not use it.

    Jason Carroll, Chief Product Officer, Texthelp:

    Yes, you're exactly right. So hey, I really appreciate that. And you also mentioned assistive technology in there at some point, which is a really nice transition to many of the things we do at Texthelp. So I'll kick that off. I've already introduced myself. Again, that was great information. I'm just going to continue on with that. When we think about Universal Design, we think about it in the same way that Nancy, that you do and that Amanda referenced as well.

    But we create technology and the idea is we create that technology to help everyone understand and to be understood. We have several products. Today, I'll get into a little bit of detail about kind of our flagship Read&Write product that's used often in the workplace, but I'll just give you kind of a general overview in some of the things that we do to help. So basically what I've already said is everyone has the right to understand and to be understood.

    Every company has their mission and their purpose. This is us, this is Texthelp's why. This is why we exist, is to make sure that people can understand and be understood. But we know that everyone's brain works differently. One in five people, which has been referenced a couple of times, around 20% of people have a neurodivergent condition. And when I say that, I mean things, that it includes things like attention deficit disorders, autism, dyslexia, dyspraxia, and so on.

    Just some stats to go along with this. It matches up with things that have been said earlier, but over half of US adults, which I'm based in the US, are reading below the sixth grade level and as many as one in four UK adults experience challenges due to low literacy and English as a second language as well. In the US, 67 million people. So that's over 20% of people in the US speak English as a second language.

    And in the UK, nearly 8% of all people speak English as a second language. So at Texthelp, we believe that technology is a powerful tool that can help create a more equitable world. We're leading the way in harnessing the power of inclusive technology for inclusion, and that's what we do day in and day out. So just a little bit about Texthelp. Texthelp is a global company. We are headquartered in Northern Ireland outside of Belfast.

    We've been around since 1996, so quite a while. We have over, geez, we've supported over 200 million users. That says 200 plus, but that should be 200 million plus users. And we have over 350 Texthelpers, our team across the globe. We have office outside of Boston, in the US, office in the UK in Preston. In the Nordics, we have offices in Copenhagen, in Malmö, [inaudible 00:32:31] and also up in Trondheim in Norway. And of course, let's not forget our friends in Brisbane, in sunny Australia.

    So what we do is we strive to support people with our technology, and we do that in several ways. I've already mentioned our products, but one of the things we do is a little bit different. We're not a platform that you go into every day or anything like that. Our goal is to work where you work. So we provide tools that can help you with reading and writing and studying and learning and so forth. And we do that where you're at.

    So if you're on a Windows machine or if you're on a Chromebook or an Android or an iOS or something like that, we'll provide tools that work not only where you're working but with whatever it is you're working with. So if you're working in slides like I spend much of my day in, we make tools that work there as well as Word or docs or anywhere else. So what you're looking at on the screen is an image of Read&Write and Read&Write is a literacy support toolbar.

    I'll tell you a little bit about some of the features later. But as you can see, it is a toolbar and it sits over top of your screen or on the left or the right or the top or wherever you would like to put it. You can customize any of the options that are on there, but it's just there to provide those assistive supports whenever you may need. I mean, if I had to define it, Read&Write's an inclusion tool, and it does support newer diversion employees, multilingual teams, anyone who may find everyday literacy task a challenge.

    As I mentioned, it's a powerful set of tools. Looks over reading and writing, lots of research tools, things like that as well. I think anyone that gives it a go will find there's something on there that can support them in the tasks that they are expected to do on a daily basis. We are used and trusted by companies all over the world, just a few that are listed here, KPMG, Network Rail, EY as well. That's one of many, including Amazon and so on.

    And when you look at the tools, how they were built, again, been around since 1996, the toolbar was much smaller at that time. And as you can imagine, as more needs arose, we would add more functionality on that based on users needs. So the tools are designed with the needs of all of the users that use the products and the features are there to empower all people to fulfill their potential across areas of work, whether that be in reading or writing, research, translation and so on. All of this could be personalized.

    Everyone is different, so if they need certain tools or need those tools to work in different ways or need things to be different sizes or colors or so on, all that stuff can be personalized and customized for you. And then of course it wouldn't be all that useful if it was not simple and intuitive to use. Some stats that go around with that, just Read&Write alone to date, it's used by 50 million people worldwide. So that's a very big number and one we're very proud of. In the last year alone are text to speech feature was used seven million times.

    Screen masking, again, a very common feature used very often and a screenshot reader. I think there's actually a demo videos in this that everyone will have access to, but unfortunately you'll find much content you come across online in PDFs and so on are just not accessible, right? They're like image-based things like that. Screenshot reader's a little tool where you can draw a box around any text and it will read that out loud in your language and so on.

    So that is also quite a popular tool mainly because there's so much inaccessible content out there, which is unfortunate. But our goal is to help people reach their full potential in work every day. So I have a, there's as mentioned, a lot of people use Read&Write, I have a couple of videos. They will not take much time, but I just think it's important to hear from some real users. We have Talinder who used this and was so stressed all the time at work, but then started using Read&Write and she made a very short video for us just to show.


    When I was introduced to Read&Write, I had to play around with the tools and I customized it to make it work for me. But I have to say it's very user-friendly and it literally changed my working life for the better. My land manager noticed that my productivity went through the roof. I just felt less stressed, this huge sort of relief that it just gave me confidence that I can do my job and I deserved to be in this position.

    Jason Carroll, Chief Product Officer, Texthelp:

    A very short video. I appreciate her doing that. Sorry, if I can figure out how to work my slides. And then also you'll hear from Deidre a little bit later. I've put her towards the end. Also just a short few words from her, but it really stuck out when she was speaking that she just said, "I know that if I'd had Read&Write as a child, I'd be a doctor." And it just goes to say how a lot of these supports are missing in school and the workplace.

    And the earlier we are made known that these things exist, the more of a benefit that they can provide. And I mentioned English language learners. If English is not your first language, sometimes you can struggle if you're in a place where English is the first language. And so a lot of the tools that we make will obviously help with that. And here we have Andreas who had mentioned that he uses Read&Write to read text aloud. We also make some interesting tools that are new. So we have a global workforce.

    English is not the first language for many of our employees. And when Nancy and I were talking earlier about complicated words and stuff like that, we have a little tool called Rewordify. And so you can go to any website and it can have very complex language on it, and you can click our Rewordify button and it takes any complex words and it lowers that reading level of those words to make them simpler.

    And yeah, that's useful in a lot of scenarios and that Nancy and I had discussed earlier, but it's also really useful if English is not your first language because you'll often know many common words, but when it gets to really complex words, those may not be in your English vocabulary because they're so different and not used as often. So we've found that being able to use the Rewordify tool in those scenarios have been very helpful in our communications here at Texthelp as well.

    So then how inclusive technology contributes to Universal Design working environment, and I'm going start kind of in education and how it is used there and then how that also can get moved into the workplace. I personally, I love the Universal Design movement inside of the workplace. Universal Design on its own, if you think about it from an architecture standpoint, kind of started in workplaces, right? But then when we got to the learning side of it, we sold a lot in schools and now we're seeing a lot of those learning pieces being implemented in the workplace, which I love.

    But if you think about education, many students that are leaving education as what we call expert learners, which is what we want, they have an understanding of how they work and learn best. And a lot of times it's because they have an advocate there, a teacher or some related service provider that is there to help them and help them know what supports are available.

    And so because many educational institutions are using Universal Design for Learning, we get these expert learners. And expert learners, there's some really specific things that expert learners are and that they do. They're purposeful and motivated and these things are going to translate I hope very clearly into the workplace. They're resourceful and knowledgeable and strategic and goal directed.

    And if you look at the principles of Universal Design for learning, which is engagement and representation and expression, when we think about that with expert learners, which is again what we want in the workplace, engagement allows choice, encouraging autonomy. And Nancy brought these kind of things up as well with flexible spaces and things like that when you're in the workplace and then meeting different needs.

    And representation, when we think about how we give information, we want to make sure that that information is given in ways that everyone can take and understand. Again, back to the conversation we were having earlier. And expression, just encouraging ways of working that suit each individual so they can thrive in every task. So hopefully see that kind of crossover to where we start seeing Universal Design in the workplace.

    So using the concepts of Universal Design, we can then create and empower those expert workers instead of expert learners, which to some degree expert workers and expert learners, they coexist obviously into the workplace. And then if you look then what does Texthelp do in Read&Write specifically when it comes to that, we have very specific tools when you think about Universal Design for representation and for expression. So representation, how you see content, how it's presented to you, we have text to speech, right?

    Very common. But if you're on a website, if you're in a Word document, if you're in a presentation, you can use text to speech to have that read out loud to you in a way to where it highlights each individual word. As it's read aloud, you can speed it up, you can slow it down, you can change the language, all that sort of stuff that you would expect from modern text to speech technology.

    Now when you get access to these slides, you'll see videos, you can hit play, it'll walk you through some of these things so that you can see them for yourself. The screenshot reader, I mentioned that earlier. When you have inaccessible text, which unfortunately shows up too often. The dictionary provides written words and pictorial definitions of those words, and then it'll also read those words aloud. And the ability to scan, I know we're in 2023, but we still have lots of paper documents laying around.

    So the ability to scan those and make them accessible and then use these tools is quite useful as well. When we switch to expression and being able to communicate, for example, we have built-in dictation that will work anywhere. I know many apps have their own dictation tools and stuff like that, but dictation is built in to Read&Write so that you can speak and watch as those words appear on screen. Voice notes is a very cool thing that we have.

    So imagine you're in a Word Doc and as opposed to leaving your normal comment in text, I can leave a voice note to you and really explain what I'm thinking about that area of the document as opposed to me trying to make a long comment that then you have to read and make sense of and so on. Check it is advanced spelling and grammar checking that we add in. We're doing some interesting AI stuff with that at the moment. And then word prediction.

