Inclusive Human Resources

Once leaders provide guidance human resources can implement with confidence

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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Managing with Inclusion

DLI members share their thoughts on how managers can be inclusive.

by Christina Ryan, DLI CEO

This is the third article in a series about workplace inclusion.

 

Team leaders, managers, or supervisors play a pivotal role in making sure inclusion happens in an organisation. They are on the front line of implementing organisational policy, and the vision of the organisation’s leaders. Without their buy in, and strong commitment, inclusion simply will not happen.

The Disability Leadership Institute (DLI) asked our members about workplace inclusion and they identified managers, or team leaders (we use the term managers generically here), as being important in making inclusion a reality.

DLI members had several comments and suggestions for getting inclusion right across a range of workplace touch points. Many of these suggestions come from managers of teams, CEOs, and highly qualified disabled people struggling to find work. All the suggestions are from disabled people as both practitioners of inclusion and participants in inclusive processes.

Inclusion needs to start at the beginning, during recruitment, and continue as an ongoing focus for management and leadership every day. Complacency is not an option. Never assume your organisation is fully inclusive, nor that you have no further work to do. There is always more to be done, just as there are always more ways of being inclusive, because diverse people are diverse, and each person must be treated as an individual.

Managers, supervisors and team leaders should consider:

How they take organisation level policies and apply them at team level. It is managers who make sure teams are practicing inclusion every day. Strong supervision to ensure any bullying or harassment is nipped in the bud, cliques aren’t forming which leave people of diversity aside, and being open about the kind of organisation this is and its leaders’ vision for diversity and inclusion.

Managers should not assume that their direct reports know what is expected, nor should they rely on common sense. Neither of these strategies has worked in the past, and there is no evidence to suggest they will succeed. Regular proactive team leadership is required to bring inclusion into the team as an ever-present expectation and practice.

Ongoing conversations amongst team members which may lead to flexible work arrangements on where and how work is done. Managers need to be open about flexible work and what it means. Flexible work is more than working remotely, and it’s important to consider how team members who may be working elsewhere can be included in day to day work and outcomes.

It is often managers who approve flexible and remote working practices. This is enormous power to wield over team members which needs to be handled delicately within an environment of acceptance and trust. Without flexible work arrangements many disabled workers do not sustain employment or feel excluded, so they leave. How managers refer to flexible work, how it is approved, and how flexible work arrangements are discussed on a daily basis will dictate how the rest of the team accepts it, and whether it becomes part of how business is done.

Ensure regular activities like staff meetings and team gatherings are undertaken in open reflective ways. When inclusion and inclusive practices are part of an ongoing conversation there will be greater understanding and acceptance of them. Managers can ensure that inclusion is a regular item on team meeting agendas, including how the team is travelling, how inclusion is discussed, what the team could be doing better. Is the team fulfilling the vision of the organisation’s leaders? Are there any gaps and what is being done about them?

Managers are the gatekeepers to professional development for team members. Accepting all team members equally means ensuring that everyone has equitable access to professional development. A study conducted by the Institute for Governance and Policy Analysis (IGPA) showed that disabled team members are far less likely to be provided professional development opportunities as members of the same team.

Additionally, managers have a key role to play in addressing bullying and harassment. The same IGPA study uncovered a rate of bullying that is double that for the broader workforce. Tackling this head on, by ensuring that all team members understand how unacceptable bullying is, must become second nature to managers of diverse teams.

Being open about reality and committing to a more inclusive team are part of a manager’s commitment to ensuring their team embraces inclusion and the broader vision of an inclusive organisation.

Managers, supervisors and team leaders are pivotal to building organisation inclusion. Without them inclusion will not happen, nor can it be sustained. Remaining open, not shutting conversations down, and being clear that the goal of inclusion is yet to be reached, can be part of bringing a team, and therefore a workforce, along with the management and leadership vision of an inclusive organisation.

 

Thanks to the many DLI members who shared thoughts and experiences for this article.

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Leading for Inclusion

Leaders have a strong role to play in creating an inclusive workplace.

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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Meaning well doesn’t equal inclusion

Real inclusion takes action as well as good intentions.

