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Building Inclusive Workplaces with Remote Access for All

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Expert insights from Christabelle Feeney, Director, Employers for Change at the Open Doors Initiative. This article has been written exclusively for IoD Ireland members.

We spend one third of our life at work. So, it is as important to feel included and valued in our working lives as it is anywhere else. Do you really want to show up to a place for 33% of your life where you feel excluded and like you do not belong?

Disability in the Diversity, Equity and Inclusion Conversation 

Workplaces need to be environments where all employees feel accommodated and free from prejudice or discrimination. Diversity, Equity and Inclusion are becoming more central in the conversations that employers are having but sometimes disability takes a back seat. The diverse groups that these initiatives consider are often vying for a place at the top table and we know that the disabled community has found it tough to get a front row seat in this discussion. In fact, a recent survey by the Return on Disability Group identified that only 4% of companies that claim to prioritise diversity actually consider disability in their initiatives.

In Ireland, 13.5% of the population is living with a disability, that is one in seven people (Census, 2016). Yet, you are twice as likely to be unemployed in Ireland if you have a disability compared to a non-disabled peer. So, how can we address this gap and include people with disabilities in our workplaces? 

A New Way of Working 

As we consider returning to office workplaces and what this new world might look like there is scope to reach out to diverse talent pools. There is an opportunity for us all to consider how we do our work into the future.  

Pre-COVID-19 remote working was a notional idea that was feared by many employers. However, remote or hybrid work provides greater flexibility in how people do their job, something which can be of great benefit to people with disabilities. Providing an option to hybrid or remote work is more attractive for many disabled people and can remove barriers such as access to transport and/or allow for greater flexibility around working hours. 

Having a Voice at the Table 

A recent Accenture global report found that 67% of the circa 1,750 business executive respondents said they believe their companies support employees with disabilities, while only 20% of the 5,870 employees surveyed, who had a disability, agreed that their workplace culture is fully committed to helping them thrive and succeed. That’s an undeniable disconnect between perception at the top and the reality throughout the rest of the organisations. So, how can this problem be addressed? 

It is important that disabled employees are involved in conversations around company policies and remote working policies that will affect them. After all, diversity is inviting everyone into your organisation, but inclusion is ensuring a true sense of belonging by including people in the decision-making around the company’s direction and policies. 

We cannot assume that we are inclusive, we need to hear that from our employees and, where there are concerns or issues, learn how best to address them. 
In the context of remote work or hybrid work opportunities, disabled employees should not be isolated from the rest of the workforce. It is important that remote or hybrid working be presented as an option for the individual as opposed to a solution to providing accommodations or adjustments. 

We must not assume that an individual’s home environment is automatically an accessible work environment. The legal obligation to provide reasonable accommodations to disabled employees still applies to employers. There are a variety of grants and supports available to employers to provide such accommodations. 

An Opportunity to Attract Talent

As we continue to hear about the ‘Great Resignation’, now is as good a time as any for employers to look at their attractiveness to new and diverse talent as well as looking at the type of work environment they have created for existing employees. 

After all, if people feel that they do not belong, they will leave.
 

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Employers for Change is an employer disability information service providing advice and information to employers to empower them to recruit, employ and retain staff with disabilities. The organisation has recently undertaken research on the impact of remote working during Covid-19 on people with disabilities. This research will be published in November 2021. 
For details on how you can support potential or existing employees with disabilities, contact Employers for Change by text, WhatsApp or call on 085 157 9603 or by email to info@employersforchange.ie. Twitter: @EmployForChange and LinkedIn: Employers For Change.

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