By Mike Evans, Inclusion & Diversity Recruitment Analyst at Accenture
Consultancy is an industry that is defined by mobility, agility and pace. Because of this, it’s not so difficult to imagine why some graduates who identify as having either a physical or mental disability see several barriers in their way of a long and successful career in this field – everything from the accessibility of home office and client sites through to unhelpful, inflexible HR policies that can make even the simplest of activities bureaucratic.
The concerns that students and graduates with a disability have shouldn’t just be at the forefront of their minds – they should also be the concerns of the organisation that they are interested in working for. All organisations should view the challenges of their prospective and existing employees as an opportunity to better themselves and ensure that they set the benchmark for best practice – in whichever challenge it is that they are trying to help both their employees and their business overcome.
I’ve faced some personal health challenges during my adolescence - namely anorexia and a bout of depression that lasted a couple of years. This experience has made me more conscious to ensure that any organisation I work with is equipped to provide me with the right support should I ever face a personal health issue again.
When I was looking for a change of career back in 2014, I was rigorous in my search for an organisation that would acknowledge both my strengths and would be better positioned to provide me with support regarding my mental health. It was Accenture that finally won me over and accepted me to join their Technology Practice in the autumn of that year. 3 years later I’m still here and can see ‘respect for the individual’ and ‘stewardship’ (2 of Accenture’s core values) exemplified daily for Accenture’s employees as well as their clients.
Across the UK, Accenture has a family of “Accent on” Groups that provide support, awareness and education regarding many of the communities (including Accents on LGBT, Gender, Mental Health, Enablement) that make up our diverse and dynamic workforce. It’s our Accent on Enablement that provides support to those who identify as having a disability and in addition awareness and education to the wider workforce regarding this topic.
The role of our Accent for Enablement (AoE) is two-fold. Firstly, it exists to provide support for those with disabilities including those who have long-term physical, mental, intellectual or sensory impairments. Secondly, AoE is there to raise awareness and educate all our employees on the challenges that can be faced by those with any of the disabilities listed above. The education is important to ensure that any myths/stereotypes of what it means to have a disability are demystified and that our workforce are better informed to support not only their colleagues but also their friends and families.
Education is available through several channels at Accenture. For a start, a good old fashioned conversation with a member of the AoE is always a great way to get to know how the group operates and where appropriate individuals will share their personal stories. Secondly, we have a rather comprehensive Learning Board where you can educate yourself on what it means to have Autism, re-watch a webinar on bipolar awareness or get yourself up to date on the latest technology for mobility impairment for example. Thirdly, all our “Accent on” groups host events during the year to welcome both new and old faces to hear about the latest successes and the next leg of their journey – these events often provide the chance for allies of groups to sign up for future volunteering opportunities or better understand how they can use either 1 or all 3 of their next charity days.
Accenture has removed some of the barriers that employees with disabilities may face in a typical work environment. Two steps our organisation have taken are the provision of ‘reasonable accommodations’ (i.e. modifications or adjustments to a job/work environment) and the adoption of assistive technologies. Accenture employees are offered the chance to request support regarding any challenges they may face due to their disability. This support can be requested via tools within Accenture specifically designed to request workplace and assistive technology needs. Local HR and occupational therapists can then assess how the business can best support the request raised and therefore increase the mobility, agility and pace of everyone working for the business.
Reasonable accommodations can be simple changes for the business to implement but make a big difference to the employee’s time at work. Take for example Keith Wellington who joined Accenture UK in 2008 after having a below-the-knee amputation of his leg six months earlier. Accenture arranged for him to discuss his recent surgery and how we could ensure he had a good start to his career. As a result of his meeting with our occupational therapist, Keith received a lightweight laptop, a smaller rucksack and a wheeled computer trolley.
Paul Clayton’s story is a positive example of how Accenture is adopting assistive technology to improve the working environment for those who identify as blind. Paul’s role in the UK & Ireland Human Capital and Diversity Team requires him to move at pace and he can do this with access to Braille software and a Braille embosser to read and produce documents – all tools which Accenture have provided. In addition, Paul’s also been provided with a mobile phone with speech software which enables him to easily access contacts and scanning software gives him access to printed materials whilst he’s on the move – handy when his team is frequently on the go.
There are individuals such as Michelle Solomon who have conditions which require more flexibility in terms of when support is available. Michelle has a kidney disorder and although she can sometimes feel as fit as an individual that doesn’t have her condition, her disorder can flair up and she requires flexibility in terms of working out of the office or taking time off work so she can recuperate. We’ve worked with Michelle to establish a plan to manage her time off and her return to the workplace, keen to ensure that her health is the priority and that she isn’t unnecessarily stressed by work.
Accenture’s all about continuous improvement and always trying to identify ways in which we can be more supportive of individuals identifying as disabled. Although we’re always keen to do more, the work we have already achieved - educating our employees, our workplace accommodations and adoption of assistive technology - have been externally recognised. In the US last year, we were awarded the Disability Employer Seal of Approval by The National organization on Disability and in the UK the Business Disability Forum (UK) recognised the forward-thinking work regarding our UK Mental Health Allies program executive sponsor (FYI, I can testify as to the benefit of the Mental Health training on offer here – it’s been incredibly helpful).
There are a number of ways to be mobile, agile and move at pace and Accenture acknowledges this. I hope I’ve illustrated how we’ve managed to enable people’s abilities to outshine the challenges of their physical or mental disability. I don’t think we’ll ever stop seeing challenges as an opportunity to better ourselves.