As an experienced diversity and inclusion professional, Jane Hatton was well versed in the myriad difficulties that disabled people face in finding employment. In 2011, after she herself became disabled with a degenerative spinal condition – “I’m one of the 83% of disabled people who becomes disabled as an adult,” she says – the issue became up close and personal.
As did her response.
She started Evenbreak in her back bedroom: the idea was a job board solely for disabled candidates and for those employers who saw disabled people as a talent rather than a problem. Emphatically, it was not going to be a charity “because that would give out all the wrong messages about disabled people.” This was to be a social enterprise fulfilling a clear market need.
The job board has flourished. About 50,000 disabled candidates have registered on the job board, and about 30,000 of them are “actively engaged” with Evenbreak. Jobs all over the world are now posted on it.
Early corporate support came from Network Rail, John Lewis and Channel 4. Today, about 60 large organisations are on the board, with an increasing number of public sector bodies joining. “What’s really pleasing is the diverse mix of sectors and jobs,” says Hatton.
An online best practice portal along with consultancy and training, delivered by people with lived experience of disability, is provided to employers to help their efforts to become more inclusive and accessible.
But at the start of 2020, Evenbreak’s message was still proving to be a hard sell. “We were having to do a lot of persuasion, telling employers that this was about talent not pity, and selling the business case.”
As the pandemic hit, Hatton feared Evenbreak’s days were numbered as “nobody was recruiting anybody, let alone disabled people.” But as 2020 also witnessed a renewed and vigorous focus on equality and inclusion, an acceptance of working from home, and skills shortages, the situation changed dramatically. From the autumn of 2020, companies started to knock on Evenbreak’s door requesting its services, training and recruitment process reviews.
Interestingly, Hatton cites another significant factor as HS2. “As an organisation, they are very strong on promoting equality and they are influencing an enormous supply chain in construction and engineering,” she says.
The zeitgeist has changed. There’s more of an inclusive, intersectional general understanding that the world is diverse and we should reap the benefits of that. Non-disabled people are now saying that disabled people need to be included.
Evenbreak doubled in the pandemic year – and will double again this year. The potential is immense. There are 1.5 million disabled people looking for work – and we have 56,000 of them. We’re only working with 300 companies.
An approach by the British Library to participate in the Innovating for Growth programme was timely. In between applying to join and the start of the programme, Evenbreak was one of the winners of the Nesta Rapid Recovery Challenge which, among other things, provided £150,000 in funding for each innovator to put their scaling strategies into action, and offer non-financial support to the innovators to support them in their scaling efforts.
Winning the Nesta challenge enabled Evenbreak to create the Careers Hive, an accessible online platform where disabled candidates can find not only online resources and local relevant organisations but also a team of professionals with lived experience of disability who can offer bespoke individual and group careers coaching sessions. “We were constantly hearing that existing careers support was not always relevant or accessible to disabled people looking for new or better work,” says Hatton. As a service, it’s the only one of its kind in the UK.
The Career Hive had to be set up from scratch and its impact was going to be assessed by Nesta within weeks. “We had to grow it and our other services so that the Hive would be sustainable after the Nesta funding ran out. So the timing of the British Library programme could not have been better, as we had access to expertise and advice at a time when we absolutely needed it. The Hive is a different business model for us, so the programme was not only great for confidence building – knowing that we had support and were not on our own – but also helped us to develop solid financial models for the future of the Hive.
“When I started, there was very little support available for social enterprises – and social enterprises are different,” she says. “There’s a culture among social entrepreneurs; we are happy to be vulnerable, open and transparent, and we’re happy to help each other learn. We are not in competition but in collaboration, and in that collaborative learning is where the real magic happens.” She has also been on programmes such as Thrive run by UnLtd and the Lloyds Bank scaleup programme run by the School for Social Entrepreneurs.
Evenbreak is scaling up into a one-stop-shop for employers who want to become more disability inclusive, and for disabled candidates looking for work. But closing the disability employment gap is just a stage of the journey. “Our big, hairy audacious goal is for the world of work to be so accessible and inclusive, that there’s no need for an organisation like Evenbreak at all,” she says. “Ideally, we’d like not to need to have to exist.”
“Our big, hairy audacious goal is for the world of work to be so accessible and inclusive, that there's no need for an organisation like Evenbreak at all."
Jane Hatton, Founder & CEO, Evenbreak
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