21 May 2020

UK law firms among global companies backing disability inclusion initiative

Woman in a wheelchair using a ramp

Requests for working environment adjustments that were rejected have now been made in response to the Covid-19 pandemic.

Charles Russell Speechlys and Stephenson Harwood sign up as part of Global Accessibility Awareness Day

Charles Russell Speechlys and Stephenson Harwood are among firms pledging to join disability inclusion movement The Valuable 500 as part of Global Accessibility Awareness Day.

The project aims to encourage 500 CEOs at some of the world’s largest companies to commit to putting disability inclusion on their board’s agenda. So far, 275 companies have signed up, including Virgin, Unilever, Microsoft, Boeing, Sainsburys, EY, Deloitte, Bank of England and the BBC.

Charles Russell Speechlys and Stephenson Harwood join 11 law firms already on the roster: Ashurst, Clifford Chance, Eversheds Sutherland, Freshfields Bruckhaus Deringer, Gilbert + Tobin, Herbert Smith Freehills, Kingsley Napley, Linklaters, Pinsent Masons, Reed Smith and Slaughter and May.

Christopher Page, senior partner at Charles Russell Speechlys, said: “Being a signatory shows we are prepared to be held to account in helping to achieve that by: reviewing how we attract and support a diverse workforce to reach their full potential; considering how we can best support all of our clients whatever their needs; and ensuring disability inclusion remains on the leadership agenda.”

Eifion Morris, CEO of Stephenson Harwood, added: “There is so much value in diversity — bringing different perspectives, voices, and ideas into our business, but it's when we truly include all of our colleagues that we reap the benefits."

Disability inclusion campaigners are calling on businesses to learn lessons from coronavirus-related lockdowns and step up efforts to improve accessibility, both for employees and customers. 

Caroline Casey, founder of The Valuable 500, said: “As people globally are implored to stay at home to prevent the spread of coronavirus, we are now entering a world where vast swathes of society can personally relate to what it is like to be socially excluded. It has awoken a collective empathy, both in society and business more broadly, that this is often the norm for people with disabilities.”

She added: “Businesses have proven that they can adapt and revolutionise working models in a short time frame when forced to do so—now, business leaders must continue this approach in levelling the playing field when it comes to equal accessibility and opportunity for all in the business community. The onus is equally on business leaders as it is the rest of society to take a firm, proactive stance in leading this change.”

Last year a report from the trade union UNISON found that 67% of disabled workers in the UK had requests for working environment adjustments rejected — changes that in some cases have now been made in response to the Covid-19 pandemic.

Further reading on diversity and inclusion

Orrick hires senior JP Morgan lawyer to lead diversity push

Seyfarth Shaw forms coalition to prevent impact of Covid-19 from undermining diversity

More women must enter male-dominated legal tech to guard against AI bias, conference hears

Sexist remarks remain commonplace within UK legal profession, survey finds

An important step: Novartis has added weight to the drive by GCs to promote law firm diversity

Five US law firms commit to spending $5m on collaborative diversity 'lab'

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