By DLI CEO Christina Ryan

It’s unusual to meet someone who doesn’t think it’s a good idea to employ disabled people, or to be working towards an inclusive workplace.

So, why is it still so hard to find good workplaces that are inclusive where disabled people feel comfortable and stay for the long haul? Why have the statistics on disability employment stagnated for decades, or gone backwards?

Because everybody thinks they’re doing something, and very few are.

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 they are inclusive.

There is no doubt employers mean well, but is meaning well enough to get inclusion over the line? Unfortunately not. Meaning well doesn’t equate to action, and it is real action that is needed.

DLI members had several comments and suggestions for getting inclusion right across a range of workplace touch points. Many of these suggestions come from managers of teams, CEOs, and highly qualified disabled people struggling to find work. All the suggestions are from disabled people as both practitioners of inclusion and participants in inclusive processes.

Inclusion needs to start at the beginning, during recruitment, and continue as an ongoing focus for management and leadership every day. Complacency is not an option. Never assume your organisation is fully inclusive, nor that you have no further work to do. There is always more to be done, just as there are always more ways of being inclusive, because diverse people are diverse and each person must be treated as an individual.

Recruitment:

  • Contacting people before their recruitment interview, or appraisal process, to ask what adjustments need to be made and then making those adjustments
  • Making sure interviewers can respond to questions about workplace adjustments at interview
  • Ensuring interviews are accessible so that people can focus on their interview and not their disability needs
  • Ensuring people are confident and comfortable asking for adjustment during the recruitment phase, this means having an accessible recruitment process
  • Providing questions before interview, meeting interview panel members beforehand, or not even having a formal interview process
  • Openly seeking disabled people for your workforce

Human Resources:

  • Ensuring there are disabled people working in human resources, and valuing the expert contribution of those staff
  • 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 particular strengths and preferences
  • Collecting data on diversity numbers and length of employment, including how many people openly identify as disabled

Management:

  • Taking organisation level policies and applying them at team level
  • Ongoing conversations amongst team members which may lead to flexible work arrangements on where and how work is done
  • Doing regular things like staff meetings and team gatherings in open reflective ways

Leadership:

  • Leadership leading by example, making sure all team members are checked on as part of daily routines to avoid exclusion and cliques developing
  • Maintaining an open conversation about gaps in inclusion and openly working to address those gaps
  • Workplaces claiming to be diverse should be planning, providing funding and seeking counsel for success in diversity, just as they would any other part of their business mission

Finally, and rather obviously: having more than good intentions by actually employing disabled people. Many organisations say that employing disabled people is a good thing to do, yet half of all disabled people remain unemployed.

Clearly good intentions are not good enough. Workplaces need to mean it and that means action.

Action starts from recruitment and continues throughout the organisation as part of daily operations. Action means policies, processes and an ongoing conversation about what inclusion looks like for this team.

Action also means management openly taking responsibility for addressing inclusion gaps as a leadership example.

Inclusion will look different for every team, because every team is different; however, there are some structural underpinnings that can be considered for 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.

Sign up for regular updates from the Disability Leadership Institute

 

 

 

 

Making Change

Disabled people are the single largest minority group on the planet. Yet we are rarely seen in leadership and decision making roles, our visibility in popular culture and media is low, and recognition of our work as thought leaders and influencers is almost non-existent. The work of the disability rights movement often consists of us highlighting our absence from the public domain.

 

Shifting the status of disabled people to achieve equality will take many people and a long time. It will take a multi pronged approach across a wide range of fields. With 1.5 billion people it will also need to be happening in many places around the globe simultaneously in ways that are suitable to conditions in that myriad of locations.

 

The global disability rights movement is as diverse as it is large. This is its strength, as it ensures that the simultaneous work required is happening. Across numerous fields, in numerous countries, within all cultures, disabled people are working to assert our rights. Yet the disability rights movement is only a small percentage of disabled people, and a small percentage of the work that is required. Social change movements usually consist of less than 10% of a specific population group, and the disability movement is no different.

 

Many disabled people work in invisible ways, shifting ground from within existing business and government structures. This work is just as important, just as necessary, as the work of those who use the public domain to challenge assumptions and perspectives on disabled people. Internal institutional barriers need to be addressed as much as social assumptions and social policy. Without taking our place as 15% of global leadership we won’t be in a position to challenge the ableist structural barriers which deny an equitable disabled presence across the public and private domains.

