Why disability services sector boards need more diversity

There are concerns the lived experience of disability is not being adequately reflected at decision tables.

Purple 5 Aug 2019
2 mins
Disability services boards need more diversity

A new study by People With Disabilities WA (PWdWA) has highlighted the absence of people with disabilities on boards and in senior management or executive roles within the sector.

The 12-month survey of disability services board directors was funded by the Department of Communities and found that although the sector aspired to improve board representation of people with disabilities, there remained significant barriers to this occurring.

PWdWA executive director Samantha Jenkinson said there was a strong opportunity for disability services organisations to reflect on the survey results and start working towards more diverse boards.

The study found only 44 per cent of boards in the sector included a person with a disability, although 73 per cent of respondents supported setting targets to improve board membership of people with disabilities.

“The representation was even lower within senior levels of these organisations,” Ms Jenkinson said.

“The results show that although 75 per cent of organisations employed family or carers of people with disability in executive or senior management roles, the number of people with disability actually employed in these [types of] senior roles plummeted to only 22 per cent.”

“Experience in executive or senior management is a strong pre-requisite to securing a board role, so it’s not surprising that people with disability are not achieving the same success as others who have these employment opportunities.

“We are concerned that the lived experience of disability is not being adequately reflected at the decision table in organisations that lead the disability sector.”

The survey period coincided with a board candidate development program run as part of the On Board With Me project.

That program produced 16 graduates in late July – people with disabilities who are now a step closer to realising their ambitions of board positions.

A board chair roundtable has now been convened, with the initiative being led by Professor Angus Buchanan, board chair at Avivo, and Professor David Gilchrist, board chair at Nulsen.

“While these boards [involved in the study] are leading the disability sector, we were very surprised to find that only 12 per cent of organisations require board directors to attend disability awareness training,” Ms Jenkinson said.

“That’s something that is taken for granted for organisations’ employees.

“We call on the sector to clarify its inclusion and recruitment policies and standards and improve the numbers of people with disability sitting at the board table.”

You can read the full PWdWA survey HERE.

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