Watch Ewen Stevenson speak about how he learned to cope with hearing loss
The more it’s talked about, the more comfortable other people become talking about it.
I think, in general, people are reticent to admit to having hearing loss. But if there’s one thing I’ve taken from all this, it’s that if you’re happy to talk to people about hearing loss, then they’re very happy to accommodate you. The more it’s talked about, the more comfortable other people become talking about it, too – and it helps the bank to know what issues we’re trying to solve.
Trying to get an organisation to be ‘disability smart’ is a huge undertaking. When I first joined RBS, there were good, well-intentioned efforts going on but no defined goals or objectives. I became Executive Sponsor for Disability – and started talking about my own disability. It gives me credibility in the role: no one questions the fact that I’m passionately committed to improving the organisation in this way.
In just a few years we’ve improved significantly.
It’s a process that’s both internal, for employees, and external, for customers. We looked for the best, external framework to use and found it with the Business Disability Forum Standard. This benchmark measures disability performance in the workplace. We set up ten work-streams across ten categories and we check, every quarter, the progress of improvement. In just a few years we’ve improved significantly. It’s good progress but our goal is to make sure the processes we’ve developed become embedded as part of ‘business as usual’.
We’re lucky that, as a big organisation of over 70,000, we can afford to have a team of people who are dedicated to the inclusion agenda. Disability accessibility has got to be built in at a very early stage, especially when you’re designing new products and new services.
For instance, when we refresh one of our branches we need to make sure, as part of that, that someone’s thinking about disability needs. We don’t want to do up a branch and then find out afterwards that it’s not accessible to everyone. So we’ve introduced what we call a ‘disability speed bump’ into all the core processes of the bank – making people stop and ask ‘is this being done in a way that’s accessible?’
Digitally, our mobile banking app was the first in the UK to be approved by RNIB as accessible and with customers increasingly choosing to bank on the go, it was vital that we got this right.
Within the organisation, people don’t necessarily want to come forward and say ‘I’m struggling with work’ – even though there’s a lot of help we, as an employer, can provide. But unless they come and talk to us, it’s hard to address the issue. We do ask our colleagues, in a confidential survey, ‘do you have a disability?’ and about 4% would say they do. And, typically, it is not uncommon for us and other organisations to see lower engagement scores for people who do have a disability.
There is genuine recognition from people who’ve worked here for a while that, compared to two or three years ago, we’ve moved on substantially. Employees with a disability can see the real efforts we’ve made to improve their lives and provide the adjustments needed to do their jobs to the best of their ability.
All of the work at RBS to progress and improve disability performance is supported by an active disability employee led network, Enable. They promote awareness of disability and celebrate the diversity it brings, to create a better bank for colleagues, customers and communities.
If someone says, ‘I’ve got this issue…’, then you can begin to deal with it.
My advice to anyone with a hearing loss who’s worried about raising it at work is, simply, be open about it. People are, basically, good people. If someone says, ‘I’ve got this issue…’, then you can begin to deal with it. But if you’re not open, you risk being misjudged and you won’t get any adjustment to the work process you might need to enable you to do your job as effectively. Being open needs to be a constant mantra– until we’re all open, we can’t help and we can’t be there for others.