    I know that many of you are used to word prediction because you probably have an iPhone or some smartphone and know it unfortunately doesn't always work as expected. Although Apple did release an update I think a few weeks ago that they say has helped some of that, although I'm not completely convinced. But again, that word prediction on your phone that we use every day, why would you not have that available everywhere? Right?

    And so the word prediction within Read&Write will work everywhere you're at, whether it's slides, email or Word or Google Docs or wherever it is you may be working, the word prediction will be there for you. So just getting towards the end, I did want to bring Deidre back up here because she just makes such a good point. And earlier in the video I showed you a quote and she was talking about when she was younger, how she would benefit, and then this is just her take on now in the workplace what she thinks about that. So fingers crossed that when I hit play you will be able to hear.


    And so I think that this would be a shame if people weren't introduced to this in the trust, especially new staff. I think if management knew about this app and incorporated this by introducing it to all staff and new staff that start, they understood a little bit about it. They could explain how it could help every staff member, I think.

    Jason Carroll, Chief Product Officer, Texthelp:

    Right. So it's just her take on how early and often I think is the key there to make sure that everyone is aware of this. A lot of companies we work with make this part of their onboarding and so on, just so that you know it's available. We also do a really interesting thing for workplaces that provide this to all their employees and that will also make it available for their families as well.

    So I think to wrap up, I just have this to say, look at the opportunity of design to empower everyone. And it goes back to that's from Dan Formosa and hopefully you will all take something from this and go and implement it.

    Jason Carroll, Chief Product Officer, Texthelp:

    Okay. Well that brings us to the end of the session already. A huge thank you again to Nancy and Amanda for sharing all of your experiences and expertise. I hope we have inspired you and given you some insights into how to strengthen inclusion in your own workplace. If you'd like to share your learnings from the session with your social followers, we'd love you to include the festival hashtag #TexthelpFest23. If you'd like to learn more about universal design and workplace inclusion, head over to our booths and check out all the free resources. Or, if you'd like to book a chat with one of our inclusive technology specialists, just pop the words, let's chat, into the chat box and we'll reach out to you.

    Up next, we have a session on scaling up allyship, the role of ERGs and beyond. Head over there now by clicking the live tab at the top of your screen. Enjoy the last hour of the festival everyone, and it's goodbye from us.

Scaling up allyship: the role of ERGs and beyond

A session with Ryan Graham, Chief Technology Officer and Executive Sponsor for Enable ERG, Texthelp, Christine Lydon, Co-Chair of Open DisAbility Employee Resource Group, Omnicom and Global Lead for FleishmanHillard Disability ERG, Chris Farrington, Co-Chair of Global Business Resource Group Alliance for Disabilities & Allies and Lead of Abilities in Motion Business Resource Group (US), Randstad

Session details and slides

  • The role of an ally can take many forms. As a sponsor, an amplifier of voices, a confidant, and more. Employee Resource Groups (ERGs) can help organizations champion inclusion in the most effective way. With a group of like-minded individuals working towards a united goal, ERGs can make a big impact.

    In this session we explore how to create, and make best use of, ERGs. You’ll also discover how to be the most effective ally in your role - whether you’re in the C-Suite, in middle management, or a colleague.

  • Lonna Battles (00:02):

    All right. Welcome everybody. Welcome to today's session. We're going to be exploring the role of employee resource groups in scaling up allyship and organizations. I'm Lonna Battles from Texthelp, and I am a white female with brown, shoulder-length hair wearing a dark gray Texthelp t-shirt. Joining me today is Chris... I mean, I apologize, Ryan Graham, chief technology officer at Texthelp and executive sponsor of Texthelp's Enable ERG. Christine Lydon, co-chair of Open DisAbility Employee Resource Group at Omnicom. And Chris Farrington, co-chair of Global Business Resource Group Alliance for Disabilities and Allies and Lead of Abilities and Motion Business Resource Group, US at Randstad.


    So welcome everyone. It's great to have you here today. Over the next hour you'll hear from all three of our speakers as they present on the topic. Kicking us off is Ryan, who'll be sharing what an ERG is and how they can work alongside other initiatives to further advance inclusion. But before we get started, it'd be great if each of you could say a few words to introduce yourself to the audience. So Chris, I'm going to start with you, just a few words, say who you are, et cetera. Give a description and we'll move along.

    Chris Farrington (01:32):

    Excellent. My name's Chris Farrington. I'm a white male with short brown hair and a beard. Today I'm wearing a blue button-down shirt. I live in Austin, Texas. I've been with Randstad for a total of 13 years. During my time away in between stints at Randstad, I worked for a nonprofit placing professionals with disabilities which is where I found my passion. On a daily basis my job is a solutions account executive for our Randstad digital vertical. Otherwise, my family and I love to explore the world and mostly do that through our stomachs with adventurous cuisine.

    Lonna Battles (02:18):

    Sounds great. I like that. Christine, you're up next.

    Christine Lydon (02:23):

    Hi everyone, I'm Christine Lydon. I quite frequently go by Chris, so I'll try not to react if you're talking to Chris Farrington. I'm a white female with long blonde hair, although my roots do need to be topped up. That's booked in for next week. I'm wearing a light pink bull jumper and I've got bright pink lipstick on. I am originally Irish. I've been living in London for the last 11 years with my husband and 14 year old daughter and three-year-old dog who hopefully will stay quiet during today's recording. Delighted to be here.

    Lonna Battles (03:02):

    Great. Thanks Christine. Ryan, how about you? I left you to the end since you're up on the agenda and you can go straight into your presentation once you've introduced yourself.

    Ryan Graham (03:12):

    Sounds good. Thanks Lonna. Yeah, so my name is Ryan Graham. I am the Chief Technology Officer here at Texthelp. I am a white male with short brown hair, and today I'm wearing a light blue shirt. So I've been at Texthelp for roughly about 10 years, and I look after all of our product development, our security and accessibility of our products worldwide. And I'm also the executive sponsor of our ability ERG here at Texthelp, which is for staff who are disabled or who are neurodiverse. So starting off from me then today I just want to give you a little bit of an introduction to Texthelp in case you're not familiar with what it is that we do.


    So Texthelp as a Company was founded over 20 years ago now by our current CEO Martin McKay following work that he had undertaken after his father had suffered a serious stroke. So Martin recognized the part that technology could play in helping his father overcome mobility and communication issues. And so he had an idea for a piece of technology that could really help. And from that, our flagship product Read&Write was born. Long time since then, the company has actually grown to include 375 Texthelpers from across the world. And today we have over 200 million users of our software worldwide. However, we wanted even better than that. We want to go even further.


    By 2030, we want to have helped 1 billion people across the world to read, write, and understand better. It might sound like a bit of an audacious goal, but that is our moonshot here at Texthelp. That's what we set out to achieve on a daily basis, and we absolutely believe that we can do that. So at Texthelp, we are a company and as I've mentioned, built on inclusion, but it's very well good saying that we're building inclusion, but it's really important that we practice what we preach. At Texthelp our company vision and our mission is focused on inclusion. We want to help unlock everyone's full potential through the use of inclusive technology software.


    And our mission is to strive for a world where everyone can understand and be understood. And a part of that, these are some of the things that we focus on here at Texthelp. We really focus on our transparent leadership, making sure everything is clear from the senior team the way through the organization. We really try to foster a culture of belonging as well, and I'll talk about that a little bit more whenever we go into what an ERG is and the reason that we have them. We also are very, very committed to providing diversity, equity, and inclusion training for everybody at Texthelp and on an ongoing basis. We really believe that technology can open up the doors to people and help them be the best versions of themselves.


    And that's why we believe that our technology should be rolled out across an entire organization and we share that with all of our staff and all of our staff's families too. And lastly, what we're here to talk about today, Texthelp has multiple employee resource groups, but I'm just going to talk about the one that I am the executive chair of today. So we've used the acronym already many, many times today, and we're only a couple of minutes in. What is an ERG? So in case you're not familiar with an ERG is an ERG is an employee resource group. And very simply at the fundamentals of it is a group of people who are representative of a group of employees who share particular characteristics. This group of employees are brought together to share a particular characteristic and also create allies within the organization. It should be a representative group run by employees for other employees. And the aim of an ERG is really to act as a safe place for underrepresented individuals in your organization. It's also there to raise awareness of marginalized people in your organization. And most importantly, it is there as a vehicle for meaningful change within your organization. So what are the key benefits of having an ERG? An ERG really is a very effective way to actually make a difference in your organization and create allies and like-minded individuals within your organization.


    It can really create a culture of confidence within your employees. For example, 76% of people in the workforce will actually not disclose to other people if they have a disability, for example. So whenever we're thinking about our disability and neurodivergence, ERG at Texthelp, the reason we built that was to give those people more confidence in the organization and to give them a voice that perhaps they didn't have before or they didn't think that they could have. And lastly, it really does stimulate creativity as well in their organization. ERGs can really help people to think of creative solutions to problems that are experienced by people within your organizations and help to solve those problems.


    Having individuals who really share common characteristics can really bring out the best in people and allow them to be creative in a safe and friendly environment. So whenever you're thinking about building an ERG or putting an ERG together, what are the key ingredients? What is important? And whenever I was thinking about this, I think the number one thing that stood out for me was really a clear mission for the group. A clear mission and clear objectives and a strategy to actually achieve that. You can't just put a group of people together and expect success. You need to set the parameters for those people. What is it that we want to achieve within our organization with this ERG?


    And I think a second thing that can be very helpful in ERGs is having an executive sponsor, somebody in the organization from a senior level to help you enact change in the organization. As I'd mentioned before, I'm the executive sponsor alongside one of the other SLT members at Texthelp for our disability and neurodivergent ERG here. And it's my responsibility to make sure that we do what we say we are going to do as an organization and make sure that I can help drive cultural change through the things that the ERG sets out to achieve. And lastly, an ERG really needs to have voluntary members who are really committed to making a difference in your organization.


