Disability is the 'poor cousin' of race and gender when it comes to diversity in the workplace.
Organisational Transformation includes changing the way members perceive, think and behave at work as they move towards a common vision. Recent years have seen a dramatic increase in focus on the impact of workplace culture on transformational success, as culture, being a company’s “personality,” includes the behavioral norms, expectations, and practices that influence how people engage internally and on the company’s behalf. The role of workplace diversity in creating a culture which is responsive to broad opportunities, changing societal values, competitive demands for innovation, and enhancement of business performance, further impacts on transformational success. Diversity of perspectives, cultures and experiences are critical drivers for the growth and prosperity of a company within a fast changing environment. Diversity breeds innovation, innovation breeds business excellence.
Recognising this, most leading organisations have invested heavily in change management efforts around the diversity of gender, race and ethnicity. However, disability remains the ‘poor cousin’ of these efforts, with sporadic and limited commitment being made to entrench and realise the value of this form of diversity in organisational structures, policies, belief systems and innovation drivers. The consequence of this is that, while many well-intentioned efforts are being made to recruit persons with a disability for work opportunities or skills development programmes, many of these hires or ‘learners’ do not feel included as valued and appreciated contributors to the business. An organisation may achieve its diversity demographics through its recruitment processes, however it will not realise the value of this diversity to its business until it becomes inclusive.
A transformative, disability inclusive and confident culture which realizes the value of the diversity of disability, should subscribe to the following eight principals:
1 Send a strong message from the top. An inclusive business culture starts with senior leadership making a commitment to creating a disability inclusive culture, where persons with a disability are valued, and sincere efforts to hire and promote persons with a disability becomes entrenched in the organisation’s strategic intent.
2 Check your assumptions. Challenge your assumptions about what persons with a disability can do – remember this is not a homogenous community. Awareness around disability inclusion should be ongoing, should challenge stereotypes, and should showcase disability as just another form of ‘normal’ diversity. Be collaborative in your efforts to understand and ensure that you have the right stakeholders to educate.
3 Apply flexibility and creativity around reasonable accommodations. A ‘reasonable accommodation’ which has the effect of minimising the ‘disabling barrier’ is usually all that stands between that person and success in the job. Whether the accommodation is in the form of an assistive device, flexible working hours, accessible facilities etc, remember to explore this consultatively with the individual and seek advice from experts where more information is required. Support reasonable accommodation efforts at policy and process level.
4 Create a work environment where employees with a disability feel safe to disclose. Many of your current employees may have an obvious, or ‘hidden’, disability, yet don’t feel safe to disclose this. Paying attention to how you talk about disability as a company has a huge impact on the perceived ‘safety’ of disclosing. Normalising ‘disability speak’, avoiding condescending phraseology, aligning messaging to the social model of disability rather than the medical model, and including ‘disability relevant’ information as part of ‘general’ topics all reflect respect and value.
5 Make job postings attractive and accessible to persons with a disability. Review your online job application system, company website, and sourcing processes to ensure that they are disability accessible in order to avoid missing out on potentially awesome talent. Perhaps mention your history or policy on providing reasonable accommodation for your employees with a disability, or provide guidance on how to ask for accommodations in the application process. Follow this up by scrutinizing job requirements to ensure that unnecessary barriers are not present as a result of ‘common but not essential’ requirements.
6 Commit to promoting persons with a disability. Employees with a disability often get stuck in entry level roles or learnership positions, with little opportunity provided for them to move up the corporate ladder. Seeing employees with a disability move up the career ladder contributes significantly to a culture shift around the value of this form of diversity. Assign mentors to facilitate development, identify skills gaps, encourage employees with a disability to apply for promotions, make training opportunities accessible, and remember to apply reasonable accommodation measures to each ‘rung’ of the career ladder.
7 Brand your company as disability inclusive. Persons with disabilities are more likely to apply for a job where they see themselves reflected in the branding for the company. To achieve this, ensure disability is included in your company’s diversity statement. Go further than this by including images in your advertising and branding which depict disability as ‘normal’ and part of the general diversity of people.
8 Make networking accessible. Do your best to ensure that offsite networking events are held in accessible locations, that teambuilding efforts are largely inclusive, that conferences and conventions are accessible in format, infrastructure and materials, and that organisors and facilitators are empowered to consider this form of diversity in their planning.
Whilst these steps are seemingly simplistic to many, it is their consistent application and inherent entrenchment within the corporate culture that make them effective. In our experience at Bradshaw LeRoux Consulting, a key success factor in creating and sustaining a disability inclusive culture lies in a multi-pronged, ‘little and often’ simple yet consistent transformative strategy, supported by inclusive policies and practices which we deliver as a journey to inclusion rather than a short term solution.