By Ted Kennedy Jr.
Reports show inclusion of disabled individuals lagging behind gender and ethnicity as a priority in the boardroom.
As a child, I lost my leg to pediatric bone cancer. Now I am a healthcare rights attorney and member of two corporate boards. I openly attribute my business acuity to my disability status, because disabled people experience our society’s core institutions differently. Disability enhances my ability to contribute additive and alternative logic to business decisions. My case stands as testament that disabled individuals can and should be represented at the highest levels of business.
Since the passage of the 1990 Americans with Disabilities Act, the disability community has seen great progress. But people with disabilities are still vastly underrepresented in corporate America. The hardest nut to crack may be the boardroom.
People with disabilities are still nearly invisible on corporate boards and in the C-suite. Around the world, disability lags behind gender and ethnicity in board diversity considerations. In the 2023 Disability Equality Index, a benchmark survey for disability inclusion, just 7% of 485 participating companies reported having a board member with a disability, making it difficult to track representation.
People with disabilities bring a unique set of life-learned skills and perspectives that help boards make better decisions, which benefits both companies and their shareholders. Accenture found that when companies champion disability in the workplace, they report 28% higher revenue, 30% higher profit margin and superior shareholder returns.
Last year, Nasdaq passed a board diversity ruling that included women, underrepresented minorities and LGBTQ+ people, but left out people with disabilities. This omission catalyzed the disability rights community to rally around a new approach that relies on market forces rather than regulatory action.
In June 2023, I helped to launch “Boards Are IN,” an all-stakeholder initiative aimed at increasing the number of people with disabilities in the boardroom and in executive suites. Developed with Disability:IN, the leading nonprofit driving disability inclusion in business, Boards Are IN leverages market mechanisms to engage boards, companies, regulatory bodies, stock exchanges and corporate steward organizations around the significance of disability inclusion in business.
Disability:IN released a legal brief, facilitated by Thomson Reuters Foundation, that revealed how the London Stock Exchange and the Toronto Stock Exchange implemented board disclosure requirements to include people with disabilities for their listed companies. The report also found that many public companies are starting to monitor disability data because of market forces and increasing investor demand for measures of social impact.