Interviews

Caroline Casey, Founder, The Valuable 500

As the Founder of The Valuable 500, Caroline Casey is spearheading a business revolution on disability inclusion and she needs brands to get on board.

Nicola Kemp

Managing Editor, BITE

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“Homogeneity is a crime against humanity.” With blistering precision and passion, Caroline Casey, Founder of The Valuable 500, encapsulates why diversity is so vital not just to business success, but for the good of society at large. A billion people globally live with some form of disability, a figure which equates to 15% of the global population, or 1 in 7 people. These are people routinely rendered invisible by brands and businesses, despite having an annual disposable income of $8 trillion.

For Casey there is a clear urgency when it comes to moving from talk to action on diversity and inclusion and representing disability. She explains, “It is not acceptable to say, we are not doing this this year, we are putting it off,” describing such an approach as nothing less than “obscene”. Casey notes that those business who kick back against getting involved with the Valuable 500, stating that they are too busy dealing with the issue of gender alone, are not really committed to inclusion.

She explains, “We all know what otherness is from our own experiences, but diversity isn’t about businesses choosing their favourite topic. We have blown open this whole human inclusion issue and we are all allies in this.”

We all know what otherness is from our own experiences, but diversity isn’t about businesses choosing their favourite topic.

Caroline Casey

The Davos Effect

The Valuable 500 launched at Davos this January, backed by the DIVERSISH campaign, created by AMV BBDO. The campaign called on business leaders to stop being ‘diversish’ and instead commit to real accountability and action on disability inclusion and to put it on the board agenda. In 2018 4% of companies included disability inclusion in their company policies, while a high-profile report on diversity and inclusion from McKinsey completely omitted to include any data or insight on disability.

Yet in a relatively short space of time the campaign has had a significant impact on the industry, with the message being successfully amplified by key partners such the Marketing Society and Omnicom. At the heart of this success is the passion, focus and sheer determination of Casey who has made it her mission to bring disability to the board room tables of the world’s biggest brands.

The Valuable 500 is seeking 500 global businesses to commit to putting disability on their board agendas in 2019. It is tackling the trend head on of businesses claiming to be diverse, while completely excluding disability from their definition of diversity. Unilever, Microsoft, Barclays and Accenture were among the first companies to sign up to become members of The Valuable 500.

Where we get a societal shift is when brands act. In a world where we are so bombarded with messages and feel so overwhelmed, that message can be so powerful.

Caroline Casey

Brands as agents of change

Casey views creativity both as a competitive advantage and a key to moving the dial on disability inclusion. She explains, “Marketers are changemakers. We all know that what we see in the media effects how we feel and that’s where I see change happening. When a CMO is brave and they give agencies that backing, that’s where we can make a real difference.”

Casey has been inspired by global branding expert Mike Hemingway, who she credits as being “truly transformative” with the Dove Campaign for Real Beauty. She adds, “It was the bravery of that brand representation and the power of the brand to create change.”

This ability of marketing to shift culture and cut through outdated and damaging stereotypes is a core focus for Casey, who ensures she spends as much time as she can with creative people. “Where we get a societal shift is when brands act. In a world where we are so bombarded with messages and feel so overwhelmed, that message can be so powerful,” she explains.

Casey points to the Marketing Society and Omnicom as key partners in the pursuit of change. For her, “The creatives and agencies are the ones who get really excited about this work because it is about the human condition. They are brave, ambitious and they are the ones who can make the difference. This isn’t an HR issue. I want to talk to the CEO, the CMO and CFO as it is the budgets that will make change happen.”

The potency for change is at the intersection of statistics and the heart; that is what really drives change.

Caroline Casey

The age of sentiment

According to research from EY, despite 90% of companies claiming to prioritise diversity, only 4% actually consider disability. Of the 7.6 million people of working age in the UK with a disability, only 3.9 million are in employment. “We need to rebrand disability to the world and the only way to do that is to get brands involved,” adds Casey.

“We are living in a time of sentiment,” says Casey, pointing to our turbulent political ecosystem. “The potency for change is at the intersection of statistics and the heart; that is what really drives change.”

She believes that creativity is key to this change: “Sometimes when you see an image it touches your heart and head in a more transformative way that a whitepaper would. When you think about music, comedy and the creative world, it has a way of enabling people to edge into things they don’t always feel comfortable with.”

Sometimes when you see an image it touches your heart and head in a more transformative way that a whitepaper would.

Caroline Casey

Brands for good

Casey believes a fundamental shift in business is afoot. She explains, “There is no doubt that businesses need to be more aware of the platform that they have to contribute to society, not just take from it. As consumers or employees, we expect our businesses to be more engaged.”

Pointing to research which shows that over 70% of Millennial employees want to work with brands that respect and share their values, Casey believes the world’s best leaders recognise how profound this shift is: “When Paul Polman started his sustainability push, people would tell him he was a do-gooder. Yet why he became so admired and respected was he became the first global CEO to deliver on shareholder value by making a positive decision which affected the entire culture of the brand.”

“The competition now is not just to make money, but to do good too,” she adds. It’s a state of play which means highly competitive brands such as P&G and Unilever shared the stage at Davos to support The Valuable 500.

The companies that are winning aren’t pretending they have all the answers; they are not categorising human beings and there is something very vulnerable about that.

Caroline Casey

Leadership and lived experience

For Casey leaders have a personal responsibility to move the dial on disability inclusion. She explains, “Leaders are expanding the conversation surrounding inclusion to bring people in and include disability. You cannot understand the importance of recognising the real lived experience of everyone in society.”

In an ecosystem in which the conversation surrounding diversity can at times feel like a zero-sum game, the ethos of The Valuable 500 proves that progress happens when more aspects of diversity are considered. As Casey believes, “this is about opening up the conversation”.

She adds, “The companies that are winning in this space are having the difficult questions, they are asking what can we learn from gender, what can we learn from our LGBT+ team. The companies that are winning aren’t pretending they have all the answers; they are not categorising human beings and there is something very vulnerable about that.”

There is also a vulnerability in Casey’s own story, the passion she has poured into bringing disability inclusion to the top table. Yet the real success of The Valuable 500 is that it is about far more that being inspired by a single person or a single campaign. For here is a movement that is truly shifting the needle about what it means to be inclusive and what real leaders would hesitate to get on board?

Sometimes being vulnerable can be the greatest strength.

Caroline Casey

Moving the Needle: Caroline Casey on how to move the dial on disability inclusion

  1. Accountability. What doesn’t get measured doesn’t get done. Casey believes leaders need to take accountability for inclusion. “Leaders need to ask themselves when they said inclusion, did they really mean it and if they did what are they going to do about it,” she adds.
  2. Don’t be afraid to be the only one. Paul Polman, then CEO of Unilever was the first CEO to back The Valuable 500. Casey believes that change can start with one and that demands leaders don’t fear making the first move.
  3. Be vulnerable, be human. “Sometimes being vulnerable can be the greatest strength,” explains Casey, who points to the trail blazed by Janet Riccio, Dean of Omnicom University, who died earlier this month after a brave battle with ALS. Casey points to her decision to come out and share her experience of ALS. “She chose to be vulnerable and that choice made such a difference to so many,” she added.

 

Caroline Casey will be delivering a keynote speech at BITE LIVE this year, bringing the Valuable 500 to life and inviting global businesses to commit to putting disability on their board agendas in 2019. Tickets now on sale