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Hidden Leaders: disability leadership in civil society

Zara Todd and Ellie Munro

1. Summary

This report explores what ACEVO and wider civil society need to consider if they want to be embedding disability inclusive practice.

Despite disabled people accounting for 20% of the workforce, data shows us that politically disabled(1) leaders are underrepresented in civil society with only 16% of sector CEOs identifying as disabled(2) and only 5.6% of ACEVO’s members(3) disclosing disability.

This research carried out 10 semi structured interviews with staff and board members at ACEVO, and civil society leaders who identify as disabled both within and external to ACEVO’s existing membership.

The aim of the interviews and the desk research that accompanies this report was to find out what are the barriers, what do we already know, and what do we need to know in order to build a more disability inclusive approach.

There were seven broad themes that emerged through the interviews:

  • A lack of understanding and/or confusion around who is considered disabled
  • How civil society understands disability, and where disabled people’s organisations and disability charities sit
  • Stigma around disability and how it affects disclosure and employment
  • The accessibility and relevance of ACEVO’s offer to disabled leaders
  • Sector and societal barriers which inhibit disability inclusion in the sector
  • The capacity and confidence of civil society to meet the needs of diverse leaders
  • Visibility of disabled leaders and the missed opportunity to learn from them.

The recommendations are broken down into three sections based on what stage in its inclusion journey an organisation might be. These three sections are:

  • Inclusive foundations
  • Building good practice
  • Leading the way.

Each section covers seven key building blocks for disability inclusion. These are:

  1. Knowledge and data
  2. Approach and ethos
  3. Access
  4. Policy and procedure
  5. Training, learning and development
  6. Representation
  7. Working at the intersections

In addition, there is a section of recommendations which are specific to ACEVO based on what emerged from the interviews.

We hope that this report will be a catalyst to civil society becoming more inclusive and that the sector becomes a place where disabled leaders can thrive.

  1. Full Glossary is available on page 22
  2. Pay and Equalities Survey 2020, ACEVO
  3. Figures taken from 770 members that have completed an equality data monitoring form.

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