Disability Leadership Institute (DLI) members recently shared their experiences of workplace inclusion. They identified that workplaces still aren’t getting inclusion right, with a continuing lack of real action, and despite many workplaces claiming that they are inclusive.
One of the key areas identified for action is leadership. Leaders have a strong role to play creating, and maintaining, an inclusive workplace. They are particularly responsible for ensuring that complacency doesn’t set in after one or two successes.
Leading by example seems an obvious suggestion, but its very easy to lose the time to be an example when the pressures of leadership take hold. Additionally, those in leadership positions often delegate to others without clear guidance on what exactly they are expecting diversity to look like, or how they would like to see it done. Be clear in your vision for inclusion and how it is done in your organisation. Share your thoughts regularly on the purpose of achieving diversity and your passion for it.
Another clear leadership example is to have disability leaders in your organisation. When disability is visible in the top ranks it is far easier for all your workforce to raise disability requirements or concerns. One of the biggest challenges faced by organisations is knowing they have a level of disability present, yet people don’t feel comfortable openly identifying as disabled. As with all diversity groups, senior leadership examples make a difference. The Disability Leadership Institute encourages disability leadership as a way of shifting culture.
Maintain an open conversation about gaps in inclusion and openly work to address them. Your organisation has a lot to do about inclusion, everyone does. So, talk about it. It’s okay not to be “there” yet. Be clear about what you know is missing, ask for information and suggestions about what could be done.
Share your plans for how your organisation with achieve the end vision, talk about it regularly in all communications. Make sure your team leaders feel licensed to share the organisation’s plans with their teams, particularly those who may feel more marginalised.
Nobody knows everything. No organisation is perfect. Maintaining a façade that you do know, or that your organisation is already “there” will only disenfranchise your workforce. Be comfortable in acknowledging the gaps and be clear in how the organisation is working to address them. Most importantly, don’t get defensive. Few organisations are yet to get it right, so you aren’t alone. Leaders who think they are always right are also very good at losing their people. An open culture of sharing shortcomings relies on you knowing those shortcomings exist and being open about them.
Commit resources to your plans for inclusion. Leadership commitment is the only way big outcomes will be achieved. If you are working to improve inclusion in your organisation you will need to openly acknowledge it as a goal, while also ensuring your leadership team and team leaders have the resources, they need to make it reality.
Many leaders have asked me if disability inclusion is possible by tagging it onto something else, or by just expecting it without having to commit more time and resources alongside their other diversity objectives. There is no evidence that this will work. In fact, there is strong anecdotal evidence to suggest that this approach will fail, given the static disability employment and leadership figures over more than three decades. If you are serious then you will need to commit to making disability inclusion happen, and that means acknowledging that it will take time and resources.
Achieving disability inclusion is like any other business outcome. You don’t expect other areas of your business to just happen without a concerted plan and whole of organisation effort. So, don’t expect it from disability inclusion. To make this real requires real leadership from the top, and that means planning, vision and commitment. It means benchmarking and tracking so that you know you are achieving your outcomes, just as you would any other aspect of your business.
Good intentions are not good enough. Leaders must commit to disability inclusion, make plans and commit resources. Leaders need to be open with their teams and mean what they say. Create a culture of constant improvement so that shortcomings are identified, shared and addressed.
Leaders have a real responsibility to make disability inclusion happen. As with all culture shifting this big change must come from the top.
Thanks to the many DLI members who shared thoughts and experiences for this article.
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