National Inclusion Week takes place later this month. An annual week of workplace activities and events that highlight the importance of inclusion across the UK. Perhaps your place of work is taking part? But when taking a step back and considering whether or not working practices and company culture are inclusive, I wonder if your employer is thinking about disability? 

When considering the term 'diversity and inclusion', businesses and organisations tend to connect it to ethnicity and gender. Companies will often have policies in place that seek to address the gender pay gap or improve on the number of ethnic minorities within their workforce. But this definition is too narrow, this doesn’t capture the numerous dimensions of diversity that exist in our society.  

Diversity is everything that makes an individual what they are. This not only covers ethnicity, gender, religion, but also includes disability. It is worth recognising that the disabled community is the largest minority group in the world and any of us can find ourselves joining this community at any time. Around the world, 1 in 7 people have some form of disability and of this 1 in 7, in the UK 80% of those disabilities are not visible. That is over 10 million people in the UK and approximately 1.3 billion globally.

By becoming a member of the Sunflower, your business will have the tools to recognise and support individuals with non-visible disabilities and become confident in providing them with additional help or assistance. This could simply mean giving them more time to prepare, or process information, or using clear verbal language. 

As well as supporting customers with non-obvious disabilities, businesses use the Sunflower to support their colleagues and extend their diversity and inclusion objectives. The Sunflower is often a catalyst that can transform the culture of disability disclosure, start the conversation about barriers that disabled people face and challenge mind-sets and perceptions towards disability within the workplace.

Why is diversity and inclusion important?

The ??????Hidden Disabilities Sunflower characters include people of multiple ethnicity, genders and disabilities

Diversity encompasses the ability to be inclusive. Inclusive in society, in the workplace, in the design of our cities, ensuring that all can appreciate, enjoy and experience everything the world has to offer without barriers.

Unless you live in the most remote parts of the world, you will experience diversity in your workplace, in the supermarkets, education, healthcare, entertainment, everywhere. We will all benefit, both as individuals and as a global society if we learn to live and respect all others and embrace a diverse culture.

The Hidden Disabilities Sunflower has one simple purpose: wear a Sunflower lanyard, badge or wristband, when it suits you, to let people discreetly know that you, or someone with you, has a non-visible disability and may need extra help, understanding, or just more time. 

The Sunflower first launched in 2016 at Gatwick Airport and it’s now supported by thousands of businesses and organisations, both large and small, across every sector – from retail, financial services, transport, education to healthcare, leisure facilities and charities. Together, we have distributed over 3 million Sunflowers globally.

As a global organisation, directly represented in 10 countries, our integrity, success and capability to innovate are intrinsically linked to the multiple talents and experiences of a diverse, multi-cultural and inclusive working environment. The Sunflower is committed to creating an inclusive workplace where all our staff can feel comfortable expressing their views, beliefs and values. For us, the time is now to move towards appreciating and embracing our differences and understanding that we all offer valuable perspective and experience. We are so much stronger when we embrace all of the unique skills and talents that our team has to offer. It is essential that each and every person at Hidden Disabilities Sunflower feels the confidence necessary to give their opinion, feels an integral part of our team and engages and shares in the direction of our business.  

Why do companies need inclusion to thrive?

A diverse workforce inspires current, fresh and exciting ideas and stimulates innovation. When an employee feels they are accepted and treated fairly, they will find their job fulfilling, be more likely to remain with the company and look forward to each daily challenge the workplace presents. They will be less stressed and have improved mental health when they feel their voice matters and they belong.

What does it mean to be naturally inclusive?

Diversity in business begins by having an inclusive recruitment policy which will employ regardless of ethnicity, gender, age, disability, sexual orientation or religious beliefs. The business must create a culture where everyone has the same opportunities, and by being an inclusive employer, you are welcoming and acknowledging each employee and giving them a voice to impact the business. This culture starts with your hiring procedure and ensuring that this process is inclusive and does not alienate, or adversely challenge, people with disabilities due to an antiquated way of interviewing candidates and a narrow-minded employer. For instance, following a traditional interview pattern may adversely affect neuro divergent people as they may not react well in this environment.

An example of this can be found in a recent Sunflower campaign, Falling through the cracks, where we highlighted the employment gap that exists for autistic people. Shockingly, only 22% of autistic adults are in any kind of employment, compared to 81% of non-disabled adults and 52% of disabled adults. One aspect of this issue will be the recruitment process. If you want a diverse workplace, you must start with an inclusive interview process.

By making relatively simple adjustments within your workplace, you will create an environment that will support all. In turn, this will promote your inclusive culture and because of this mindset, will encourage diversity within your workplace.

Our commitment is to ensure that the Sunflower continues to celebrate diversity and advocate on supporting people whose disabilities are not visible. We will continue to challenge the mindset, champion for the rights of disabled people and do our bit in helping to create a unified and inclusive landscape for all.

How do I get involved in National Inclusion Week?

National Inclusion week logo. Reads National Inclusion Week, #ThePowerOfNow, Inclusive Employers

National Inclusion Week starts on 26 September. Take that first step towards becoming disability inclusive and creating a workplace where everyone feels included and supported by contacting us and joining the Sunflower network.

Businesses already employ more disabled people than they think they do, it’s just that some people’s disability is not visible and they’ve chosen not to disclose it. This may be because they’re worried they’ll be overlooked for a job, or a promotion, or they’re worried their colleagues will judge them, or that their colleagues will not know how to, or avoid talking about disability. 

The Sunflower often acts as a catalyst to disability disclosure by allowing someone to share they have a hidden disability simply by wearing the Sunflower.

One of our Sunflower wearers, Julie, who has a loss of peripheral vision, uses the Sunflower at work so that colleagues don’t think she’s rude, or unfriendly, when she doesn’t respond to them if she doesn’t see them. 

The Sunflower also gives businesses a tool to talk about disability in a positive way and raise awareness of non-visible disabilities across its workplace. 

In turn, this helps to normalise disability and leads to conversations about removing barriers people might face, such as:

  • Providing recruitment literature in large print
  • Having a quiet space in the workplace for someone to take some time out 
  • Giving someone more time to prepare or process information 
  • Training on using disability inclusive language.

Talk to your employer about joining, or if you are an organsation that wants to become disability-inclusive, find out how to join here .