Global brands put accessibility centre stage: TechShare Pro 2020

Leaders from Microsoft, Unilever and advertising giant WPP spoke out at TechShare Pro about why digital accessibility is at the heart of their business.

The talk, chaired by Corie Brown, Channel 4 covered a range of topics from why accessibility is good for business to how to drive a culture of accessibility. 

Cindy Rose President Western Europe, Microsoft said personal stories are a key motivator: 

"Over the last few years, there's been a number of significant moments that have opened my eyes to the human impact of accessible design, disability and inclusion.

"The one that I remember most vividly was 2017 at our Future Decoded event in London at the Excel. We invited this developer named Tom Nabarro onto the main stage," said Rose. "Tom is a Microsoft superuser, and he has quadriplegia. He showed the audience how he loves using Windows facial recognition, how he uses Cortana virtual voice agent. And then he started coding with eye gaze.

"I've learned that you know when we empower people with disabilities using technology, we empower everybody" added Rose. 

Embracing Equality and Diversity

Unilever's Senior HR Director Leena Nair told conference attendees: "We want to be a beacon for equity, diversity, and inclusion across the world."

WPP is the world's biggest advertising agency, and so it can make an impact through creative messaging said Read. "For me, it's really about the impact of our work. 

"When people see people like themselves represented in commercial messages, do the people we have behind the screen represent society? I think we can change attitudes to disability," he says.

One example is WPP's advertising campaign with Tommy Hilfiger, which highlights the adaptive clothing designed by Hilfiger for disabled people. 

The advert aired in 2018 and has received over 5.5 million views (to March 2019).


Microsoft is embracing inclusive design, said Rose. "We don't build technology that works for disabled people; we build technology that works for everyone."

An inclusive design approach runs throughout all AbilityNet's products and services

How to drive a culture of accessibility

A neon sign with the word 'change' lit upThe three C-suite leaders agree that change begins on the inside, with business culture.

"Culture eats strategy for breakfast," said Unilever's Nair. "We know that for a fact. It's never technology and process that comes in the way of change; it's behaviours. It's our mindset; our beliefs."

Leadership is an essential factor in driving change. "It is shifted by leadership behaviours; 70% of the impact on culture is how leaders behave. What kind of examples they talk about, what kind of behaviours they role model and 30% is the reinforcing systems and mechanisms you put in place; award systems, the incentive programs," added Nair. 

For WPP's Read, he leads from the top. "I take responsibility for making the company the type of company that I would want to work in."

Microsoft's Rose says inclusivity needs to be embedded in the company's DNA. "It's about micro-behaviours, and putting it a Diversity and Inclusion lens on every aspect of the employee experience from recruitment to onboarding, to learning promotion, and workplace design," she told conference attendees. 

Driving inclusivity at Unilever

Unilever has a Global Diversity Board, which is led by its CEO, Alan Jope. The company focuses on what Nair describes as the inner and outer game of leadership.

"The inner game is all about a sense of purpose and service. It's about learning agility. It's about personal mastery. We're putting 150,000 people through purpose workshops. What is your purpose and mission in life? What difference can you make in Unilever with your individual purpose, passion, and mission? We are dialling up the inner game, and the sense of humanity increases in the company."

Nair says it is aiding an inclusive culture so that it is "easier for everybody to bring their best version to work…humanity. Everyone wants to do good in the world. Everyone has a force for good in themselves."

The company has launched an enabled network to bring disabled people, and their allies together to share experiences of working at Unilever, which has included the company's first global disability survey of employees. Seventy-five per cent of its workforce has disclosed whether they have a disability or not, Nair said. 

A digital future that is inclusive for all

Rose, Read and Nair are all hopeful for the future. “I’m very optimistic,” said Rose. “I’m blessed with a team of dedicate colleagues and a CEO that keeps accessibility at the top of our list of priorities.”

Nair said: “I hope when we speak three years for now Unilever is a beacon for inclusion for the world, and that there is no more need for business case because people just get it.”

Read welcomed the comments from Unilever and Microsoft – both clients and said: “When the moral and the business imperative align, we are in the right place.”

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