The Business Disability Forum lists several of the larger companies in the financial sector as partners. We explore workplace opportunities for disabled people.

Banks, accountancy firms and other financial advisories are unlikely to lose their reputation as pin-striped traditionalists. So just how progressive is the financial sector in other areas? Are there opportunities for disabled people to build a career in the sector?

Happily, rather than being stuck in a prejudicial time-warp the financial sector actually has a good many schemes and programmes designed to help disabled people go about their business, just as all of their other employees do. On the face of it, this might seem incongruous with the financial sector’s reputation as a ‘bear pit’ environment. Actually, to a certain extent that’s correct and the fact of the matter is that it’s still just about business.

Training towards diversity

As strange as it sounds, financial institutions are staffed by people rigorously trained to see through the fog of emotions and empathy and to look straight at the ‘bottom line’. The second fact to relate is that looking after disabled people in the workforce doesn’t cost money, it makes money. The bonus ‘win’ is that it’s also the right thing to do.

Lots of the public facing businesses on the high street have come to realise that disabled people are crucial in providing a rich service to a diverse customer-base. Other strands of diversity are also well catered for, and rightly so. The other strands of diversity are beyond the scope of this article, although they do overlap with disability. The general question that businesses have been asking themselves is ‘how can we serve the disabled community properly?’ The answer is clearly to embrace disabled people in the workplace and learn lessons and hear their views in an environment where they can be analysed and then applied. The success is usually immediate as far as attracting disabled customers (who are also known to show loyalty to companies displaying disability confidence). Meanwhile, the disabled employees continue to thrive. Having had a quick scan around the websites of familiar organisations in the financial sector: RBS, Barclays, Deloitte and PricewaterhouseCoopers, it does seem that a lot of care and attention is being taken to make sure that disability is being properly considered.

Perhaps it’s another hallmark of the financial sector that ‘investment’ is highly respected and valued. Such input isn’t always money – but always costs money. For instance, it certainly costs money to train people, so where’s the sense in not having a robust scheme in place to retain those trained employees? This would be rather like growing a field of wheat and letting the sheep onto it for grazing.

Better business

It doesn’t end there of course. As I mentioned, the financial sector might be a leading community in disability confidence but it’s still concerned with money. The first part of the project might be understanding how to help disabled employees develop a career with them, but the next step is about understanding how they can have an even better, more profitable career based on the training and resources they’ve received – in other words – understanding how to get a better crop yield.

BDF_cutoutThe only reliable way to achieve this ‘improved yield’ is to make sure that policies are framed in the correct way. It’s true that a bank could train an able bodied person to understand financial matters and even to have some notion of what it’s like to be disabled but this just doesn’t compare with a staff member who can not only bring a talent for learning but can also build on their own experiences with disability and help steer company policy towards an inclusive model (for the benefit of customers and staff alike). In some ways the disabled employee becomes the person handing out the training – an idea that the financial sector has embraced. The diversity pages of the Lloyd’s Banking Group sums up their approach as follows: “Having an inclusive workplace enables us to recruit from the broadest talent pool and retain that talent in the organisation should a colleague become disabled. It also helps us reflect the communities we serve and fosters a deeper understanding of the needs of disabled customers and the barriers that they can face”.

There are two general methods an organisation can use in learning to become disability confident: either using the knowledge and expertise of their own staff or outsourcing training provision to an external partner. RBS, for example, do this for all strands of their diversity policy using the Business Disability Forum for training advice and auditing regarding disability.

Internal groups

KPMG, also has internal groups set up to look out for the interests of specific strands of diversity, as a note on their website about their approach to diversity confirms: “Fostering a significant number of employee networks, open to anyone with an interest in or experience of diversity”.

External partners are excellent at drilling down ‘vertically’ within single strands of diversity whilst ‘diversity groups’ run internally are often better for taking a ‘horizontal’ view, incorporating all of the strands together. External partners cannot always provide their services for nothing and it’s another clue to the level of commitment of the companies that use them that they’re prepared to invest. Asking for external help also shows a willingness to learn and acquire new ideas, rather than a closed mind on the subject. In fact the diversity page of the KPMG website concludes quite openly that: “We don’t have all the answers on diversity and inclusion ourselves, and we’re proud of our association with a range of external partners who provide us with access to new research and best practice on diversity and inclusion from across the globe”.

Being flexible to needs

Policies and diversity groups are superb ways of making sure that the correct people are watching over diversity. Disability, however, is a very personal thing and utterly unique to the individual. With this in mind, an element of flexibility also needs to be built in. KPMG again note that their approach (to diversity) includes: “Being as flexible as possible about when and where you work. We have an extensive menu of flexible working options available to all employees, but we’re also open to informal conversations about flexibility at any time”.

This touches the heart of the issue. Disabled people need to take responsibility for their own health and working environment, by approaching their employer. This is all the easier though, when they know that help, rather than sneering or criticism is at hand. Ideas like flexible working conditions or adaptations are seen as investments; as Lloyd’s puts it: “disabled staff might need adjustments made to create a level playing field within the workplace. So they have created a highly successful workplace adjustment process, which to date has assisted more than 11,000 Lloyd’s staff”. Similarly, KPMG sums it up even more simply, saying: “Recognising it’s not always easy to be yourself, particularly if you feel you’re in a minority”.

Financial sector companies regularly land inside the top portion of ‘Top 100 companies to work for’ lists, and again looking around websites, I’ve seen a positive meteor shower of awards logos all pertaining to diversity.

High standards

Barclays was named best service provider and overall winner of the Disability Standard for 2013 which scores organisations’ performance on disability across the whole business, from their products and services to recruitment and facilities.

According to the Business Disability Forum, “Barclays have consistently worked to attract disabled employees across their business, rather than just one area. They have an armed forces transition programme; an initiative targeting those on the autistic spectrum; and ‘mainstream’ graduate level recruitment and apprenticeship programmes which specifically target disabled candidates”.

It’s overwhelmingly clear that the financial sector provides an excellent environment in which disabled people can forge a successful career. Understanding towards and support of disabled people is widespread in the sector and its traditions of investment and goal setting enable disabled people to reach their full potential.