Published on 11 October 2021

Joint interview with Caroline Casey and Stéphane Richard: "Disability inclusion in the business world"

Around 20% of the global population lives with a disability, and when you include family and friends this represents 70% of the global economy*. If we are ever to achieve an inclusive and sustainable society that benefits everyone, inclusion must be a priority for all stakeholders. This is the reason behind the UN Sustainable Development Goals, especially the 10 which aim to reduce inequalities. Digital inclusion is also a key challenge, one which Caroline Casey and Stéphane Richard discuss along with their commitments to the cause.

 

* according to The Valuable 500

The Valuable 500 brings together private sector companies into a global movement to put disability on the business leadership agenda. Why is it so important for companies to be more inclusive of people with disabilities?

Caroline Casey, founder of The Valuable 500 - Over 1.3 billion people across the world live with some form of disability and, with an ageing population, this number is increasing. It’s therefore important to have an inclusive society that benefits everyone. It's no longer acceptable for the CEO of the board to ignore 20% of the population. Leaders know that it is in their interest to join our community and they trust us to point them in the right direction when it comes to inclusion. This is all about ensuring culture change – leaders make choices and choices create culture.

Diversity is a source of value, and therefore of performance, for the company

Stéphane Richard, President and CEO of Orange and Chair of the GSMA

 

Stéphane Richard

 

Stéphane Richard, President and CEO of Orange and Chair of the GSMA - Including employees with a disability into a business firstly requires better awareness. Beyond this, diversity is also a source of value, and therefore of performance, for the company. This is true when designing our products, which are intended to reach as many people as possible, as well as for professional integration into our teams. The Valuable 500 responds to this ambition, and I am proud to have committed the Orange group to it. Indeed, Orange is a corporate citizen, for which commitment is a central value. We reiterated this within our latest Engage2025 strategic plan, as well as through the exceptional mobilization of teams around the world since the start of the pandemic.
The pandemic highlighted the rapid digital transformation of our society and demonstrated the benefit of technology with so many social and economic activities moving online, but what is being done to improve digital accessibility for people with disabilities?      

 

The pandemic highlighted the rapid digital transformation of our society and demonstrated the benefit of technology with so many social and economic activities moving online, but what is being done to improve digital accessibility for people with disabilities?

C.C - The sudden shift to remote working due to Covid-19 has amplified the role technology can play, with flexible working becoming the normal overnight. Inclusive design of new technologies from the outset such as AI; 5 & 6G is critical. However, there is much more to be done across the board on many aspects. Many websites, for example, still aren't accessible to disabled customers. Accessibility is somehow still not central to business strategies.

S.R. - Indeed, one of the long-term consequences of the pandemic will be the acceleration of society’s digital transformation. To make the most of it, Caroline is right, it is imperative that these tools are accessible to everyone. This is our ambition at Orange, and we have already taken concrete steps in this direction. For example, in France, our autonomy catalog is available in 245 labeled stores, and we offer dedicated customer service by adapting to different disabilities. We are also very careful to ensure that international digital accessibility standards are met across all of our sites and applications.

Digital companies hold a huge responsibility to ensure a world that is inclusive for all

Caroline Casey, founder of The Valuable 500

 

Caroline Casey, Founder of The Valuable 500

 

Do you think that digital companies can become role models and help others to develop more digitally accessible offers?

C.C. - Digital companies hold a huge responsibility to ensure a world that is inclusive for all. Increasingly, all consumers want to spend with companies who are ethical and who care. As Stéphan said, if accessibility is part of the company’s culture and budgeted for at the beginning of a product lifecycle, then it just happens. However, many companies fall into the trap of treating accessibility as a tick box exercise, something they tag on at the end of the product development cycle to meet compliance. We should also consider the multiplier affect on the supply chains of the 500 members and how this can really bring about system change in disability inclusion in business..

