“There is not a manufacturing company in the world that could afford to abandon close to 15 per cent of its production capacity, and the same applies to every country whether it is small, like Scotland, or enormous, like China or India.”
A little over a week ago, I wrote about a couple of horrendous and inexcusable gaffes by two large organisations. I went on to state that when it comes to equality ignorance is not an excuse, that shaking your head before stating ‘it is common sense’ won’t wash. I suggested that we all take a look in the mirror and ask where we could do better. I stated that for business equality needs to be a question of strategy, of planning to reach those people with one or more of what are termed ‘protected characteristics’ in the 2010 Equality Act.
Since writing that article a number of people have asked me to explain what I mean by this and, in real terms, what is the business incentive?
The quote above is from double Formula One world champion Jackie Stewart’s excellent autobiography ‘Winning Is Not Enough.’ It is more than the usual sporting biography, in that it covers his career after Formula One where he went on to become an extremely successful businessman.
A common thread throughout the story is Stewart’s struggles with Dyslexia. How he went through his childhood believing he was “thick”. How despite being one of the most successful sportsmen ever to live he was continually aware of a sense of inadequacy. Until a chance meeting with a doctor who was running some tests on his son led to him also being tested and, in his 40s, finding out he wasn’t thick after all. He has a learning disability called dyslexia.
Ten per cent of the population of Britain is dyslexic (source: the British Dyslexia Association). Think about that figure. That is six million people. Four per cent are severely dyslexic; that is 2.4 million people.
It is right and proper that every one of those people should reasonably be able to access the products and services that everyone else does. It is also right and proper that every one of those people should reasonably be able to expect the same treatment as everyone else does. Indeed the 2010 Equality Act does not insist that companies make all adjustments it asks only that they do what is reasonable.
But beyond that, can your company afford to reduce its potential market by 6 million people because of something as inexcusable as ignorance? Surely not, it is common sense isn’t it? And yet thousands of companies do exactly that every day simply by (through ignorance) using inappropriate fonts or colour schemes in marketing paraphernalia, in communications (sic) documents and on websites. In short, they deliberately reduce the potential size of their market.
I call that ignorance driven insanity.
That is ten per cent of the population. Where does Jackie Stewart’s 15% come from? Dyslexia is different from but shares characteristics with dyscalculia, dyspraxia and colour blindness. Individuals with one of those disabilities often have one or more of the others. In total they make up fifteen per cent of the population.
Nine million people. More people than live in Greater London. 9,000,000 people. More people than live in Scotland and Wales combined. A lot of people.
I recently came across an example of this ignorance driven insanity when attending a business meeting at a hotel. During a break I nipped out of the meeting room to visit the toilet and found them easily enough. However it struck me that the signage did not consider one of the characteristics often seen in people with dyslexia, dyscalculia, dyspraxia and/or colour blindness – the tendency to take things literally.
During the lunch break I revisited the task of finding the toilets but this time took every sign I saw literally. In short, the signs took me via a couple of stair cases on a loop back to the place I had started, not to the toilets. I double checked with a colleague attending the same meeting who is dyscalculic. “Yes,” she said, “it took me a while. In the end I waited until someone else wanted to go and went with her.” Good thing she wasn’t desperate!
What has this got to do with business? Putting a couple of signs in the right place would cost very little. Being in ignorance of the discrimination caused by their absence could cost……? The hotel will never know because the dissatisfied customer might say nothing but simply never return. And among fifteen per cent of a population you can be sure there are more than a few decision makers who will be booking conference facilities based on their judgement of suitability.
One step removed, companies booking the facilities at this hotel are trusting their corporate reputation to the hotel’s ability to deliver. Think about the feedback; “great conference but poor venue.” That’s more lost business for the hotel as that conference goes elsewhere next year.
And if you are in competition with that hotel……do you really need me to explain both the gap in the market and the potential market in the gap?
There is a serious business imperative for getting equality right. Ignorance is no excuse. Equality is a very wide area and is not just about minority groups, women, for example, are a majority group (30.6 million/51%).
I have focused on only one group of people who sit under the broader umbrella of disability. In all, people with one or more disabilities make up 25% of our population (15 million potential customers).
Other ‘protected characteristics’ covered by the Equality Act are age, gender reassignment, marriage and civil partnership, pregnancy and maternity, race, religion or belief, sex and sexual orientation.
In advising companies on equality strategies I have come across all kinds of oversights, some even driven by being well-meaning but, nonetheless ignorant thinking. These are just a small sample:
- The sports centre accessible toilet whose door opened inwards.
- The ‘buy 2’ special offer which was more expensive than buying two singles.
- The government agency equality monitoring form.
- The ‘required’ qualifications on a job specification.
- The bus time table.
- The university marketing campaign.
- The white ‘design feature’ at a conference venue.
Fortunately, none of these organisations assumed knowledge they lacked. None allowed themselves to be led by ignorance. However, sadly for equality, unfairly for significant sections of society and unfortunately for the businesses concerned, I do encounter those who clearly didn’t ask on a more than daily basis.
Understanding equality is good for business. Don’t be guilty of ignorance driven insanity.
© Jim Cowan, Cowan Global Limited, March 2012