How To Create a More Inclusive Workplace
National Disability Employment Awareness Month happened in October; our hope is that the drive to create more inclusive and diverse workplaces persists beyond just one month! For non-disabled persons, it might be easy to assume that getting all the components in place for an inclusive workplace would be a daunting and difficult task. However, it's actually very straightforward -- and beneficial for everyone! Here's some of the various things employers can do to get started, many of which can be done right after reading this blog.
1. Hire persons with disabilities.
It sounds basic, but in order to foster a culture of diversity, you must have a diverse workplace. Management must display this commitment with more than words -- they must hire persons with disabilities! This actively displays that diversity is valued in the organization.
2. Promote a company culture of diversity and inclusion.
Simply having accessible facilities isn't enough to foster a diverse workplace. Your company must wear its heart on its sleeve and support the hiring and inclusion of persons with disabilities at its core. There's many elements to this.
- First, all employees should be comfortable discussing their disabilities and any reasonable accommodations they may need. This may be especially true for those whose disabilities aren't easily visible.
- Owners, executives, and managers should ensure that employees are respected and valued -- while it's necessary for employees to feel comfortable discussing a disability they may have, it's only one part of who they are as a person. If upper management isn't living this every day, any other steps taken towards a more inclusive workplace may be impacted.
- It's also important to remember that not everyone may be familiar with working closely with those who have a disability, and may make assumptions about their capabilities. An inclusive company culture can help workers focus on "ability," not "disability." Regular training sessions may also help employees to understand their co-workers with disabilities, and celebrate their ability over all.
- Finally, be conscious of the terms your employees prefer to use when they refer to themselves. Words are a powerful thing. For example, the use of "differently abled" as opposed to "person with a disability" or "disabled person." The preference varies by person, and it's a sign of mutual respect to use the terms that are preferred. Don't be afraid to ask them. Be open.
3. Work directly with employees on their accommodations.
There is no rule set in stone when it comes to providing reasonable accommodations for employees. Management should listen closely and be open to a spectrum of ideas and solutions for accommodating employees.
4. Treat employees with disabilities as equals.
The focus of employees should be their ability -- not any factors that may make them "different" (that term, of course, is perspective-biased in itself!)
- As such, management should avoid any blind spots when it comes to how they recognize employees with disabilities. Celebrate their accomplishments, and ensure that all employees are appropriately recognized. This includes things like promotions or job advancement, responsibilities, bonuses, and incentive programs. Once employees with disabilities begin to become recognized for their achievements and advance within the company, this communicates the valuable contributions made by them to others.
- Ensure that company events are accessible to all employees -- whether it be a physical accommodation, location, timing, or so on. Again, the key is to treat all employees as equals, and including everyone in important events and milestones is a part of that. It could be something as simple as a company lunch potluck, or all the way up to an annual company meeting.
5. Bring the company's image in line with diversity.
If a company is actively hiring persons with disabilities and enjoying the benefits of a diverse workforce, wouldn't they want to shout it from the rooftops? Things like the company's mission statements, branding materials, photographs and imagery, and website can all be optimized to visually demonstrate their commitment.
6. Leverage technology to empower employees.
There are many organizations out there that are devoted to making their tools and software accessible to all, and employers who are becoming more inclusive will find technology to be an invaluable resource. One excellent example is Microsoft. Microsoft provides specific tools in the Windows 10 operating system and the Office 365 productivity suite for a wide range of accessibility requirements, including features for those who experience hearing loss or have deafness, have low vision or blindness, cognitive differences, learning disabilities, or mobility issues. Their goal is to build in accessibility -- not bolt it on -- and they're helping companies around the world reimagine the inclusive workplace.
7. Make it easy for persons with disabilities to apply for employment.
This one is near and dear to us at AbilityLinks! If it's difficult for people to find your jobs, or difficult to apply, you might lose the opportunity to meet them. We work hard to connect inclusive employers with a diverse talent pool of applicants. We'd love to help your organization take the next steps -- learn about how to find your next rockstar by joining AbilityLinks as an inclusive employer, or discover the benefits of an AbilityLinks sponsorship! Together lets focus on Ability.