What would your workplace look like if it employed people of all abilities? Diversity and inclusion in the workplace has been a defining issue in the global business sphere. Although the introduction of numerous Diversity and Inclusion (D&I) policies has seen some progress occur, many organisations are still erring on the side of caution when it comes to employment of those with disabilities.
“The employment of someone with a disability and the business benefits it can provide, both socially and economically, continues to be overlooked by many companies,” explains Ricky Esterquest, owner of local consulting business, Towards Better, whose mission is to connect and empower businesses to employ inclusive workforce practices.
“There is a common stereotype amongst employers that people with disabilities present more costs than benefits but in fact, it is quite the opposite.”Ricky Esterquest
According to the 2018 Social Inclusion in the Workplace Report, at least five million people with a disability living in Australia were seen to be potentially excluded from business, even though they control over $40 billion of annual disposable income. In Townsville alone, approximately 18,720 people with disabilities are unemployed. This is more than twice the rate of unemployment in comparison to those living without a disability.
“That is a huge untapped market of talent,” states Ricky. “There are over 12,000 registered businesses in Townsville and if 50% of these employed just one person with a disability, it would reduce unemployment by 20%.
“As workers, they can ease talent shortages and add to the organisational diversity that drives better decision-making and innovation.
“Their insight is increasingly needed to meet the needs of diverse customer bases, and of course, a workplace representing the diversity in the community will then be seen by consumers as part of their community.”
As Ricky points out, diverse workforces can boost innovation and problem solving, but most importantly, ensure businesses can represent the needs of different consumers. You only have to look at established companies such as Apple and H&M who, as noted in the Social Inclusion Report (2018) have utilised the expertise of diverse teams, including staff with a disability, to create more accessible goods and services.
So, how can organisations expand their diversity and inclusion initiatives to include those with disabilities? “It needs to be underpinned by management strategy,” answers Ricky. “It is important for staff to see that inclusion is a priority for their CEO and board, because they are the movers and shakers in the organisation; if they aren’t doing anything to take ownership and drive accountability, then nobody in the organisation will.”
Whilst Diversity & Inclusion policies are a starting point, they are limited in being able to provide specific insight and understanding. Therefore, Ricky says Social Role Valorisation (SRV) training and other forms of action learning can be highly beneficial in helping organisation’s break down their own bias and misconceptions surrounding minority groups.
“SRV helps to understand the life experience of marginalised people and why people with a disability are ‘devalued.’ It also helps organisations understand inclusive language and highlight that accessibility is individual; two people with a similar disability will have different needs,” he adds.
“This type of thinking can also be applied to issues such as age, gender, culture and language, and can provide further insight on other inclusive practices the organisation may need to implement. This could include the ability for parents to leave work early for school pick up or having a dedicated area where those from religious backgrounds can pray.”
Yet in order to attract and retain a diverse workforce and reap the economic benefits it provides; organisations must start by rethinking their hiring practices.
“When employers include, often unconsciously, sub-optimal criteria in job requirements, they miss out on numerous skilled candidates,” says Ricky. “It is important to consider things such as the application format, online accessibility, and even the language of job descriptions.
“Even try to think outside the box about how you can take all the smaller tasks that either never get done or aren’t an effective part of one role and collate them into another potentially part-time role that an employee, for example one with a disability, could do extremely well and add massive value to the business”.
“We think that inclusion is as simple as having more physical accessibility. Consider as well, is your workplace fully accessible, both in terms of the physical environment to work-day structure, to hiring and recruitment and technology.
“Whilst these are all important to think about, having inclusion on your radar and in workplace discussions is a fantastic first step.