    You really need to have allies in your organization and of course very, very critical to have people who have lived experiences within that group as well, if possible, to make sure that they are included and represented in ERG. Obviously not everybody has lived experiences and that doesn't mean you can't join an ERG. There are lots of other ways that you can be an ally for an ERG as well. For example, you could be a sponsor. A sponsor is someone who is vocally supportive of the work that your colleagues from underrepresented groups do. You could be an upstander, which is someone who sees behaviors and attempts to address them in a public forum, you could be an amplifier, someone who agrees with good behaviors and attributes credit to them, or you could be a confidant, someone who creates a sea of space for members of underrepresented groups so they can really feel free to express their feelings and their needs.


    And there are many other different roles that you can play in an ERG, but it is important to have that diversity in the group. So I'm going to talk a little bit now about our disability and neurodivergent and inclusion ERG, which at Texthelp we have called Enable. We formed this ERG I think maybe about a year ago now, maybe a little bit more. And so far we have 16 volunteer members which is a fantastic amount for an organization. Albeit as the group, the Texthelp partner we have lots of volunteers who obviously felt very, very close to the inclusion and disability cause which meant we had quite a lot of volunteers for that group. And some of the impacts we've had so far have really been fantastic for us.


    One of the first things we actually tried to tackle as a group was setting out some best practice for digital meetings. Obviously over the course of the three years and since COVID and the pandemic, we've all been forced to use technology an awful lot more in our workplace. Lots more remote calls, lots more digital documents, and that can really be a barrier for a lot of people especially whenever we're talking about people who have disabilities or people who have difficulties reading long blocks of text or people who might need subtitles, for example, whenever we're doing video recordings.


    So absolutely vital for us that we set out some best practices to ensure that we're inclusive of everyone in our digital meetings. As we're working more and more with online meetings every day, we wanted to make sure that that practice gets embedded within the organization across the board. Global Accessibility Day as well, of course, is a highlight on the calendar for our Enable ERG. We actually use events like that and days like that to really raise awareness of inclusion and the ERG itself within the organization and really bring to the forefront the work that our ERG does throughout the year.


    And originally at Texthelp we've actually scoped out designs for a refit of our offices. Our ERG came in and helped us to design those offices and helped us with the refit, making sure that they advised us on what we are missing from an accessibility point of view, things that we needed to include. The ERG was there to really help us ensure that our new office was a welcoming space for everyone. It would've been very, very difficult for Texthelp to do that without the existence of that ERG and those representative group. And from that, we have had so many courageous conversations as well in our ERG-


    We have had so many courageous conversations as well in our ERG. Just having the ERG there and having the people there has really opened up an awful lot of different behaviors for us at Texthelp. And we actually have had staff approach the co-chair of our enable group to gain advice around their disability on how to receive additional support. People in the organization are really seeing this group as a safe space for themselves to be themselves and to ask questions like that, where they might not have otherwise felt comfortable. We've also had other colleagues speaking out and questioning the way that things are done in Texthelp. For example, our ERG members are actively getting involved in what's going on with a wider business to make sure that accessibility and inclusion is being taken into consideration. Recently, we just had a global company kickoff in person, and members of the ERG had actually been reached out to make sure that the organizers there were aware of the issues of in-person events whenever it comes to physical accessibility, and that actually affected our choice of venue on the day.


    On top of those, we've also had many, many, many suggestions from the wider business on how we can make the workplace more inclusive at Texthelp, suggestions that I think would not have been heard if we didn't have our ERG in place. And as I mentioned before, our ERG is only one year old, so we are really only just getting started as a group. However, given the conversations that we've had as a group so far and seeing the outputs that we've had, having had the ERG for a year, I really genuinely believe there's so much more impact to come for Texthelp as a wider organization, directly as a result of our ERG efforts. That's everything that I have.

    Lonna Battles (17:07):

    That sounds great, Ryan. I appreciate it. Let me get back over here. So I just wanted to thank you, Ryan. It's great to hear you talk so passionately about our enable ERG. I'm personally very proud of the work that we've done with our team over the past year. I've never seen such a passionate group of people who care so much about making a difference. Speaking of inspiration, let me now pass over to Christine Lydon who will give us an overview of the mission behind Omnicom's Open Disability Group, which she co-chairs. Christine, I'm going to pass the baton over to you if you'd like to share your slides.

    Christine Lydon (17:48):

    Okay. Just trying to select a tab now.

    Lonna Battles (17:52):

    Yeah, the little square at the bottom, the arrow.

    Christine Lydon (17:58):

    Yeah, it's just showing my word document for some reason. It's not showing my... Hold on. I have my PowerPoint open.

    Lonna Battles (18:09):

    So if you hit present now-

    Christine Lydon (18:13):

    Sorry, just bear with me.

    Lonna Battles (18:14):

    Yeah, not a problem. Not a problem.

    Christine Lydon (18:24):

    Window. Ah, okay. Can you see?

    Lonna Battles (18:35):

    Yes, I can. Perfect.

    Christine Lydon (18:37):

    Okay. Amazing. So yeah, I knew the tech would get to me. So my name's Chris Lydon, and I'm a director in FleishmanHillard healthcare practice. I've been with the company for over nine years now. So today, I'm going to give a bit of a whistle stop through my own DEI journey within FleishmanHillard and Omnicom, share my own learnings, or musings, I suppose, from the past few years being part of different ERGs, and my perspective, for what it's worth, on working with the community and how we can strive for better. Sorry, slide. So I have to be honest and say I suppose that disability inclusion wasn't necessarily on my horizon up until, I suppose 2015. I'd been in my role at FleishmanHillard for one year when I was diagnosed with an aggressive cancer, and that necessitated four months of chemo, then surgery, radiotherapy, physiotherapy, the whole shebang.


    So I took a couple of months off after the diagnosis. I think it was eight weeks, six, eight weeks in total. But otherwise, I continued to work, albeit from home, and just a couple of days a week, really. Personally, this was a bit of a godsend for me because it meant when I recovered, I wasn't having to navigate this big new return to the office, and this is pre-pandemic days, and having to go back in and kind of get to grips with everything. But I suppose anyone who's had cancer or serious illness or diagnosis knows that you don't just magically recover once the treatment is over. You've got this whole sense of kind of the new normal and have to navigate a lot of things. So it really gave me this new perspective on navigating the workplace, despite physical challenges, and let's be honest, emotional challenges too, because it changes you completely.


    So I suppose that's what inspired me to get involved from a DE&I perspective, and kind of dipped my toes in the water leading on hidden disabilities here in FleishmanHillard in London. I've been doing that for the past few years, and then co-chairing Omnicom's open disability ERG. And then in the last 18 months, and I still hold a full-time day job, don't forget, leading FH's disability ERG. So FleishmanHillard's ambition, we're a global communications consultancy, our ambition is to be the most inclusive agency. And I can see kind of this is lived and breathed day in, day out, and DE&I is really rigorously integrated into the heart of what we do. So within that Hidden Disability steering group, here in London, we've done quite a lot in the disability space. And from a neurodiversity perspective, one thing we've really been committed to is extensive training across a range of areas. Digital accessibility is another key focus for us, and has been for the past few years.


    We've refreshed things in this space over the last year. We've established FHAT FleishmanHillard Accessibility Task Force. And this sees digital accessibility led by our creative studio, and it's worked really well. It's very much about embedding accessibility principles into our work and ensuring that clients are aware of it too. It's really gone from strength to strength, and it's been brilliant seeing it led from studio. Then open disability, so I've been co-chair of open disability for two and a half years now. It's a cross Omnicom Employee Resource Group. And I suppose when it was established, it was very much aimed at senior Omnicom leaders. And I think what I've learned in the last couple of years is the ERGs, as we've talked about, they can vary significantly. In recent years, we've really worked to kind of broaden its scope and remit.


    Also, pretty much all of the Omnicom agencies have their own disability ERG within, so the role of it is quite different. We're currently planning our annual event, which takes place around International Day of Persons with Disabilities in December, although our event will take place at the end of November this year. And then finally, and it's probably what I will probably talk most about today, is FH's global disability ERG. The group was set up two years ago, and it's just one of several, like Ryan said, one of several global ERGs within FleishmanHillard. I took on the role of Global Lead when it was set up, and it was initially supposed to be just like a caretaker, just can you just hold the fort briefly? But I knew, and I think everyone around me knew that I'd probably be in it for the long haul. So I'm still here two years later.


    I think what I really value about this group is it's a unique space, really. I think it's got a very casual, relaxed remit. There's no expectation of deliverables. There's no fixed agenda. When we meet once a month. The group has really been created as a safe space for anyone living with a disability, and allies, of course, to come together to share experiences, learnings, tips, or just take the opportunity to vent if that's needed. What I'd say here as well, also, just to listen. We've got plenty of people who turn up and just listen. Nobody has to feel pressure or obligated to talk, and that's absolutely fine too. And I would say while we don't have any specific asks of us as a group from senior leadership, we're doers, and we did actually co-create a neurodiversity guide that was shared across the globe within FH. And the seeds for the guide, I guess, were sown during one of our meetings when it really became apparent that there was limited awareness or understanding of neurodiversity and how conditions in this category can impact the work experience.


    So it was really created from within by the group. Members were really determined to change it. So the group got together with an autism advocate and created this really useful resource on neurodiversity. It covers a range of topics like tips for better supporting direct reports, managing workloads, interviewing, onboarding, and induction. And it's been shared across FH. It's used in new joiner inductions and part of line manager training, and it's also being shared with clients too. So next slide. I'm still trying to get to grips with Google. So personally, I think just having the group in existence with people showing up monthly and being there for each other counts as success, because I know we talked about that as kind of something that I would talk about. And how do you measure success? And to me, that really is that kind of barometer. Along with monthly calls, we check in with members to elicit their needs and their feedback to ensure that the group continues to add value and stays relevant.


