Virgin Media and Scope launched the #WorkWithMe pledge in 2017 to support one million disabled people with the skills and confidence theu need to get and stay in work. We spoke to Virgin Media chief operating officer, Jeff Dodds, about the scheme, and how other organisations can join the cause.
What prompted Virgin Media to work with Scope to develop the #WorkWithMe pledge? Could you explain how it works?
Our partnership with Scope is focused on creating social change for disabled people. In 2017, we launched #WorkWithMe with an ambitious goal to support one million disabled people to gain the skills and confidence to get and stay in work.
Since then we’ve launched the Virgin Media and Scope ‘Support to Work’ service, offering disabled people and their families employment information and advice. We’ve also been speaking to other businesses to understand how they support disabled employees.
The #WorkWithMe pledge offers businesses – large and small – practical advice on how to improve workplace policies, practices and culture for disabled people.
It’s free to join and has five simple steps. Having a senior leader accountable for disability (I’m the executive accountable for disability at Virgin Media), a complete review of how you support disabled people in the workplace, and helping line managers become confident in knowing how to support disabled people. It also includes tracking your progress on disability inclusion and asking your disabled employees’ views on how well the company is doing at creating at inclusive workplaces, and lastly, sharing best practice and co-creating with other businesses.
In return for signing the pledge, companies will have access to a suite of free resources, such as guides for managers on how to talk confidently about disability and how to hold accessible meetings.
It’s unique as it has been created for business by business: the pledge is based on our learnings from the past two years where we’ve been transforming every part of our business to create a more inclusive workplace for disabled people.
Who needs to take a lead on this within organisations? And does it require a lot of investment?
Typically, it’s the person who has responsibility for people, such as a senior HR leader, or in my case, someone who has executive responsibility for disability and inclusion. Adapting your workplace for disabled people doesn’t necessarily cost lots of money – it’s often the small things that can make a big difference.
Is this just a moral imperative or a commercial one as well?
I’ve seen first-hand the positive impact of employing disabled people, both for them and the organisation. In my experience they can bring a sense of resilience and determination, as well as a different, often innovative way of thinking. We want our company to reflect the communities we serve and know that our products and services meet our customers’ needs. One in five people in the UK are disabled, so if you’re not employing disabled people, how do you know you’re offering them the right services?
How have you addressed disability discrimination in practical ways at Virgin Media?
Over the past two years we’ve been transforming every part of our business; such as updating our HR policies, providing new training for managers, and streamlining workplace adjustments. We still have work to do but we’re heading in the right direction.
Why do you think employers are failing to engage with this issue?
I think some employers find disability awkward or are worried about offending disabled people. They may lack the information or tools to offer them the right support.
There are a lot of misconceptions around what disabled people can do and what disability is, for example, only about five per cent of disabled people use a wheelchair.
Disability can cover a range of impairments and conditions, some which are acquired and some which are hidden, such as autism.
To overcome these misconceptions and out-dated attitudes, businesses need to come together and look how they can recruit and employ more disabled people. The other elements include looking under the bonnet and reviewing your employment practices, and speaking to your disabled employees to understand the barriers they face.
To find out how you can join the cause, and make your workplace more accessible for disabled people, visit the #WorkWithMe website.