 

As with any social change movement there are those who speak loudly and those who work behind the scenes. All are vital, particularly with such a large minority. Some demand strong ethical behaviour of themselves denying any solution other than end point outcomes, others are pragmatic and work more incrementally to shift legislation or policy. Some take a leadership role; others work to support those on the frontline of change making. Some work through organisations, many don’t. Some accept recognition for their work, others prefer to be acknowledged only as part of the larger movement. As with all movements, all approaches are vital contributions to the overall outcome of equality.

 

Curiously, there are those who suggest that only people from certain parts of the political spectrum, or with certain values and ethics, should be accepted as legitimate members of the disability rights movement. Yet, the size of the disability population and the diversity of disabled people would suggest that we must be present across all fields, political backgrounds, and perspectives. With such a large global population it is impossible to consider that we might always agree with each other. It is more likely that we won’t, particularly when intersectional and cultural factors are considered. That doesn’t mean that we can’t support those who work differently, or with whom we disagree, knowing that they too are making a difference.

 

It’s time to celebrate our work wherever it happens, and recognise that all of it is contributing to the greater visibility and status of disabled people. People should be encouraged to work where they are best placed to do so, using their skills and qualities. Making change is often about getting on the bus that comes past, not waiting for the perfect set of circumstances to arise before acting. If someone jumped on the bus as it went by we should applaud them for embracing the opportunity as it arose.

 

Periodically people are critical because someone isn’t their choice as the best person for an accolade or an appointment, yet often it is being in the right place at the right time that decides who does something or is asked for comment. Should we remain invisible or should we seize those chances while we can? However people achieve recognition, positions of influence, rights outcomes, or make change it is all valuable and raises our status as global citizens. Being in the room is the key to equality. There are many many rooms, so we need many people to ensure we are in all of them. All of this work contributes to the #Global15Percent

 

Wherever we do our work and achieve change, disabled people should be supported and celebrated, even if specific individuals don’t work in a way that we personally prefer or use language we’d rather they didn’t. Our diversity is our strength and that means embracing our difference including our different approaches, because our equality requires all that difference. Disability is our common thread, yet it doesn’t make us all the same, and that’s the best thing.

 

 

Christina Ryan is the CEO of the Disability Leadership Institute, she has worked across 5 social change movements throughout her lifetime including the disability rights movement.

Who decides on inclusion?

Massive buzzwork, but what does it really mean?

by Christina Ryan, CEO, Disability Leadership Institute

 

Inclusion: massive buzzword, but what does it really mean and how do we get it?

 

Its popular for organisations to claim that they are being inclusive, yet retention rates remain low for disabled people in most organisations, with very few moving into positions of leadership or responsibility.

 

A key factor in understanding inclusion is that it lies in the eye of the beholder. Many organisations have good intentions on inclusion, yet their staff members from minority groups don’t feel comfortable and leave within a short period. For other organisations inclusion is a reality, so long as everyone fits in and conforms to company culture.

 

Its very easy to say you are being inclusive, its another matter to be viewed as being so by those who are the target for being included. Most people mean well, but they forget their unconscious behaviours. Very few people are comfortable with stepping back to allow a person from a minority group (like a disabled person) to take an opportunity over themselves. Even fewer seem comfortable with a disabled person being their supervisor.

 

There are those who consider inclusion to be not “seeing” a person’s difference. This isn’t inclusion, its assimilation. Many members of the Disability Leadership Institute share stories where “I couldn’t tell you were deaf, you were almost normal”, or “I didn’t see your wheelchair after a while”. This is denying a person’s disability exists and certainly isn’t inclusion.

 

Inclusion is about embracing diversity and using it. Not about denying it and expecting everyone to fit in to the dominant culture.

 

Diversity is about embracing the value, the richness, that diversity brings. This means operating differently, ensuring that everyone contributes equally, and recognizing the skills, expertise and perspective of disability leaders on your team. Disability leaders will operate differently, and you want this, embrace it, value it, use it. It might make you uncomfortable or seem annoying to have to change how you have a conversation, yet this is exactly the outcome you are trying to achieve because it means you are being pushed outside your comfort zone and having your perspective disrupted.