    And for me that relevance is vital. It's about constantly asking that question, "Are we still serving a purpose or members still getting what they need from us? And if not, why not? What can we do to refresh our approach?" Because you have to constantly refresh, and reassess, and revisit. I think one thing that's worked well in our experience is bringing in guests who aren't necessarily part of the ERG to bring a new perspective on a topic of interest. And I think it's a nice way to take the pressure off members. As I said, sometimes members don't necessarily want to have to talk, and it's totally okay to just listen and absorb something new. So month before last, we had somebody from FHAT, if you'll remember, if you've been listing, our FleishmanHillard Accessibility Task Force, who wasn't part of the ERG but joined to talk about the work that she'd been doing in this space. And that went down really well.


    So is it working well? One of our members tells us, you can see on the screen, "I love having the ability to connect with others in the ERG. Disabilities can be isolating, even with decent support networks. Just being able to connect with others who get it is immeasurably beneficial." Another, "Just to emphasize the value of a community or safe space to provide a sounding board or a place to vent." And I think it's feedback like that really does inspire me and is a very vivid and powerful reminder of the importance of the group.


    So, next slide. Doing okay navigating this tech. So what I've learned from leading an ERG and being involved over the past few years, as I've said, every ERG is really different and offers different things. Some act as informal safe spaces with flexible structure, and then others are very firmly focused on kind of action and encouraging change within an organization. And others may well be a mix of both. And what one ERG looks like in one company may vary drastically to another. And I think a few questions to consider here is, what does the community need? Is it that you need to initiate far reaching change in your workplace that has to be led by senior management, or is it that's what's actually needed who is a softer group that offers peer support and that really valuable sense of togetherness?


    I would say it's also really important to be open to change and flexible. And sometimes that doesn't come naturally, but something to work on. None of us can stand still, and what works last year may no longer actually be relevant today. And equally, the most significant gap that you've identified today may not actually be an issue in the new year. And it's vital to really keep informed and be ready to pivot if need be. Listen closely too. You'll only know if things need to evolve or change if you listen to your members. For us, pulse surveys carried out quarterly can actually really shine valuable light on member perspectives and needs. It doesn't have to be an all singing, all dancing survey, just a Microsoft form or whatever. A quick pulse check to see what else might be needed is very valuable.


    I would say as well, just being aware that your impact within the ERG can actually be more far reaching and impactful than you think. Applying your learnings from ERG to client council, especially within FH as a consultancy, can be really powerful and instigate meaningful change. We've seen that at firsthand. Within our day-to-day work, we're actually understanding, just as an example, what it takes to make digital content truly accessible to all audiences has filtered through to our client work. And it's been really encouraging and rewarding seeing our clients embrace what we're doing in this space-


    ...and commit to applying these principles. So yeah, just rewarding to see that from a small group great things can grow. Also, and Ryan touched on this, just how critical leadership buy-in is. Without it an ERG will not flourish, and in fact, it's unlikely to last more than a couple of meetings without petering out. I'm grateful, really grateful to be part of FleishmanHillard where DEI is really embedded in all we do with a tangible commitment from the very top of the business. And really lucky to have a fantastic exec sponsor who's absolutely committed to our success. It's not just about words. She's there, she shows up and really is always there if needed, and that's incredibly valuable. It works both ways I would say. As a leader of an ERG it's really important that you keep senior leaders informed of what's going on and how the ERG is progressing.


    And again, it depends on your style, your requirements, and your own style. It might be informal check-ins or just messages on Teams to more detailed write-ups, but it's valuable to let people know what's going on. And equally keeping the broader team informed. Any one of us could face disability or illness at any point, and equally any of us can be an ally to those who are already living with a disability. From our perspective, twice yearly newsletters and informal updates, I'm not talking about anything too fancy here, but those updates from FHS disability or ERG, they've helped ensure that we stay visible and relevant. And I would say also keeps us honest too because they actually serve as a really good opportunity to capture what we've done and crucially what we've said we will do.


    Broaden your circle. I would say it's an important reminder. DEI belongs to everyone and it's not just a select few and I think anyone who gets involved with it will recognize that temptation to take it all on yourself. But actually each of us has a responsibility to ensure that people, that everybody, people from all backgrounds thinking, abilities, experiences, feel included, feel involved, and feel protected. So that is on us to actually ensure that happens. So working with the... Sorry, next slide. So how can we aspire for more? Working with the community directly is essential. Nothing about us without us has never been more accurate. And as I prepared for today, I thought back to last year's open disability ERG events on International Day of Persons with Disability, where our special guest was the brilliant Simon Minty from Gogglebox and author Samantha Renke, and if you're not familiar with this formidable pair, do seek them out.


    They are just wonderful, but both spoke very powerfully and both commented independently on how we still have so far to go with disabled people still facing barriers and inequalities every single day. And their ask for us as ERG leaders was to keep moving and trying to do better, evolving product design as well as workplace design, recruitment design, and everything we touch as employers and employees. The key take home actually from last year's event was that we all need to ask how we can be a good ally, and both were really clear. They acknowledged that the hard work that is being done today is incredible and important, but it's actually not enough. And what can we do today, now, today and tomorrow? Their observations were very keenly observed that our creative brilliance is built on differences and differences you can and cannot see. And their ask was to seek out difference, have ambition for yourself and for others, and start with thoughtfulness and care. And I just thought their words were really powerful and a really good lesson for us as we navigate the challenges of ERG life.


    So from the perspective of my own organization, what does this look like? We've done things that we're very proud of. We want to ensure that the work we do reflects the society in which we live. So our partnership with Zebedee, which is a specialist agency that supplies diverse models to work together on brand campaigns is really meaningful and again, translates to work with clients. We've also achieved disability confident employer accreditation, and we're working to attain that next level of disability committed employer. We're also committed to proactively attracting candidates with different abilities and we're offering work placement and opportunities to really gain that experience. We also know that DEI is a journey and an evolution and we're never finished, so we can always do better. And so the moment we stop and say, enough we've done enough, we'll never get there, but we'll always keep going and trying to do better.


    And from an individual perspective on allyship, all I would really say is this work can be immensely fulfilling and give you a great sense of achievement, but you will probably also know that it can be frustrating, it can be tiring and it can sometimes feel thankless, but what makes a meaningful difference is actually support from others, particularly those who may not at face value have skin in the game, and I think showing up to meetings, rolling up sleeves to help out, promoting what we're doing in their networks, it's this generosity of spirit that really does turn a bystander into an ally. And that's me.

    Lonna Battles (36:01):

    Great. Thank you so much. That was wonderful Christine. I want to thank you for sharing your story about being a cancer survivor. I thought it was inspirational. It sounds like you've truly made a difference. I also want to thank you for sharing what you learned as a leader of an ERG. Be open to change, be flexible, and from a small group, great things can grow. So again, very inspirational.

    Christine Lydon (36:28):

    Thank you.

    Lonna Battles (36:30):

    Now last but of course not least, I want to bring Chris Farrington into the conversation. Chris is going to talk about some of the wonderful things going on inside of Randstad and his Ability BRG. Over to you Chris.

    Chris Farrington (36:44):

    Thanks, Lonna. I actually have a few slides I've presented or prepared for us today as well, so I'd like to share these if that's all right. Go ahead and present mode. All right, perfect. All right, well first and foremost, thank you so much for having me on. I really appreciate the platform to be able to share a bit more about what we're doing over at Randstad. Randstad, we're a really incredible organization, and this is something that I'll talk about here shortly is that we're the world's number one HR services partner and talent partner. Our goal is to become the world's most equitable and specialized talent company. We're in over 39 countries. On average we've got around 662,000 candidates working daily, and we train almost 400,000 candidates annually. So when you have a company of this size, it's certainly something that you have an excellent backing. You're able to make a lot of impact from our scale, the number of communities we touch, the sheer population. Also, we're constantly challenged with our size. As you can imagine you don't grow to be the number one firm by just organic growth. It's happened through a series of acquisitions and working across time zones like this can be exceptionally challenging. So that's something that we actually strive to work very diligently on and one of the reasons that our global BRGs came into existence this year. First, I'd like to talk a little bit though about what we're doing in the US with our Abilities in Motion BRG. Our mission over there is to provide a forum to advocate for full and meaningful employment as well inclusion for people with disabilities, whether physical, intellectual, cognitive, or developmental. We strive to engage, support and educate our internal associates and partner with our clients to support and promote a fully accessible and, excuse me, inclusive workforce and accessible workplace. Everyone with an interest in accessibility and inclusion is welcome.


    We launched in 2017. Currently, we have about 170 members. I think one of the great things about this group here is that we've got our greater group. We have conversations on a bimonthly basis, and that's something we call our water cooler chat discussion. So that's just an opportunity to open it up, a bit of a safe space, if you will. None of our sessions are recorded on our chats, but we do record our larger presentations. Just that way we have the opportunity to share that in a asynchronous manner. Our focus groups are cancer and caring, fibromyalgia, chronic pain. Let's hear at Randstad, which focuses on hearing differences. Mental health resource group in our neuro diversity chat.


    I've got 13 leaders for the AIM group, including myself, that really work day in, day out to make an impact here. We really wouldn't be able to do the work that we do without them. One of the really unique opportunities that we have there is with such a broad and engaged level of leadership. We've got people from all over the company, both geographically and operationally speaking, so we get a lot of different perspectives. Disability is a spectrum and that's something that we try to bring in as many different perspectives as possible with both their lived experiences and allyship. Our most engaged groups are mental health and neuro diversity chat, and truthfully on their monthly meetings it's something I walk away from and I really just feel like a renewed person every single time. Something that Christine spoke about is you can't do it all yourself, and that's something I just really need to acknowledge this group about.


