People premium: The business case for embracing diversity
Diversity has long been touted as important, yet certain groups remain marginalised from meaningful employment. Inflexion’s latest Diversity Exchange brought together the portfolio to network and hear from Jane Hatton, the award-winning entrepreneur behind Evenbreak, a social enterprise promoting disabled people as premium talent.
What inspired you to set up Evenbreak?
I was in the field of diversity decades ago, considering race, gender, sexual identity and disability. It helped me understood how important fairness is for people and how important diversity is for employers.
Most employers say they’re equal opportunity, but many aren’t, especially when it comes to disability. A riding accident in my 20s made me disabled many years later in 2004. 83% of disabled people become disabled as adults, and I am one of these. It further impassioned me around fairness, and I launched Evenbreak in 2011.
I decided we’d be a social enterprise rather than a for-profit and that it would be run by disabled people so we could lead by lived experience. We created a job board that aimed to connect candidates with employers open to the idea of hiring disabled people.
How have you been growing the company?
The success of the jobs board inspired employers to consider whether they were doing enough with their HR policies, hiring and inclusion, so we set up an online best practice portal to and provide training and consultancy to help employers with this area.
We also had candidates asking us for career support, so we launched Evenbreak’s Career Hive to help them in this area.
Our evolution means Evenbreak now provides an entire service for employers and candidates.
What challenges did you face in the early stages of setting up Evenbreak?
I was recovering from spinal surgery when I launched Evenbreak, so it was set up and run from my bed in the early days. Back then we didn’t have Zoom, so people wanted to see you face-to-face; it was a huge challenge for me as I struggled to travel.
Another challenge was that I was selling something that didn’t already exist, so I had to educate people and get buy-in for the concept. This was difficult as the offering was seen as an additional expense in a climate where disabled people weren’t valued in the workforce. Many employers didn’t want disabled people, and those who did didn’t know how to find them.
I had to get both employers and disabled candidates on board despite lacking the critical mass to attract either. Lacking funds for marketing, I initially offered free advertising for the employers. It worked, but it wasn’t making money and so after six months I remained convinced it was a good idea, but not a practical business model.
So I wrote 100s of letters to CEOs, handwritten instead of emails to grab attention. I got only one response, but it was from Network Rail, a household name, and they wanted to be Evenbreak’s sponsor. It proved a real turning point, with other employers taking comfort in their backing, with John Lewis our next big signing.
It proved the concept and grew slowly – in practice as well as in theory.
We eventually went global as people in other countries contacted us about jobs they’d seen posted. We asked some clients if we could advertise their non-UK openings, and it grew from there.
Why does diversity matter?
It’s all about talent. If we think about the general population, 25% 50% are women, 20% are disabled, 15% are neurodiverse, and so on. If we have a workforce that isn’t representative of the wider world, then we’re missing out on a whole load of insight, and not accessing a full talent pool from which to select the best candidates.
We need the internal intelligence about difference. Disabled people and their families spend over £250bn pa so we need to know how to market to them. Employing neurodiverse people is no longer a luxury but a necessity as their different thinking challenges the status quo – and that helps you get ahead of the game.
We need diversity of thought and lived experience and it’s not for CSR but for productivity. Disabled people face barriers every day, so we excel in creative thinking, resilience, project management. We need those skills to get through each day and companies need those skills to thrive.
What advice would you give to employers when it comes to hiring?
We are premium candidates, not sympathy stories. It’s about talent.
It’s about changing the mindset first of all – why is it important to have a diverse workforce? If you think it’s about esg or pity, then the change won’t happen as it should. It’s about getting the mindset that diversity is good for business. There’s lots of research that shows it’s good for companies.
If we haven’t got 50% of our board as women when 50% of the world is women. 30% are ethnic minorities so should be on our board too. Look inward at the organisation and see what the barriers to diversity are. Is it long hours that put people with caring responsibilities off? Is it our organisational culture? How we word job adverts? Then once identified, try and remove those barriers. It’s usually about practices and policies, perception, leadership. There is so much scope for improvement.
What are your ambitions for Evenbreak over the coming years?
We want to really double down on the impact we’re making in the UK as it’s where we’re based and where we started, getting in touch with more companies and candidates. I get frustrated with a lack of progress in the UK, yet we’re doing okay compared to others: our disability employment gap is 30% whereas in the US it’s 47%.
We want a world where all recruiters know that talent comes in all shapes and sizes and there are no barriers to disabled people gaining access. Our long-term aim is to not exist.
Inflexion are committed to diversity across the portfolio and for our own firm. We are proud that our team is comprised of 40% females and 23% ethnic minorities, and that Inflexion is a Disability Confident committed employer.