Communications Director at The Valuable 500, Ryan Curtis-Johnson, spoke to us about company founder Caroline Casey, the organization’s vision, their 2025 Accountability Summit in Tokyo and an inspiring new mentorship program. Learn more at thevaluable500.com
A fearless push against barriers
The Valuable 500 founder, Caroline Casey has a fearless nature of pushing boundaries, which might be how she convinced 500 companies to join the organization. Based in England and launched at the World Economic Forum in Davos, 2019, the group’s vision is to end disability exclusion through synchronized collective action.
Caroline grew up in Ireland. She was diagnosed at birth with ocular albinism, a genetic condition that causes extremely blurry vision. But it wasn’t until she was a teenager that she found out she was legally blind.
Ryan Curtis-Johnson, Communications Director at The Valuable 500, said, “She knew no different. She just thought that was how people saw and so it didn’t hold her back in life.” He added, “The stigma surrounding disability, the negative connotation, spurred her to drive change so people can develop in a career of their choice.”
But Caroline did not jump into advocacy right away, having worked in the corporate world, where she didn’t disclose her own disability for many years. She worked in change management within Accenture, which drove her to push for disability inclusion within the workplace. In addition to being an entrepreneur and founder of The Valuable 500, Caroline is also president of the International Agency for the Prevention of Blindness (IAPA), and she sits on several diversity and inclusion boards including those for L’Oréal, Sky and Sanofi.
Partnership to drive change
The Valuable 500 is a partnership of 500 multinational companies and organizations with the common goal of making change. Of those companies, 46 are Fortune 500 companies. Each one is taking steps to end disability exclusion.
Take for example Airbnb. Ryan pointed out how efforts by the online rental marketplace to accommodate travelers with disabilities has increased business and in turn, Airbnb’s bottom line, adding, “Airbnb recently launched their adaptive category that now has 1,100 listings around the world with hosts earning over 5.5 million since the launch.”
L’Oréal, the world’s largest cosmetics company and Valuable 500 partner, is also keeping people with different abilities in mind. They recently launched accessible packaging which allows consumers to hear information about a product by scanning a QR code with their cell phone. “This is the beauty of where inclusive design starts at the outset rather than as an afterthought,” said Ryan.
The internal culture of a business is just as important. Lloyds Banking Group, another Valuable 500 partner, is on track to meet its goal of doubling the number of employees in senior roles by 2025. Lloyds has gone on record with its hiring plan. This transparency will breed trust, according to Ryan. “That’s what we need to see—more accountability of businesses putting facts and figures out there.”
Ending disability exclusion
The Valuable 500’s partners are working together to accelerate disability inclusion within companies, believing that, “inclusive leaders create inclusive businesses; inclusive businesses create an inclusive society. Working together accelerates and scales systems’ impact.”
“The strategy for The Valuable 500 is accountability and trying to fill the gaps in data, self ID, representation and inclusive reporting. Leadership and C-suite storytelling is a key factor—we need to see people at the top being able to openly disclose or speak of their lived experience, which will cascade within an organization which automatically feeds into society.”
To make that happen, Ryan said businesses need to stop looking at people with disabilities as having a separate identity. Additionally, inclusion should happen because a business genuinely wants change, not because everyone else is doing it. “We’re at a stage now that it’s actually risky for businesses not to take this seriously within their organizations.”
But despite their best efforts to include employees and consumers with disabilities, businesses face failure without a proper plan. “You can only tap into that market if you have the knowledge, the understanding, the expertise within your organization to develop, deliver and execute products or services that can deliver to that demographic,” said Ryan. He adds that it is important for companies to show consumers and employees their inclusivity plan in action, so they can “see themselves and see that you are genuinely doing something for people with disabilities.”
Some of the most important pieces of advice from The Valuable 500 are: don’t be scared to say the word disability, and don’t let disability hold you back. “Take the time to understand, look at it within your organization, reach out to the individuals,” suggests Ryan, adding, “If you don’t know what to do, ask. And if you don’t have the skill set within your organization, there are companies and individuals out there who do have the skills, knowledge and solutions to drive change within your organization.”
The company is planning The Valuable 500 Accountability Summit in Tokyo, Japan, in 2025. All partners will be invited to share the progress they have made using the group’s three synchronized collective actions of leadership, reporting and representation. Experts will be on hand at the summit to provide business leaders with information on inclusivity.
The Valuable 500 also highlights a new program they recently launched, Generation Valuable. This unique mentorship for people with disabilities will help build the future of executive leadership and drive disability inclusion through systematic change.
Ryan adds, “One of the beauties of The Valuable 500 companies is that all the CEOs have committed to driving disability inclusion. They’ve created their own personalized commitments which are all connected to their organization. We won’t stop until everyone is seen and valued equally.”