    Our Alliance for Disabilities and Allies is a new global BRG we launched this year. Currently, we have about 150 members. Our goal there is to make sure that this large organization has the opportunity really to make as much impact as possible. We are constantly challenged by disability here in the states, making sure that we are educating our teams by doing things like providing trainings. We do cross BRG collaborations quite frequently, and it all happens with the collective group. But when you do bring in all these different perspectives, you find that culturally across the globe there are very different perceptions of disability, and that's something that we want to try to help everyone understand because it's something that we need to give ourselves grace in the times when we're having these vulnerable discussions. But at the same point in time, we want to make sure that people are educated.


    Language differs from country to country, and that's something that by acknowledging and leaning into, we have the opportunity to hopefully remove some of the stigma as well. Our mission for ADA is to foster an environment of inclusion and belonging within Randstad where individuals and allies of the disability community feel unified to engage and celebrate what makes us unique. Being that we've just launched this year, we've had our kickoff. We recently had a collaboration event with our APAC DE and I groups to support Mental Health Awareness Day on the 10th. It was a great event and I wish I could have been part of it, but it was happening in the middle of the night for us. That is one of our biggest challenges, truthfully, is our time zone alignment, and that's something that we accomplish with our leadership team just by really going out of our way to work together.


    We've managed to figure out a good strategy where APAC has their conversations and then APAC and Europe has their conversations, and then Europe and North America has our conversations, and then on the backside of our day, North America and New Zealand have a conversation as well. So we found a way to make it work, but it's not without challenges and we're still constantly learning. Really the biggest thing that I see as far as a difference between what a BRG is and what an ERG is is that an ERG really for me, by definition, it's an employee resource group, it's employee led, it's employee focus, where a business resource group really is working to advance the goals of the business. As I mentioned, our goal is to become the world's most equitable and specialized talent partner. So in doing that, everything that we do on a day-to-day basis does impact that.


    I mentioned our scale. With that, our BRGs really feel that we have the opportunity to impact the DE and I space at a global scale, not just within Randstad, but being a talent program that emanates in every single aspect of our day-to-day operations. The vast majority of our staff are recruiters and account managers, so most of our staff is client facing and then we have all of our associates. So if we can do this on a day-to-day basis, it helps shapes our business. 


    A couple of the ways that we've been able to do that as well is by shaping our business practices. So we have disability related engagements from hiring programs. We've got talent training. And then we do trainings for our clients as well. The talent development programs are a really, really great program that we've been doing for quite a while and something that we're very proud of. But another big difference to a BRG is a bit about the structure. We actually set ourselves to a pretty high standard, and we've got goals that we aim to meet and we keep track of, and we have scorecards as well. So these here that you see are pillars. Hard to necessarily know how exactly to place these more nebulous ideas as put onto a scorecard, but we managed to do that. So unite, integrate, celebrate.


    Uniting our global safe space for individuals with disabilities and allies to raise awareness and belonging. That's really just our open forum conversations, making sure that we give people the floor to feel vulnerable, share concerns. But that's also where a lot of real greatness happens for us, is that we find the opportunity to share tips, tricks, share information. Again, a company of our size does not come without our challenges, and a lot of that is that people don't necessarily know how to access information. We have a number of ways to do it. And inevitably, people always feel a little uncomfortable going out and asking some of these more formal channels so they often come to us and say, "Hey, this is something I'm having a challenge with. I'd like to discuss it a little bit more."


    As far as the integration piece, engage in global teams and focus disability trainings, mentorships programs and events, that's really where it directly works towards impacting our business goals. In the celebration portion, we just spoke about Mental World Mental Health Day. On December 3rd, we have international celebration of people with disabilities. So we actively work to celebrate our events as much as possible. One of the challenges there is that disability is a spectrum, right?


    As I said, there are so many different aspects of disability that we have to cover. We really need to work closely with our BRG members to understand what it is that drives them. So we actually engage pretty frequently through a number of different channels, but most recently we've sent out some surveys just trying to understand how do we best impact our population, not only by what we're celebrating, but also how we're doing that. Do they want to see a flyer? Do they want to engage on our intranet? Do they want to have a formal event, or would they like something a bit more in depth and resource intensive from either a training or other pieces of information? So we try to make sure that we cover all aspects and really help our population as much as possible.


    So these activities, as I said, the training and webinar for managers, that's something we're incredibly proud of. We feel that by helping our management teams understand what the needs are of disabled populations, we can be far more impactful than if we just celebrate it. We try to post on our internal channels as much as possible. And then we work very closely with our marketing team to try and celebrate our wins externally as well. That's a bit of a challenge truthfully, because this is an internal resource group. But as we said, we are actively working towards our external business practices, so we find opportunities wherever we can. Serving our community, this is something that's come up in conversation recently for us. So we're actually working in trying to aggregate lists of local organizations around not only the US but globally of where we can use our volunteer days.


    Being a talent partner, we read resumes day in, day out. So helping our talent by interviews, workshops, CV creation, and then any fundraising that we can do. In the US, we have a great partnership with our veterans BRG. About 30% of veterans leave the military with a disability, so we saw that as a huge opportunity there. One of our fundraisers that we do is for an organization that focuses on building accessible homes for disabled veterans afterwards. So something that is really, really great. And that wasn't something that necessarily came out of the disability group. That's something that actually came from our executive leadership, and we're incredibly proud to be able to participate in that. The activities to impact is certainly something that I've covered most of that by this point as well.


    Lastly, as Randstad, we've got our inclusive hub and it's part of social innovation, and this is through Randstad Fundacion in Spain. It's in Madrid, it's in accessible workplace. And it's something that as part of our commitment to the disability community, we really are leading the charge. This organization here does a lot of training, but they also do active placements for the disability community. But I think it speaks volumes for our organization in that we're willing to be able to build a safe space for individuals with disabilities to make sure that they feel welcome. So this is a coworking space. Anyone that works for Randstad in Madrid has the opportunity to use this, and we often have clients coming in and using the space as well.


    I think a few other aspects of the work that we're doing as a BRG that really are quite impressive is that we've had some direct impact to the way that Randstad, hires our talent. One of the things that we did with Abilities in Motion recently was we pushed out the disability self ID from being at every three years to now it's an annual campaign. And that's something to just help better identify our population. That came with some information as well. So it wasn't just people all of a sudden getting a popup on their timecard login and asking, "Are you disabled?" It came with a great video put together by our Ready team, which is the Randstad Equity, Diversity, Inclusion and Belonging Organization. So that's really just helping to identify our population.


    With that, we've also work towards... Excuse me. We've worked towards our internal talent acquisition accessibility in EOC statements. So a few years back, they actively work to ensure that disability is mentioned on each and every one of our job postings. And then we know accessibility is more than just job postings and digital accessibility that also extends to processes. So one of the things that we helped pioneer with them this year is for our internal talent acquisition team to go out of our way and ask, "Is there anything else I can do to help make this experience more accessible for you?"


    Now, initially, that started with a conversation of, "Do we need to dig in and discuss each and every facet of what accessibility is?" And really we left that at a high level of just, "Is there anything I can do to help make this experience better for you?" It's customer service centric, but it also helps people not necessarily directly identify themselves. So giving people the option to disclose whether they want to or not. And lastly, as far as work that we've done this year helping to impact our business, we've done that through accessibility and accommodations trainings. People are constantly learning new ways to overcome their disability tips and tricks. So we've worked to actively aggregate this list. And we actually partnered with our technology teams to try to offer them a list of things that work for us. But they did a great job in coming to us and say, "Hey, here's our standard list of accommodations that we make. Is there anything that we can do to be better?" So it's really something that I feel permeates our culture inside and out.


    That was certainly recognized this year and has been for the last four years. When we earned an acknowledgement from the Disability Equality Index, we received a perfect score of 100 from the American Association of People with Disabilities and Disability. Our DE&I leaders really go out of their way to celebrate our efforts and partnership with them, and it's something that helps engage our population even more and more. I mean, to sum it all up, our BRG really does a great job of making sure that we help to work towards becoming the world's most accessible, equitable, and specialized talent partner, and I'm incredibly proud of the work that we do on a day-to-day basis.

    Lonna Battles (55:41):

    That was wonderful. Thank you for sharing your commitment to the disability community, sharing the difference between BRG and ERG, and also for the tips and tricks that we can take away and apply to our own ERGs. And congratulations on the Disability Equality Index, receiving a score of 100. That is fantastic. So thanks again for all the information that you provided, Chris. It was wonderful.

    Chris Farrington (56:08):

    Thank you.

    Lonna Battles (56:10):

    So that is going to wrap it up, brings us to the close of our session. Again, huge thank you to Chris, Christine, and Ryan for sharing all your experiences, your expertise. I hope we have inspired you and given you some insights on how to strengthen inclusion in your own workplace. If you'd like to share your learnings from the session on any of your social platforms, please use the festival hashtag #texthelpfest23. If you'd like to learn more about ERGs and workplace inclusion, head over to our booth and check out our free resources. Or if you'd just like to book a chat with us with one of our inclusive technology specialists, just pop the words in, let's chat into the chat box and we'll reach out to you.


    Up next, we have a session on how technology can and will revolutionize workplace inclusion for the better. Head over there now by clicking on the live tab at the top of your screen and enjoy the last hour of the festival. It's goodbye from us. Thank you.

How can tech revolutionize workplace inclusion for the better?

A session with Ryan Graham, Chief Technology Officer, Texthelp, Bhushan Sethi, Partner at a multinational professional services brand, Stephen Framil, Corporate Global Head of Accessibility, Merck, and Katie King, CEO, Author, Keynote speaker, Ai in Business

Session details and slides

  • With emerging technologies, and the rising role of Artificial Intelligence in business, it's not surprising that 42% of business leaders expect that over the next 2-4 years, technology will help drive better organizational outcomes. 