 

There isn’t much point in appointing disability leaders to your team if they aren’t valued for their contribution. This seems like an unnecessary thing to say, yet the Disability Leadership Institute has heard many stories about disabled staff who are never sent the documents in a format they can read and work on, or aren’t given time to hear what is happening via their interpreter, and even highly experienced executives who are never given the opportunity to speak and share their views. They are, quite literally, token appointments.

 

Inclusion is real when people feel included. They are valued and used as equal members of the team. It’s easy to identify inclusion; your staff turnover reduces as you achieve high retention of people from minority groups. The only people who can judge if your organisation is inclusive are those who are being included. They’ll let you know, and your staff retention rates will prove it.

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Integrating disability and leadership

Beginning the development of disability leaders.

By Christina Ryan, CEO Disability Leadership Institute

Until recently disability leadership hasn’t been a recognised field of endeavour. That doesn’t mean it hasn’t been happening, rather it means that the practice of leadership by disabled people hasn’t been included in leadership discussions, nor has it been an area of development or research.

 

There are still many people who struggle to see disabled people as leaders or leadership material. This is a cultural phenomenon grown over several hundred years as a result of sequestering disabled people away from the community on the assumption that disability equates to an inability to operate in the wider world as equals.

 

To be disabled has been to be shamed and stigmatised, and this experience continues, particularly in the workplace. There are still very few disability leaders who openly identify as disabled in their workplaces. Often it is those who have no choice because their disability is evident, or they require specific adjustments and must seek employer support. Those who require adjustments are a very small proportion of disabled people. Likewise, those whose disability is visibly evident are a small proportion of disabled people. So, most people don’t openly identify and the ability to harness their diversity is lost.

 

Striving for an open environment where disability leaders feel safe and comfortable being themselves in the workplace is not new.

 

The work being undertaken by the Disability Leadership Institute, in developing leaders who use their disability as an aspect of their leadership, is new.

 

The historic sequestration of disability away from the mainstream, and the assumption that disabled people cannot be leaders making tough decisions or taking responsibility, has acted as a barrier to disability leadership being recognised or embraced.

 

In reognising that disability leadership exists, and working to develop disability leaders, it is first necessary to recognise that disability leaders are experts at masking their disability, at putting it to one side to avoid stigma or other consequences. In order to succeed many disability leaders have become highly adept at putting those around them at ease. Operating in an ableist world, which still considers disability to be “other”, these leaders take responsibility for their disability not hindering the work around them.

 

When developing disability leaders, who use their disability as an asset in their leadership and embrace its ability to provide a different perspective, lateral thinking ability and strong problem-solving capacity, the first step has often been to address the historic shaming and stigma associated with disability.

 

As disability leaders first commence their relationship with the Disability Leadership Institute many are in a cycle of apologising. This isn’t about their lack of confidence in the world, these are highly competent and qualified people, rather it is about addressing a hyper awareness that their disability makes others uncomfortable. A further complication is the ableist expectation that because they are the “other” person, they are somehow responsible for addressing the discomfort that they are perceived to have caused. Fundamentally, disability leaders have developed expertise in navigating the unsafe environments they work in by minimising their disability to the greatest extent possible and apologising to put others at ease.

 

Many leaders commencing programs or coaching with the DLI start every sentence by saying sorry, sometimes repeatedly. Moving away from apology is difficult and takes real time for many leaders. This is a vital first step; however, before leaders are able to progress to a point of embracing their disability and how it operates as a leadership asset. Once a leader is comfortable with using other ways to navigate these environments, they become adept at embracing the amount of space they inhabit, and the flexibility they require to operate at their best. This is when they move towards integrating their whole self into their leadership practice.

 

The ability to talk openly, without justifying disability and how it behaves, in a supportive environment, is a critical underpinning of all Disability Leadership Institute work, including the Future Shapers program and DLI member groups. This is the importance of specialist leadership development. Without it the integration of disability and leadership will remain unrecognised and out of reach, and disability leaders continue to be denied the ability to approach their leadership holistically.

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