Fixing the disability employment gap in the financial services sector

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Fixing the disability employment gap in the financial services sector


This content is contributed or sourced from third parties but has been subject to Finextra editorial review.

The career prospects for disabled people in the UK are pretty bleak. Disabled people face barriers in education, seeking employment, getting paid fairly when in employment, and in progressing into management and leadership roles. Although these exist across every sector, the financial services sector employs fewer disabled people than most others and pays them significantly less than their non-disabled peers.

Employing, retaining and progressing disabled people is, of course, a moral imperative, but failing to employ disabled people is simply a business risk. Not only do disabled people bring different skills, views, approaches, and ways of working, it is vital for organisations to ensure that they represent the communities that they serve. 24% of people in the UK have a disability; that’s a market that nobody wants to miss out on.

The business benefits of having a diverse workforce with an inclusive culture are well known — from more creativity and innovation through to increased productivity and profits. So, if you’re not already pounding the pavement along your inclusion journey, it’s time to start now.

What barriers do disabled people face?

The barriers to work for disabled people begin with education. For those disabled people who were born with a disability or acquired their disability during childhood, opportunities for educational attainment are significantly lower. For example, only 25% of disabled people have a degree, as compared to 43% of those without a disability.

For those seeking or in employment, the disability employment gap stands at 30%, with only 52% of disabled people of working age in employment, as compared to 82% of non-disabled people. Alongside this, the disability pay gap shows that disabled people in employment are paid 14.6% less than non-disabled people.

When looking across sectors and at the percentage of disabled people that they employ, the financial services sector has one of the lowest rates, with only 12% of employees in the sector being disabled, compared to 88% of non-disabled people. In addition, according to the Trade Union Congress’ disability pay gap report, the sector’s disability pay gap stands at 33.2%, which is higher than any other sector on record.

Benefits of closing the employment gap

Banks, insurance companies, pension providers and fintech companies, whose services are essential for day-to-day living, must ensure that their services are designed with disabled people, accessibility, and inclusion in mind. However, as it currently stands, 32% of disabled people feel that financial services providers do not understand their specific needs. Ensuring that disabled people are part of the ideation, development and delivery of these services is essential if disabled customers’ needs are to be appropriately met.

It is also widely reported that the financial services sector experiences some of the greatest challenges in attracting, retaining and progressing talent. But with 9.58 million disabled people of working age in the UK, this presents a massive talent pool for the sector to tap into.

Where do we start?

For employers to attract, retain and progress disabled people, it is important to understand that all disabilities sit across spectrums, and the way one experiences disability will be different to another. This depends on when they acquired their disability and the nature of the disability itself. For instance, those who were born with a disability or acquired a disability during childhood will have a very different experience to someone who acquired a disability during their working lives. Likewise, people who have degenerative conditions will have different needs from those whose conditions are stable.

So, to ensure that everyone, including disabled individuals, has the opportunity to succeed in the workplace, organisations must first cultivate a new culture, implement strategies, and establish leadership that is truly inclusive. This starts with fostering an environment where all individuals feels valued, respected, and have a voice in shaping the organisation's direction. Such a working environment must too be championed by leaders who embody diversity, equity, inclusion, and belonging (DEI) principles and make it a central focus of their leadership style. DEI initiatives cannot be siloed from overall strategies and business plans; instead, they must be seamlessly integrated into every aspect of the organisation's operations and performance metrics.

It’s important that this culture starts from the very first interactions employees or potential employees have with the employer. Sadly, many people hold the misconception that supporting disabled people during the recruitment process or in work is difficult or beyond their organisation’s capabilities or resources, particularly around making reasonable adjustments. They mistakenly think that reasonable adjustments are complicated or expensive. According to UN Enable, 80% of disabled people do not require any adaptations to accommodate them in the workplace. Where adjustments are required, the average cost of doing so is only £80.

Many employers also assume that a disabled person knows what reasonable adjustments they need. Although this may be the case, many disabled people do not know what is available to them at work, particularly if they have only recently acquired their disability. It’s important to get advice and support, whether this be from internal or external DEI practitioners, disability organisations or the Access to Work programme.

Good practice to learn from

Getting started might not be easy but there’s support available. Employers who are serious about reaching out to the widest talent pool possible should look at working with organisations that support disabled people getting into work. There’s the RNIB‘s Visibly Better programme, for example, and introducing pathways for those who may not have had the same educational opportunities as their non-disabled peers, such as apprenticeships and internships.

Organisations, including Goldman Sachs, Lloyds Banking Group, PwC and Schroders committed to the 10,000 Able Interns programme, which seeks to provide paid internships for disabled people. Still, more need to follow suit. Upskilling and reskilling employees opportunities should also be made more visible, with a particular focus on employees who acquire a disability when working or when a degenerative disability requires reassessment.

We’re all just individuals

It’s equally important that all aspects of the employee life-cycle — recruitment, onboarding, retention, progression and even off-boarding — are fully inclusive, and that pay, along with development and progression opportunities, are equal for all.

That’s why getting to understand the person behind the disability is vital, as we are all just individuals after all. In the same way as you would with any other employee, employers must check in with disabled employees regularly to ensure that they have everything they need to thrive. This includes having the right support and policies, procedures, and systems in place, along with training for all employees to ensure that DEI best practices are present throughout the organisation.

With the FCA seeking to introduce a regulatory framework for diversity and inclusion in the financial services sector, and many organisations within the sector making great strides in their DEI work, things are moving in the right direction. However, with over 2.5 million people working in the financial and professional services, contributing to 12% of the UK’s entire economic output, the sector certainly has the resources to catch up. The industry has a great opportunity, not only to be on par with other sectors, but to lead the way for all UK employers in making their workplaces diverse and their cultures inclusive.


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This content is contributed or sourced from third parties but has been subject to Finextra editorial review.