    In this session our panel will explore how to harness these technologies to empower your people and teams to become the best versions of themselves today. Gain tips that'll help you get ahead of emerging tech trends. Discover how leading organizations are approaching technology to revolutionize business performance.

  • Ryan Graham (00:01):

    Hi, everybody. Welcome to our last session of our Festival of Workplace Inclusion. We've obviously saved one of the best for last. We really hope that you've enjoyed the past two days here, and we hope that you enjoy this session, which is going to be around inclusive technology. During this session, our panel are going to be discussing about how can tech can revolutionize workplace inclusion for the better. As chief technology officer at Texthelp, I'm unbelievably excited for this session. Over the past decade, we've really seen huge advancements in technology and as a company specializing in assistive and inclusive tools. You can imagine just how much our products have grown and developed alongside these advancements. We are constantly improving and making a bigger impact for our product users and customers. It's amazing to be able to work in an industry that's constantly changing for the better.


    As technology advances, we've also seen a change in the attitudes towards accessibility and disability inclusion. We're seeing a consistent shift in society towards being a lot more inclusive when it comes to technology and digital environments. That is unbelievably important because as technology advances, it increasingly becomes a vital part of our daily lives. It also becomes more and more complex, particularly for those with disabilities to be able to use that technology. Today, we're going to be exploring how we can not only use technology to revolutionize workplace inclusion, but how we can do so mindfully ensuring that it works for everyone.


    Before we get started, just a couple of introductions. As I mentioned, my name is Ryan Graham. I am the chief technology officer here at Texthelp. I am a white male with brown hair and I'm wearing a blue shirt today, and I have a strong Northern Irish accent. I'm going to be sharing my thoughts today alongside our fantastic panel, which includes Bhushan Seth, who is a partner of strategy. We have got Katie King who is the CEO of AI in business and an author and keynote speaker. We have Steve Framil, who is the corporate accessibility lead at Merck. Welcome everybody. It's fantastic to have you here with us today. Just before we get started, could each of you please give us a quick introduction to yourselves, starting off with Bhushan?

    Bhushan Sethi (02:47):

    Bhushan Sethi, a brown male wearing a blue shirt. I'm based in New York and it's quite early in the morning here. Delighted to be here.

    Ryan Graham (02:58):

    Thanks, Bhushan. Katie?

    Katie King (03:00):

    Thanks, Ryan. Katie King. White female, fair hair, wearing a paisley top. 56 years old and really passionate about AI. I run a School Leaders of Tomorrow program and really passionate about helping AI, making it accessible for everybody, helping it to unlock biases and stuff like that. Excited to start exploring some of those topics with you in this session.

    Ryan Graham (03:27):

    Wonderful. Thank you, Katie. Steve?

    Stephen Framil (03:30):

    Yes. Steve Framil, of white and Pacific Islander descent. Coming from my home office here outside of Philadelphia in the eastern United States. I'm wearing a turquoise blazer, a red shirt. I don't know if you can tell. It is also early in the morning here as well. Yes, as mentioned, the corporate global head of accessibility and also, I'm the co-chair of our Disability Inclusion Strategy Council here at Merck and MSD.

    Ryan Graham (04:10):

    Brilliant. Thank you very much everybody. I'm unbelievably excited for this panel and I think we should just get started and kick off with our very first question. The session is all about how tech can help revolutionize the workplace. Perhaps each one of you could start by sharing one new and emerging technology that you're all excited about. This could be something that will help us in our own rules or help as a wider business. Maybe if we could start off with Bhushan on this one.

    Bhushan Sethi (04:46):

    As somebody who loves traveling around the world, I'm always excited about translation tools. I saw one recently that was called HeyGen, which basically would transfer this speech into any language of my choice so I can fool my friends that I can speak Mandarin and fluent Spanish, et cetera. I think there's a great unlock there for us to be able to connect and bring content, whether it's business or personal to so many communities, so many people around the world.

    Ryan Graham (05:19):

    Lovely. Thank you, Bhushan. I agree. HeyGen is one of those new mind-blowing technologies that really has the ability to shape how we communicate with each other in the future. Maybe on then to Katie, maybe a good answer to this one next.

    Katie King (05:37):

    Yeah, definitely. There's so many and obviously, generative AI is playing a big role in that and that ability to take away some of the biases that have existed. That, for me, it's become day-to-day, so utilizing some of those tools. I've been reading, I'm heavily involved with the All-Party Parliamentary Group, and we do a lot of work with the world's economic forum. I always look at some of the big trends that are coming through and I'm hearing some great stuff about the metaverse and the role that the Metaverse is going to play with mental health. I think some of that activity there is going to be fantastic for my daughter. Many people in my family who've struggled with mental health and someone with bipolar, suicide issues, such a massive problem. If that stigma can be taken away and we can use technology like augmented reality and some of the metaverse areas that are coming in to help with that, then that for me is going to be game changing. That's one area I'm really excited about.

    Ryan Graham (06:50):

    Yeah, absolutely agreed. I think there's a lot of work to be done around the metaverse, but I am equally as excited about that if it does fulfill its promise. Then moving on next then to Steve.

    Stephen Framil (07:03):

    Yes, certainly. Of course, Merck and MSD, we're not a tech company. We make medicines and then invent the medicines and make them and then sell them and try to improve lives. Technology is really something that supports our business model. It's been very exciting to see, especially after the pandemic, our building environments have been able to have been upgraded, uses of various technology to help that workplace experience improve. Some of the things that I've observed is the use of various applications just to, rather than standing in line at lunch to get that ordered ahead of time. It may seem very simple, but when you have a very large company with very large campuses and the hybrid model of people coming back to work, you can imagine how it can get very challenging, especially as we're all coming back to the workplace place.


    In addition, things that help us as a global company, the multinational company, things that we're beginning to look into in terms of speech recognition and inclusive speech recognition in some of our tools, because we are multinational and we have a variety of accents. Even though the company business is conducted in English, we're still working globally. There's a lot of opportunity, I think to explore those inclusive technologies that are appropriate to not only a multinational company, but a disability confident workforce.

    Ryan Graham (08:50):

    Agreed. It's interesting as well that all three of you converged around the same thing and around communication across the organization and how AI in particular is going to shape that. I think that is probably going to be a huge change for workforces in the coming years. Hopefully, making that communication a lot easier and reducing communication barriers. I think I would have to agree with that as well. The most exciting thing for me in these emerging technologies really has been around the advent of generative AI. I think in the past year we've seen the explosion of things like ChatGPT, we've seen these image generators as well. I think that the way that they can help in workplaces is really leveling the playing field for employees. Giving them access to the technologies that they didn't have before. Helping them to understand content and helping them to create content as well without the traditional barriers that there have been in there and using technology.


    I'm unbelievably excited about that. That's maybe a nice segue actually into our next question. Obviously, it's the big buzzword at the moment. I don't think we could have a discussion on technology without mentioning AI and business. With the impending rise of AI in our businesses, how do we see workplaces changing both in the short term and the long term and what impact has it had on our businesses so far? Katie, obviously you did an awful lot of speaking and writing on this subject, so I think it's appropriate if we go to you first on this one.

    Katie King (10:29):

    Yeah, absolutely. We're starting by being clear what we mean by AI. We're talking about a technology that's been around for 70 years. We're talking about a family of technologies. Underneath you have all the branches of this tree and you've got the robotics. Depending on what kind of business you're talking about, you might be in a retail environment, you might be in hospitality, you might be in manufacturing, you might be using some robotics. Equally, you might be in the services, you might be in professional services and using, let's say you are a bank, you might have AI across the board. You might have AI for initiating an accessible way of dealing with a customer through facial recognition. You might have AI at the backend where you're helping find unusual patterns of behavior to identify fraud, for example.


    Then in the middle, you might be like any organization using it so that you don't treat people as one big homogenous mass. Again, I think from a diversity and inclusion perspective, that's really important. It's enabling people to segment and understand their customers or clients and be able to cater to their needs both physically and digitally as well. I think it's across the board. It could be AI intertwined with internet of things, sensors that are having a big impact within the workplace, initiating at reception, the ability to recognize people. Making it comfortable in the office, in the meeting rooms. Being able to use ambient voice with voice recognition for voice prompts.


    Again, all of which can play a big, big role from a diversity and inclusion perspective. Again, just bearing in mind, we're talking about a technology which is imitating intelligent human behavior, but not taking away all of our jobs and ensuring that we have the humans in the loop. I think it's just making sure that as organizations, we realize that AI could be used in our marketing, in our sales, in our HR, in our CX. It could be used operationally to help us do what we do better as a business, but it's making sure that we've got the people there so that we don't dehumanize the workforce. Again, I could go down many, many paths with this, but that would be a start point from my side.

    Ryan Graham (13:08):

    I'm very, very glad. I'm very, very glad that everybody else is getting to hear you on this and we have a recorded speech to say that the humans in the loop are the important piece of AI. Also, I completely agree with that as well. AI does not work on its own. It is not the end result of everything that we need to do as businesses. It is there to help our employees and to help our staff be better at their own jobs, not to replace the staff in the jobs. Another thing you said that I found very interesting actually was around the personalization and opportunities that AI has.


    Certainly, in the education sector where we have a lot of customers, that's a huge thing. If you're a teacher who has 30 kids in a classroom, being able to tailor the needs of content to every single one of those 30 kids is huge. The workplace is really no different. We are a global workplace, we're a global workforce, and each employee has individual needs and it's very, very hard to cater for all of those. Generative AI and AI in general can really help us to try and personalize experiences for our employees and personalized processes as well along the way.

    Katie King (14:18):

    Package benefits that are specific that might help with the hiring, with the retention of staff is important too.

    Ryan Graham (14:27):

    Absolutely. Agreed. Onto our next question then. With AI becoming a strategic priority for many businesses, it's really not surprising that research from Deloitte has found 42% of business leaders expect that over the next two to four years, technology is going to help drive better organizational outcomes. How can businesses stay ahead of emerging tech trends like AI and make use of the potential that it has to drive business performance? Bhushan, maybe we could go to you on this one.

