Technological, societal, and environmental shifts are reshaping how many companies engage and include people, customers, and communities with disabilities. This is paving the way for systemic change in how we include underrepresented communities in the employment world.
Over the last several months I’ve been pondering and am now actively pursuing a new professional career in the world of Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion (DEI). This is not a new emerging field within organizations, but over the last several years it is fast becoming an ever more critical area for organizations, corporations, and stakeholders around the world to focus on. More specifically, in light of today’s societal changes we need to strive to incorporate a more diverse and equitable culture for women, people of color, members of the LGBTQ community, and the disability community.
The DEI world encompasses everything from HR to project management to hiring practices to social impact, and beyond. In light of our society in which many brilliant individuals and organizations are striving to encompass a more inclusive work environment for underserved and underrepresented communities, it’s absolutely critical stakeholders from all areas within a community get involved too. It’s not just about simply hiring these individuals, but creating an environment where companies foster leadership for these individuals into the boardroom and C-suite positions. This is a critical component to changing company culture from the top down.
Diversity leadership creates an innovative environment, which leads to stronger connections and powerful relationships as well as bolstering organizational reputation, retention, and employee motivation.
There is definitely a shift in many companies starting to build inclusive policies to welcome people with, in particular, disabilities in entry-level positions, but the inclusion of people with disabilities in the ranks of senior leaders is still emerging as a priority. The diversity discussion, unfortunately, is still extremely limited on including high-level leaders with disabilities.
With my own personal mission to shift gears into a new career in the DEI world I’m quickly coming to realize how valuable people with disabilities are to companies with respect to increasing their strategic advantage, but also their financial success.
By recognizing the unique challenges faced by leaders with disabilities, organizations can build more comprehensive diversity policies to create an inclusive environment for all employees. Historically, executive level leaders have felt the need to be seen as superhuman in order to survive, a culture that has resulted in displaying one of invincibility and infallibility. This needs to change because once higher level corporate executives realize a disability is not a disadvantage in the corporate culture, the entire corporate structure, from the top down, will make way for real systemic change.
Disability need not seen as a disadvantage to businesses because many people with disabilities face their own personal challenges and are some of the best creative problem solvers as well as able to apply the kind of flexibility that is required for organizations to thrive in ever-changing times.
Now is the time for leadership to embrace the idea that disability inclusion can be a strategic advantage and diverse perspectives simply create better businesses. Employers hiring people with disabilities:
- Benefit from a wider pool of talent, skills, and creative business solutions.
- Recognize disability diversity as an important way to tap into a growing market, since people with disabilities represent the third largest market segment in the US.
- So, by proactively employing individuals with disabilities, businesses can gain a better understanding of how to meet the needs of this important and expanding customer base.
- Offer employers a competitive advantage by helping to diversify strengths in the workplace through varied perspectives on how to confront challenges and get the job done promoting a DEI atmosphere.
After reading dozens of articles on this very topic there are numerous characteristics associated with disability friendly companies, which certainly did not surprise me, but I was tremendously heartened to learn this global conversation is really starting to take hold with respect to aiding companies in:
- Fostering an inclusive business culture, starting with expressions of commitment from the highest levels and carried across organization wide practices such as disability focused employee resource groups and engagement activities.
- Ensuring disability inclusive outreach & recruitment by developing relationships with a variety of recruitment sources in order to build a pipeline of qualified candidates with disabilities for the future.
- Promoting disability inclusive talent acquisition & retention processes by establishing personnel systems and job descriptions that facilitate not only hiring, but also the advancement of qualified individuals with disabilities.
- Providing the accommodations to employees with disabilities to do their jobs effectively, whether that means assistive technology, a flexible schedule, remote work schedule, or numerous other reasonable accommodations or productivity enhancements.
- Ensuring a barrier free workplace by maintaining accessible information and communication technology, as well as the physical accessibility of the workplace.
What particularly caught my attention in my research was a 2018 report, “Getting to Equal: The Disability Inclusion Advantage,” written by Accenture Consulting in partnership with the American Association of People with Disabilities and Disability:In. This report revealed that companies who embrace best practices for employing and supporting people with disabilities and their workforce consistently outperform their peers, including having, on average, 28% higher revenue, double the net income, and 30% higher economic profit margins.
Further, studies have shown that people with disabilities stay a job longer, thus reducing the time and costs involved in retaining or replacing personnel, and improving productivity & morale. This all translates into having a real impact on the company’s bottom line.
This is simply fantastic. We have incontrovertible evidence that hiring people with disabilities contributes to the success of a company. There is much work to be done, but I believe the key factors in how we approach changing the DEI mindset and corporate culture involve consistently pushing to minimize bias, promote advocacy, accountability, access, and inclusion.
We simply cannot work in isolation. We have to collaborate by engaging in activating a full range of stakeholders at all levels, private and public, regardless of the industry section within our country as well as globally. Focusing DEI efforts on the immediate surrounding, such as a single company is like trying to solve world hunger by focusing on a single country.
We, as a disability community, need to constantly keep pushing boundaries and put pressure on companies to see us for who we are. We are incredibly capable individuals who may need certain accommodations for accessibility, but are highly competent at adding value to companies. We just need the chance to prove it and this will only come through consistent education to illuminate our strengths and how we add value to an employer. This requires a comprehensive joint effort among many stakeholders in the community to help us advocate for change as we continue to advocate for ourselves.
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