S.R. - We have a particular responsibility, and much remains to be done. At Orange, we promote digital technology as a form of inclusion, which is a key driver of progress. Take the example of artificial intelligence, which is becoming more widespread in our daily lives. We have placed this technology at the heart of our Engage 2025 strategic plan while being the first signatory of the International Charter for Inclusive Artificial Intelligence. The aim of this Charter is for companies to ensure that their stakeholders act responsibly to identify discriminatory biases that could be reproduced in algorithms and therefore help combat this phenomenon. I also pushed for a Data and AI Ethics Council to reflect on the best possible use of all these technologies.

 

What are some of the best corporate practices in terms of accessibility?

C.C. - Businesses workforces should represent the customers they wish to serve – if you don’t employ people with disabilities how can you serve this market properly. A good start will be for businesses to understand and report on the representation of people with disabilities they employ.

S.R. - I totally agree. This is why at Orange our accessibility strategy goes beyond legal compliance. We have nearly created 7% direct jobs at Orange SA and our subsidiaries are also carrying out recruitment initiatives in this direction. In February 2021, we committed to recruit 230 work-study trainees and at least 125 permanently contracted employees with disabilities in France by 2023. Beyond recruitment, we are also constantly improving our onboarding and professional development support for people with disabilities. With the massive use of remote working, for example, the need for an LSF (French sign language) dictionary and velotype keyboards has increased, as has home renovations. This is a trend that we have supported in spite of the health restrictions, by using the Adapted and Protected Work Sector (STPA) to a sum of €19.1 million in 2020.

 

Neurodiversity is increasingly seen as a competitive advantage for companies, especially in the field of new technologies. What is your view on the matter?

C.C - Neurodiversity can provide many positives for businesses. For example, many people living with autism are exceptionally creative and productive with talents that are hugely beneficial to businesses in a wide range of industries. We must break out of the common stereotype that it is only in technical and mathematical roles that people with autism will excel. Every business, regardless of sector, has a responsibility and reason to ensure it supports a neurodiverse community.

S.R.- Neurodiversity is the subject of much research, all of which shows its benefit in the professional world. Under the sponsorship of Elizabeth Tchoungui and Gervais Pellissier, we set up a multidisciplinary working group dedicated sharing and implementing pilot programs to increase the recruitment, onboarding and professional development of people classified as neurodiverse within the company. This working group is still in its infancy, but I firmly believe in its growth and success.

 

What support do you provide to the leaders of “The Valuable 500” to help them in their disability inclusion journey?

C.C. - Once signed up to The Valuable 500, in phase 1 businesses gained access to our Executive Resource Hub – a free, exclusive online toolkit designed to help our leaders and their boards on their inclusion journeys. This includes guidance on learning, governance, strategy, workforce, representation, innovation, brand experience, design leadership and communication. In phase 2 we are now launching a digital hub allowing the collective to connect and share information.

S.R. - These tools and guidelines are very beneficial for us. We are also excited to share our experiences and best practices with other members.

 

What are some of The Valuable 500’s major projects for the years to come?

C.C. - We have a lot lined up over the next couple of years to ensure all the leaders in our network have the tools and knowledge to ensure their workplaces, supply chains and products are fully inclusive. We have worked out a program based on 6 pillars, each led by one of our iconic leaders who are CEOs within the network taking the lead on these projects. These 6 pillars include 3 internal drivers, Leadership, Culture and Brand along with 3 external drivers, Research, Reporting and Representation. There is lots to come in this space so keep watching.

To finish Stéphane, I have a question for you: as a CEO, if you were speaking directly to your community of peers, what is the next call to action?

 

S.R. - As leaders, we must collectively continue to make progress on these subjects to encourage awareness across the ecosystem – our customers, suppliers and all our partners. It is also essential to encourage best practice sharing and communicating the results achieved to remove any persistent obstacles.

Three years after the launch of The Valuable 500 in Davos, your ambition to reach 500 signatures has been achieved and I congratulate you, Caroline, for your determination to ensure the better inclusion of people with disabilities.