    Bhushan Sethi (15:06):

    As I work with organizations, a massive part of their investment as they try and free up investment spend by leaning out operations, by eliminating costs, by trying to improve productivity, a massive unlock is technology. Some of that's AI, but it's not just AI. It's moving to the cloud, it's modernizing business, it's automating, using robotic process automation. One of the key things we've got to remember in one of our surveys we did with 800 business leaders in September, one of the big questions they had was we're investing in technology. We see that as incredibly important. 88% of them are really concerned about the business cases. Because let's face it, many of us have been working for a number of years. We've all written business cases or been part of business cases that have hyped up the benefits of technology.


    It's going to do this for the customer experience, it's going to save productivity because our employees are going to drive adoption of it. The AI that's embedded in it. I'm so glad that Katie said that AI has been around for 70 years. Because if you just landed into corporations today, you'd think that AI is a new technology. We've been using it in call centers, we've been using it in hiring practices, we've been using it in financial services and wealth management for a number of years. What we really need to do is we need to think about the user experience, we need to think about the adoption, we need to think about the use cases and the outcomes that you're trying to drive with technology.


    One of the lessons learned from the last 10 to 15 years is if you think about all of the automation that we've had around a technology called Robotic Process Automation, which is going to automate repetitive tasks that we do. Many organizations didn't see the benefit because they didn't actually fundamentally redesign the end-to-end work and think about the outcome. There's a lot of lessons learned from history around we over-hype the expectations of technology, and if we don't think about user experience and think about the brave aspects of redesigning work and thinking about business outcomes, we'll be sitting here in another five years talking about a hype-cycle.

    Katie King (17:12):


    Ryan Graham (17:13):

    Excellent. Very good point. You're right, the hype-cycle right now around AI is very early days and feverish almost. Steve, how do you think about this in terms of the work that you do?

    Stephen Framil (17:29):

    Well, it's interesting. I think when it comes to generative AI, you may have some organizations that are creating their own AI systems. At Merck, we have, it's not Cat GBP. One of our branding colors is teal, so we have GP Teal. It's basically using an internal dataset as well as external data sets. It helps employees do their job based off of all the data that we have accumulated within the company. I think there's probably a move to that. I would also maybe suggest that the data sets, when we're thinking about inclusiveness, the data sets may not be inclusive of people with disabilities. Sometimes the dataset may be already biased. This is I think an opportunity to look into that where AI is great and all, but it's only pulling from knowledge that we've put into it.


    I'm not an expert in this. Katie, this is you. I'm just as a business leader, looking in. If we're going to have a disability confident workforce and the data sets that we're pulling from are biased towards people with disabilities, that's going to be a challenge there. I would suggest going forward that as we're building systems and technology that works for everyone, that we include people with disabilities at the very beginning as we continue to discover and going forward. There's the expression, the adage, nothing about us, without us. Well, perhaps that's not quite wrong. It's like nothing without us, period. Full stop. I think that's something to think about as going forward, is that with generative AI is what's the data that we're pulling from and does it have a bias towards certain marginalized groups?

    Katie King (19:44):

    Ryan, can I just jump back in just with one very practical, because I've done tons of research and interviewed people from all over the world in all different disciplines and so on. I've got a number of very practical tools. I've got a scorecard for success for example, which is free and you can download it. What I would say is think about the question is, how can business stay ahead of this emerging tech and make use of its potential. Think long-term. Think about your three-year plan, your five-year plan. Think about the big investments, the big operational areas, and really important that, that's on there. Also think very practically about the next six months.


    There are things, of course, the free ChatGPTs and other tools that are $50 a month. Have AI and emerging tech as part of your modus operandi. Have a watching brief, for example, in your monthly meetings, a very practical thing. Delegate to people in the team. This month you're going to go out there and you're going to do some due diligence on this tool. You're going to do a free example of that. You're going to do a watching brief on our industry sector. You're going to go and look at our competitors. There's a few things that people can do that are really practical that make innovation and agility, but in a strategic way, a part of what they do as an organization. I think that's really important.

    Bhushan Sethi (21:11):

    And Katie, what I do like about corporations that are using AI right now is it's brought back experimentation. There's so many companies that are now having use cases and pilots to say, how do we test it? Whether it's led by IT, led by the business, led by one of the functions, and it's creating a lot of buzz. In one of our surveys that we do globally of 50,000 plus workers, younger people are excited about this technology like never before. Typically, younger people feel anxious about technology, especially in entry level jobs. A third of young people said it actually is going to be something they're going to embrace. They want to learn about AI because they actually think it can give them back some capacity and enhance their productivity to do higher end tasks. It's a consumer grade technology that has a lot of excitement. I do think we need to watch for the lessons learned of history of where we haven't driven the benefits of technology to the extent that we've always expected.

    Katie King (22:07):


    Ryan Graham (22:08):

    Absolutely agree with that. At Texthelp, one of our main organizational strategic initiatives this year is around AI. For me as a tech person, I find that very exciting because it used to be the tech people had the AI and everybody else didn't. Whereas that has really shifted now. It's shifted to, AI is available for every role in the organization. Therefore, everybody needs to have the mindset of how can I use AI, how can we use AI as an organization to improve the business and to improve ourselves as well as employees. Just looking back as well to something that Steve touched on there, I think is critically important, especially whenever we're talking about inclusion today. That is the inherent bias in today's machine learning models. I think it has been well established and well proven that the majority of models that we have now that are available for consumer use do have inherent biases in many, many different ways.


    Very often for business, I think the question is not how do we use AI, but how do we use AI safely and how do we use AI that it does not provide bias against people as well? Let's not just pick something and use it for AI's sake. We need to be safe and make sure our employees see and inclusion are really at the heart of what we want to achieve when we're using AI as well. While we're talking about the impact of employees and how AI can impact employees, that's a good time to our next question. Whenever we're looking at the impact on these technologies and the impact they can have on our employees, how can businesses really harness technology to empower their people to become the best versions of themselves? Steve, maybe this is one for you to start off with.

    Stephen Framil (24:06):

    Well, it's interesting. For accessibility at Merck and MSD, there's three parts to it. There's the digital aspect, there's the workforce accommodations aspect, and of course, there's the built environment aspect. Currently, it sits within three different parts of our organization and we coalesce within the disability inclusion strategy council. This is something that the three parts of our accessibility are at different stages, different maturity level. I would say our built environment has become very mature and digital is getting there. Of course, there's opportunities with workforce accommodation. This is action items for myself to continue to drive this forward where any individual, regardless of what their needs may be, they may identify as a person with a disability, they may not, but they may have specific needs that required. It's providing those tools, that kiosk as it were, of technology solutions that help them be successful.


    It's not so much about catering to specific marginalized segment, but how does it make anyone be successful in the best version of themselves at their job? That's really providing those tools, whether it's in some kiosk that is available, a dashboard where they can pull various tools that they need and download them things that are already approved. There's a lot of work that we have to do going forward on this one. Rather than having to request a special, can I get this licensing? Can I get that? Because we can't download software on our company laptops, it has to be approved and all that. Without having to go through a formal accommodations request process where okay, requesting this, they can simply go to it. That way, they still maintain privacy, but the workforce in general is being able to have access to help them be successful at their job. There's a lot of opportunity for Merck and MSD I think in this area going forward of building out that kiosk as it were for success, employee workforce success. That of course, includes persons with disabilities and anything that they may need.

    Ryan Graham (26:55):

    I would 100% agree with that, Stephen. I love what you guys are doing there with this kiosk idea. I think that's absolutely fantastic. I think actually there are a number of businesses that are doing that. I think all workforces should be aiming towards this kiosk idea. The number of people who actually disclose their disability at work is minuscule compared to how many people actually have a disability. From those people who do disclose at work, the amount who probably would go, okay, I'm going to fill out an accommodations form so that I can get that piece of software that I really need to do my job, is even less. We're excluding people almost straight away whenever we don't provide the software easily to everybody who absolutely needs it. Not only is that heartbreaking for the person who needs that software to be able to do their job, but for the business side of things, that makes no business sense whatsoever. You should be able to provide tools that everybody needs to be the best version of themselves.


    Because if they can be the best version of themselves, ultimately, that will make them more productive. If they're more productive, you get more value then out of the business as well. I love that approach. I really do think that most organizations should be aiming towards that. It's not an easy thing to do. It takes a lot of work, it takes an awful lot of training and an awful lot of rolling out. The IT guys, I'm sure probably find that very difficult, to your point, Steve. Absolutely, the right thing to do in the workplace and the business will benefit from it as well as employees as well. Moving on. I have a question and it's a very, very wide-ranging question. I think it's an important one, given the topics that we've talked today. Maybe we can share each of us one key success that we've had with technology in our own organizations and maybe if we could all go into a little bit of detail on how we maximized that success. Katie, maybe we can start with you on this one.

    Katie King (29:08):

    Definitely. It's quite deep actually thinking about this. You get to a certain age and I'm 56, and you start to question Simon Sinek, why do we do what we do? Not what we do, not how we do it, but why do we do it? I think purpose-driven business is really increasing on the agenda. The best success I've had in the last couple of years with technology, with AI, with Making a Difference is a program I initiated. I've run it five times now. I'm not selling something commercial. This is all pro bono, the Leaders of Tomorrow in Tech. The whole program is about the skills gap. We're talking about all this wonderful technology. Are we preparing our young people in school and college and university to come into the workplace and are they skilled up not just from a knowing data science and tech and IT, but what about all of the others? This program is for 16, 17-year-olds. I've run it three times in the UK and it's always with disadvantaged young people.


