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Empowering disabled colleagues in the workplace with #PurpleLightUp, in partnership with Purple Space

By Yvonne Smyth, Head of Diversity & Inclusion, Hays

A global event known as Purple Light Up sees hundreds of iconic landmarks and monuments worldwide illuminated with purple light to coincide with the UN International Day of Persons with Disabilities. This day, held on 3rd December, promotes the rights and wellbeing of the 386 million employees that live with a disability or long-term health condition. This year’s theme was ‘Fighting for rights in the post COVID-19-era’, which aimed to raise awareness of the challenges and opportunities that disabled people are facing during the pandemic.

Purple Space, which organises #PurpleLightUp, urges organisations, networks, groups and communities to take part in the event to not only raise awareness of the economic power of people living with a disability, long-term illness or health condition, but to also encourage meaningful conversations that will help to accelerate our way to a more disability-confident and inclusive future. There are plenty of ways you can get involved each year, from flying purple flags and wearing purple clothes, to altering your company’s branding or posting on social media – small things that, when combined with all the other efforts being made across the world, can truly make a difference in how we approach the topic of disability-confidence and inclusion.

Opening up the conversation

Disability in the workplace is not a new challenge, and enabling greater disability-confidence and inclusion remains a work-in-progress. Hays asked 8,000 people, globally, if they felt that their workplace is inclusive of people living with a disability, and just 53% said yes. While we’re glad to see that most of our respondents feel this way, 47% reported that they did not feel as though their workplace was inclusive.

I’m a firm believer that meaningful conversations can spark change and build awareness and confidence, as we talk and understand more about the lived experience of colleagues. Discussion leads to education, and it’s important that employers create environments in which people feel able to speak up and speak out with their colleagues, line managers and HR professionals.

How can I help?

It can feel daunting to broach some of these topics, especially if you are concerned that you might not know the context, right language to use or have all the answers, but the important thing to remember is that well-intended conversations are a great starting point. I encourage leaders to use their influence to be front-footed in talking about disability to build confidence and inclusion, and I encourage the starting up of colleague-led groups. These can provide insight and recommendations off the back of their lived experience, thus providing a feedback loop to the top of an organisation.

Let’s embrace the opportunity to celebrate our differences, share our stories and learn from our own experiences and those of the people around us. There are many resources and experts to help us on our way. Right at the forefront, in my opinion, is the fantastic community of networks at Purple Space that are available to support these important conversations, and Hays is extremely proud to be backing its vision and ambition. We’re proud to have built a partnership with Purple Space and, with their help, we have set up our REACH network for colleagues with our mission to better Recognise and Enable All Conditions and colleagues at Hays.

About this author

Yvonne is Head of Diversity & Inclusion at Hays, working with our clients to ensure their recruitment strategies are aligned with the latest equality, diversity and inclusion (ED&I) policies and initiatives. She is responsible for creating and implementing diverse recruitment strategies that effectively support the representation of more diverse staff profiles within their business.

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