The Inspiring Susan Scott-Parker: AND's International Keynote Speaker
Tue 11 May 2021
Image: Susan Scott-Parker, founder and CEO of Business Disability International.
Susan Scott-Parker has a long list of accolades in her wake. Recipient of the Order of the British Empire (OBE), CEO, founder of Business Disability International and inventor of the “disability confidence” concept, are only a brief snapshot of her achievements.
I had the pleasure of sitting down with Susan to discuss all things to do with disability equality as it impacts business, ahead of her upcoming guest speaking role at AND’s Conference.
Susan was asked by Business in the Community, led by HRH the Prince of Wales, to help organise a conference for 100 companies to find out why they continued not to meet the 1942 (now defunct) employment quota which required that 3% of the workforce have a disability.
“The employers were saying ‘it’s just too hard! we can’t get the information, we can’t get the services we need. We can’t find the technology solutions that we know must be out there and we can’t find suitable candidates.”
That was a lightbulb moment for Susan.
“And so I thought, what if we come together to fund an organisation which helped them all to invest more wisely in their communities? …What if we were to set up a not for profit, owned and run by the business community, to make it easier for employers to get it right for people with disability as potential candidates, colleagues and customers?”
Business Disability Forum was born with Prince Charles as its Patron – Susan’s first business disability network. Years later, Susan founded Business Disability International – to help global organisations to deliver consistent best practice in every country in which they operate. And has supported similar networks worldwide, including AND.
Susan’s proudest achievements
From those early days, Susan knew that there was power in connecting leaders in the business community directly with people with disabilities. Her work has always been firmly grounded in the understanding that we only challenge powerful stereotypes, on both sides, when people in business and people with disabilities are routinely learning directly from each other.
One of the moments that moves her, Susan recalls, was launching the world’s first leadership development program. Her private sector members created a bursary program which opened up their own inhouse management and leadership development courses to disabled people poised to have a significant national impact. The program challenged management assumptions about the capability and potential of people with disability while equipping the social entrepreneurs and change agents of the future with hugely helpful skills and business connections.
“We were the first to put the words ‘disability and leadership’ side by side in a brand,” she says. "That and learning that we must always enable a ‘Face to Face’ strategy may be the most important things we ever did.”
Keeping momentum, Susan created the language and concept of disability confidence.
“We needed to start a new conversation. The traditional one – and sadly all too often still the only one – started with a frown and the question ‘why don’t you hire people with disability?’ which, obviously, rarely leads to an extended positive and productive dialogue."
“I tried to come up with phrasing that would help us to say, ‘would you like to invest in learning how to deliver best practice as an employer, a provider of goods and services and as a responsible corporate citizen?’ Obviously, we needed something a bit snappier, so I just branded that best practice bundle as ‘disability confidence.’ And now we hear it in India, China, Australia, Kenya, Austria – amazing. We now need the disability sector to move on and build its own ‘business confidence’ – but that’s another story.”
Susan says that she sees potential in the future to make disability equality in business even more mainstream – as employers, both private and public sector, are increasingly seen to be a driving force behind this agenda.
“There’s growing awareness among leaders in the private sector that the needs of business and the aspirations of people with disability can and do productively coincide.”
She’s motivated and energised by the many breakthroughs in recent years in this space – like The Valuable 500 the ILO Global Business and Disability Network, and the PurpleLightUp movement and PurpleSpace.
“We’re starting to get this ‘change from the inside out’, where senior players are now comfortable that they can have these discussions at board level, because they have listened to their colleagues and customers with disability and they’ve got the reassurance – and indeed the inspiration that other companies, including competitors, customers and suppliers, are also in the game.
“When you mobilise the influence and power of business as allies of the disability movement,” she says, “Then you can really make things happen.”
To hear more from Susan Scott-Parker, come along to AND’s 2021 Conference: Igniting Innovation Through Inclusion.
In this article, the phrase “disabled people” and “people with disabilities,” Susan respects that each person may choose to identify through different phrasing, and so uses “disabled people,” and “people with disabilities,” interchangeably to mark that respect.
This differs slightly to Australia, where we recommend the use of person-first language and would use the phrase “person with disability.” Good practice is always to ask the person to see what they feel most comfortable with, as it varies between person to person.