Almost eight in 10 (77%) disabled knowledge workers believe outdated technology in the workplace is limiting work opportunities for people with disabilities in the UK, according to new research from Citrix. Nearly three quarters (73%) of IT decision makers agree with this – despite 92% confirming that technology now exists which should enable any business to employ a disabled individual as a knowledge worker.
Commissioned by Citrix and carried out by Censuswide, this research aimed to identify the current role of technology in opening up employment opportunities for individuals with disabilities and discover whether UK organisations are set up to successfully employ new talent from this potentially untapped workforce. By surveying 500 respondents – 250 IT decision makers and 250 disabled knowledge workers with a physical or sensory impairment – in large UK businesses, this research examines the extent to which companies are deploying technology and tasking the IT department to facilitate greater diversity in the workplace, with a focus on the disabled workforce.
The IT versus employee disconnect
IT leaders revealed that most UK businesses (88%) set up their IT department with a specific role and budget to support workforce diversification, such as employing people with disabilities. Additionally, the majority of CIOs or IT department leads are involved in discussions with HR (89%) and the wider C-suite (86%) to create new ways of working and facilitate disability inclusion in the business through technology, including physical and systems accessibility.
Despite this departmental collaboration, specific allocated budget and C-suite focus, the research revealed a disconnect between business preparations and what employees with disabilities actually need in terms of technology and support. Almost a quarter (24%) of disabled knowledge workers think the majority of UK businesses are not properly prepared to employ individuals with disabilities and set them up for success – with a further 37% believing only some businesses are capable.
Building diversity into business principles
More than half (57%) of IT leaders claim their organisation has overarching business principles across IT, HR and the board which value diversity specifically – helping the IT team get the right IT architecture and strategies in place to support a more varied workforce. A further 31% confirmed their business is in the planning stages of doing this.
In spite of this business-wide focus on supporting diversity with the right technology, almost a quarter (24%) of disabled knowledge workers believe companies don’t really consider the impact of new technology on employees with disabilities when deciding on new technology to roll out in the business. A further 43% feel it is only considered sometimes. This missed opportunity to apply the overarching business principles to consistently focus on implementing the right IT for a more diverse workforce was reflected in IT leaders’ responses: just 48% always consider the impact of new technology on disabled employees, despite the existence of such agreed upon principles.
Yet UK companies are often succeeding when it comes to flexibility in the workplace. The majority (65%) of disabled knowledge workers feel that employers and prospective employers have been flexible when it comes to implementing technology that helps them do their job. This flexibility may stem from budget made available within UK organisations to successfully deploy technology to open up opportunities for disabled people in the workplace, such as IT which enables flexible working to cut out the commute, or assisted technology. While less than half (44%) of IT decision makers believe they have the budget and support to do this, a further two in five (42%) believe their budget alone is not sufficient but they can request more on a case-by-case basis, such as a new hire.
Greater flexibility for a more diverse workforce
Although 39% of disabled knowledge workers believe having a disability – particularly a physical or sensory impairment – makes no difference for an individual’s career options and progression, almost a third (30%) do think it has a negative impact. Of these respondents, the majority (72%) say a key factor is that businesses are not set up with the right technology to allow disabled employees to work in the way that best suits them, while almost two thirds (61%) believe businesses are still subject to ‘presenteeism’ – and it is harder for those with disabilities to get into the office every single day.
The research highlights that technology which enables staff to work in a more flexible way, such as from a remote location, is a major draw for potential disabled employees. When deciding whether they would want to work for an organisation, 86% of disabled knowledge workers are influenced by the technology that an employer makes available to staff and 85% also factor in whether there is an option to work remotely. In fact, two in five (42%) cite the flexibility to work remotely as a ‘major factor’ in their decision.
Disabled knowledge workers recognise the productivity benefits that come with the flexibility to work remotely: almost half (49%) believe it definitely enables them to be more productive, with another 38% agreeing it has the potential to boost their productivity. Some UK businesses are acknowledging this by both enabling and advocating flexible working, but this is not yet widespread. Less than two fifths of disabled knowledge workers (34%) and IT decision makers (37%) view their employer as a big advocate of flexible working. Despite the potential productivity benefits, almost one in five (19%) disabled knowledge workers say their employer enables but does not encourage flexible working.
“Many IT departments are playing a pivotal role in improving workforce diversification by collaborating closely with HR and senior business leaders. Yet efforts to set aside budget and deploy the right technology do not go far enough. Businesses must follow through on their pledges and adapt workplace culture if they are to create an environment which enables a truly diverse workforce,” said Darren Fields, Regional Vice President, UK and Ireland, Citrix.
The evolution of diversity in business
While this research outlines many positive steps to facilitate disability inclusion in UK businesses, close to a quarter of disabled knowledge workers (27%) and IT decision makers (22%) ‘strongly agree’ that the organisation they work for ‘talks a good game about diversity without really acting’. This suggests that large UK organisations have an opportunity to improve their use of technology to support workforce diversity, or at least to better communicate how they are doing this to their workforce.
Despite this, almost three quarters (72%) of disabled knowledge workers paint a more positive picture, stating that British businesses are improving at supporting employment opportunities for disabled people by updating technology platforms, implementing policies like flexible working and generally evolving the company culture to support a diverse workforce which includes those with disabilities. In fact, more than two in five (41%) IT decision makers believe their organisation is ahead of the curve when it comes to supporting employment opportunities for disabled people.
“By pairing up-to-date, reliable and adaptable technology with a workplace culture that supports a variety of working patterns, UK businesses can champion diversity at work and access a wider pool of talent, including employees with disabilities. This is a true differentiator for recruitment and can remove barriers to this largely untapped workforce, leading to subsequent enterprise productivity gains,” said Fields.