This article is the fourth in a series of five articles examining inclusive workplaces.
Earlier this year we asked Disability Leadership Institute (DLI) members what experiences and suggestions they had about workplace inclusion. DLI members work across a wide range of fields and at all levels of organisations. Their experiences and suggestions reflect that broad experience.
DLI members talked about various touch points within organisations from recruitment through to leadership. Experiences of human resources departments and staff were varied; however, some common themes arose on how human resources might become more inclusive, including areas that require urgent attention.
Human resources is seen as crucial to an inclusive workplace. Every staff member will interact with human resources at some point and for staff with disabilities this can be more frequent if they require adjustments or experience bullying or harassment. Ensuring the human resources experience is positive is vital to staff retention and an overall culture of inclusion within the organisation, yet the leadership of many organisations don’t provide clear guidance on what inclusive human resources looks like, including a lack of flexible work options and a lack of understanding about reasonable adjustment.
As mentioned in a previous article Leading For Inclusion it is critical that an inclusive culture comes from the top of every organisation. Individuals in human resources should not be responsible for overall organisational culture, although this is exactly what many organisations appear to expect. Once leaders provide guidance on diversity and inclusion, human resources is able to implement with confidence.
Some specific suggestions from DLI members include:
Ensuring there are disabled people working in human resources and valuing the expert contribution of those staff. DLI members repeatedly refer to their disability expertise not being valued in the workplace. This applies to disabled human resources specialists as well. When a disabled staff member, who understands the disability experience, is overruled by a more senior team member because “that’s not how we do things here”, it sends a clear message that disability expertise is unwanted and unvalued.
Any staff member with disability seeking human resources assistance will be wary of repeating the experience if their concern is dismissed, or their sharing of information with another disabled staff member is later dismissed. Having disabled people working inside human resources sends a clear message. It also contributes to changing the understanding of human resources and shifting the culture to be more inclusive.
Asking all staff how they like to work/communicate and then creating shared profiles with that information, so everyone knows that everyone one else has specific strengths and preferences. Regardless of being disabled or non-disabled, every employee has communication preferences and requirements. Developing centrally held profiles for that information so that staff members are not constantly repeating their personal needs is a high priority for DLI members.
Some disabled people require specific assistive technology, others require specific formats for documents, or an ability to work remotely, or a preference for video over audio conferencing. Staff working flexibility may have certain times of day that work better than others. These preferences are all basic workplace adjustments that should not need to be repeatedly requested.
Shared profiles can be created without risking the individual privacy of staff members. Many organisations have staff directories which can be searched for name and contact details. Adding a preference for hours of contact, video conferencing, or specific document style would be a simple addition resulting in greater inclusion for every person working for that organisation.
Consistently collecting data on diversity numbers and length of employment, including how many people openly identify as disabled. Many organisations can cite how many staff anonymously identify as disabled, yet they are unable to translate this into those who openly identify as disabled. Collecting further critical data, such as how long openly identifying disabled people work for the organisation in comparison to all staff, is exceedingly rare.
Understanding the levels of sustained disability employment can provide deep insight into how inclusive a workplace is. Many organisations struggle to retain their disabled staff, yet they are not collecting data to assist with understanding the reasons behind this.
Inclusion will look different for every organisation because every organisation is different; however, there are some structural underpinnings that can be considered by any organisation that wishes to be inclusive, as well as being seen to be inclusive.
Thanks to the many DLI members who shared thoughts and experiences for this article.
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