Frances Maguire was born with retinopathy of prematurity, an eye condition that left her without sight in her right eye and with only limited vision in her left. But later, as an adult looking for work, she would experience another kind of blindness – in recruiters, who’d often look at her across the interview table and fail to see past her disability.
Maguire felt disheartened that, for many organisations, employing visually impaired people remained a ‘closed door’. But in November 2015, Maguire started a work placement at Glasgow’s SkyBlue, the recruitment arm of integrated support services company Carillion. ‘I was really nervous when I first started, as people’s views on disability can be so varied,’ she told the company’s in-house magazine. ‘But I soon learned that everyone here is really friendly and supportive. They’ve opened the door and given me opportunities I didn’t think existed before.’
Employing disabled people is not just about delivering value for the individual. ‘I’m a financial director, so my perspective is around the economic benefits too,’ says Emma Mercer, who represents Carillion in the government’s newly formed Business Leaders Group, where she meets with managers from the likes of Channel 4 and Barclays to share best practice. ‘At the end of the day we are businesses, and by coming together and sharing our experiences of inclusion investment, it helps leaders build a compelling business case for it.’
Mercer has found that while Carillion is offering valuable work to people excluded from the job market, it’s also improving its access to a wider untapped pool of skills. Greater diversity can also help the business in its relationships with clients, many of whom want to see employees at the business reflecting the range of people out there in the wider world. If clients are measuring their own business in terms of inclusivity and other targets, then Carillion has a responsibility to meet that too. ‘We want to be ahead of the competition in terms of offering those add-ons when bidding for work,’ she says.
Carillion was an early adopter of the government’s Disability Confident scheme, and is now at level two. The organisation now has more aims: to become a level three Disability Confident Leader; to roll its experiences out across Carillion’s vast operations; and to really listen to the needs of those already within the business who may have a disability, thereby keeping valuable people in the company.
One of those people is Ms Maguire. When her work placement came to an end in January 2016, Carillion was glad to offer her a permanent role. The DWP’s Access to Work team came and assessed her needs, and part-funded the purchase of specialist kit, including specialist text-zooming software and larger computer screens.
She’s now a database administrator, and the company describes Ms Maguire as a ‘popular and vital part of the team’. As is her guide dog, Yara. For Ms Maguire’s part, she describes Carillion as ‘much more progressive and understanding than other organisations’ she’s come across.
The employer’s perspective
‘If someone had come to me in recruitment and said a candidate was blind, I’d have wondered how on earth they’d cope,’ says Carillion’s David Massingham. ‘And what we’d have to do as a business to accommodate them.’
Everything changed for Massingham when he took on the role of inclusion manager at SkyBlue. His approach was focused: he started by thinking about how they could employ people with one particular disability, the logic being that any learning inspired by one person could then be shared by others.
He began collaborating with the sight-loss charity Action for Blind People, and sought advice from the likes of Remploy and the Shaw Trust. This led to crucial training, workplace assessments, telephone support for new recruits and specialist equipment. ‘We started by offering work experience placements and mentoring in our offices,’ says Massingham. ‘These partnerships gave us an invaluable overview of how to give people the opportunity to get into work. We’re not going to change the world, but the change we do see is incredible.’