    I'm an affluent part of the UK now, but I grew up in the 11th floor of the council block in North London in Tottenham, and I want to give back. I'm teaching these young people and I bring into the program people like Microsoft and the Alan Turing Institute and others. We're teaching young people how is AI going to reshape your future career. Now, the good bit from an accessibility point of view is simple things like Microsoft Teams or Zooms having closed captions so that they can read the text. The fact that we have on the program visually impaired and hearing-impaired young students who can take advantage of these learnings. Through six or more hours of learning separately, usually virtually, sometimes face-to-face. They're learning not just what is AI, but how is AI shaping a future career if you want to be a footballer or a doctor or a barista or media photography.


    That for me, I've done that in the UK. I just did it in April of this year. I was out speaking at an event in Cape Town and I said to them three months before, let's do this with some of the township schools in South Africa. We've done that, and next we're going to do it with some pupils in Chicago. Again, disadvantaged kids. For me, that's about AI and also, using small bits of simple technology to bring the learnings about this incredible technology to the people that need it. That's a simple little program that I get the most joy from and the success that these people then give back. They hear about AI, they then participate in a competition, which is how can AI help our community? We judge it, they come to the show, they stand upon the stage, so they get experience of presenting. Then the winning group gets mentoring from Lord Tim Clement-Jones from the All-Party Parliamentary group and myself. It's this lovely wrap of all of that together.

    Ryan Graham (32:44):

    That is fantastic. I would say superb, and really preparing our younger generation for the technology shifts that are happening right now.

    Stephen Framil (32:53):

    Everyone, no one's excluded from that as well.

    Ryan Graham (32:56):

    Absolutely. Great, thank you. Bhushan, maybe we can go to you on this one as well.

    Bhushan Sethi (33:01):

    One of the things we did at my company is we launched in the US, we launched a digital up-skilling program around five years ago, we called it Your Tomorrow. We actually announced it and we basically said, we are going to teach you digital skills, and we taught our teams. Everybody rolled their sleeves up, including me and all the partners to actually build automations and build automations to repeat pieces of our task that are repetitive. We did that, we launched it, we built these automations to drive better reconciliation, better data visualization, et cetera. We're using that, we're using that today. We came up with this term called citizen-led, where we basically said, we're going to have users define this. We built them, we recognize the people that did this, and it wasn't some kind of big top-down program. We're using some of that philosophy in how we now deploy and upscale ourselves around AI.


    Really quickly, the one that I'm most inspired by is I've got a good friend, Lady Marieme Jamme, who runs a foundation called iamtheCODE. What her business model is, or her charity is, is basically teaching girls from marginalized community, mainly refugees in places in Africa, Brazil, India, the dignity of coding. These are people that don't have this ability and they have free access to coding through this platform. She partners with many businesses and with many governments. Having spent time with her at the World Economic Forum and Councils, I'm incredibly inspired by what she's doing to raise young girls' education and digital skills so that they can have a job and economic security going forward.

    Katie King (34:41):

    Love that.

    Ryan Graham (34:42):

    That is absolutely fantastic. As a chief technology officer, somebody who hires a lot of people in the tech sector, the lack of diversity in the tech sector is really a huge problem. It is going to be a huge problem going forward if we don't have programs like that, that encourage people to come into coding, come into AI, because it should be for everybody. Rolling back again to Steve's point, the more diverse our workforces are whenever we are building these models, the more diverse we can make the models as well. I think that's all linked together. Superb. Thank you. Steve, then moving on to you.

    Stephen Framil (35:22):

    Just to comment what you just mentioned, our diversity, equity, inclusion mantra at Merck and MSD is really our workforce represents the people that we serve. Of course, we'll have taking some sort of medicine throughout our lifetime. That's pretty much everybody, isn't it? Just to also comment on these up-skilling programs that were mentioned, actually I'm on the receiving end of one of those here at Merck and MSD, because as a business leader and not an engineer, there's a lot that I don't know. I'm doing those entry level assessments and I'm way at the bottom. Hopefully, I'll get a little higher here when I get through the courses.


    One of the things at Merck and MSD that really, I'm proud of, I lead the digital accessibility, Office of Corporate Accessibility. The idea is when you wrote the company policy, it applies to any digital interface across our digital landscape throughout the company globally. It's all well and good to have a policy that everyone says, okay, I have to do this. If you don't give them the tools in order to effectively implement it, then they're going to start making things up and there's going to be a tsunami of spreadsheets. I'm convinced that spreadsheets are going to be the end of the world, quite honestly. Where they're all figuring this thing out and then it'll get lost. People will move to new roles. Having a centralized system of record to track and manage accessibility of any digital asset I think was very critical. Without naming specific names, we have that.


    First, it was something that different business units would subscribe to. Now we've got it licensed company-wide as our enterprise accessibility platform system of record where this is our source of truth for tracking the advancement of accessibility across all of our digital assets. This gives all of our global teams across a very large company a place where they can do that. Of course, they have their own methods and sources that they use locally to actually do the work, but ultimately, it's in our platform. To me, that's exciting. If you're really going to advance any policy where you have the guidelines at an appropriate level that still allows them to figure it out at the local level, but still, they have something to anchor to at a global company level. That was something very exciting that we got in place this year.

    Ryan Graham (38:24):

    Brilliant point, Steve. That links back to our talk about strategy earlier on, setting strategic objectives. If you don't follow through or give the tools to be able to meet those strategic objectives, the strategic objectives are pointless in the first place. Very, very good point. Love that. I would like just to say, I think that's probably the end of our questions. Really, want to say thank you very much to everyone for their inputs and discussion today, which has been fantastic. I think for everybody watching these, there are so many fantastic nuggets of information in here and things that you can really take away to go back to our workplaces to make our workplaces a better place and a more inclusive place. I think really the takeaway for me for today is that we should all work together to support different thinkers in our organizations, to help those people, give those people the tools that they need to be able to succeed and ultimately, to help our businesses succeed.


    Again, thank you very much to all of our speakers. Thank you very much to Katie. Thank you very much, Bhushan. Thank you very much, Steve. I, myself, am definitely going to be going back to listen to the recording to you guys again because there are so many good things in there. I didn't have time to write notes. I really, really want to take those takeaways for myself and for Texthelp as well. 

    That brings us to the end of the session. Thanks so much to Bhushan, Steve, and Katie for sharing your thoughts and joining me today. I've really thoroughly enjoyed this session and I really appreciate you taking the time to share your insights with everyone listening.

    And of course to our listeners, thanks for joining us. I hope we've inspired you to think about the benefits that technology can make for our workplace inclusion efforts. I'm giving you some food for thought and how you can harness the power of technology in your own workplace.

    Just before you go, I'd like to take a minute just to reflect on the past two days since we're also at the end of this year's Festival of Workplace Inclusion. It has been a packed event with more than 30 experts in the space of diversity, equity, and inclusion from over 24 organizations and more than 3,500 of you joining us from all over the world to tune into our sessions.

    So thank you so much each and every one of you. From our speakers and partners to our very engaged audience, you've really made this festival a huge success and it's been incredible to be joined by so many people passionate about transforming the future of work.

    As we've been focused on future gazing over the past two days with our theme being around, "Transforming tomorrow," we hope you've uncovered lots of new trending strategies that will help you to make bigger strides towards a more inclusive future for your own organization.

    At Texthelp, we host events like these because we know that it's through knowledge sharing and collective action that we can make the biggest impact. And as Peter Drucker once said, "The best way to predict the future is to create it." We as organizations have the power to make positive changes for today's working generation and the next generation as well, but we must lean on each other to do it and involve everyone in the conversation. This includes voices from inside your company, your senior managers and your leaders, your employees, and of course inclusion advocates, and partnerships with experts in the field of diversity inclusion as well. We don't need to reinvent the wheel, with so much support already available that will guide us to make decisions and take action to create positive change.

    Helping our diverse workforces to thrive is technology. It's a very, very powerful tool. Our founder and CEO, Martin McKay, started Texthelp through this very belief. When he was just 12 years old, his father had a severe stroke and he lost the ability to read, write, and communicate. As soon as Martin was old enough, he started making assistive technology to help people. He saw that technology as a tool could empower independence, understanding, and communication. And he was right.

    27 years later, our inclusive technology is positively impacting the lives of 200 million people worldwide. We have an incredible bank of stories from our users about the positive impact that our tools make on a daily basis. This brings us an unlimited amount of joy. We fiercely believe in accessibility and inclusion. It is our core purpose. So, we're not stopping at 200 million users. We have a big, huge goal to reach one billion people by 2030.

    So if you'd like your people, your staff to be part of that one billion journey, it's not too late to drop us a, "Let's chat," in the questions box and we'll reach out to you after today with some more information.

    So as you leave today, think big and know that even small steps really do make a huge impact. Be curious as well. Continue attending and engaging with events like this festival to learn from those with lived experiences, and exchange insights with your peers. If you haven't done so already, I really urge you to get involved in the conversation on social media using our hashtag, #TexthelpFest23.

    Please share your key learnings from the past two days with your followers and discover what tips and strategies your peers find most interesting.

    And lastly, don't forget to check out our booths before you go. They have lots of resources to support your inclusion goals around recruitment, retention, and creating an inclusive culture. There's also a booth dedicated to inclusive technology where you can learn more about Texthelp's products and hear directly from our product users.

    Once again, thank you so much for joining us this year. And dare I mention it, already we are really looking forward to welcoming you back in 2024.

Inclusive technology to unlock potential

At Texthelp, we create technology to help people at work to achieve more by empowering them to succeed in their own way. Our inclusion tool, Read&Write for Work, helps companies to create an inclusive working environment that embraces and celebrates diversity.  Its inclusive features are beneficial to everyone, but are particularly helpful for those of us who think, work, and communicate differently. From neurodivergent employees and disabled talent, to multilingual individuals, and beyond.

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Explore Read&Write in 45 minutes

Hear from Texthelp’s inclusive tech specialists as they explore the features and benefits of Read&Write.

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