Expert insights from Rosemary Keogh, Chief Executive Officer, Irish Wheelchair Association. This blog has been written exclusively for IoD Ireland.
For over 60 years, Irish Wheelchair Association has pursued a vision of a truly inclusive Ireland, where people with disabilities enjoy equal rights, choices and opportunities to live the lives they choose, unimpeded by the barriers which society can place in front of them.
While increased focus on diversity and inclusion has to be welcomed, to make meaningful and lasting change, boards and business leaders must implement policies and embed a culture of belonging that celebrates differences and enables all of their employees to develop and thrive.
What’s the Difference between Diversity and Inclusion?
Diversity is about understanding that each person is unique and recognising their differences. Diversity involves having people from different backgrounds (race, social background, disability, gender, sexuality etc), however, it’s not simply about hiring people with differences, rather valuing existing differences, giving them a voice, and creating a sense of belonging and providing equal opportunities for everyone to succeed.
Inclusion is about creating a culture where everyone feels included and valued, and stems from the differences that exist among employees. An inclusive culture makes everyone feel like they belong by celebrating diversity and promoting trust, respect, curiosity and understanding at all levels of the organisation.
Why Does Diversity and Inclusion Matter?
A diverse and inclusive workplace promotes a sense of belonging among employees and when this sense of belonging is felt, employees are motivated to succeed, which has a positive impact on organisational performance.
Employer branding is a key element of the business case for diversity and inclusion and in the era of the post-Covid19 ‘Great Resignation’, the war for talent dictates that boards must incorporate diversity and inclusion into their employer branding initiatives to remain competitive. Prospective employees want to know if their potential employer values diversity and inclusion and companies that ignore it risk missing out on top talent .
Globalisation has made the employment market highly mobile and diverse. Our teams must reflect the society we operate in and boards - often the public face of a company - will showcase how, or if, an inclusive culture is celebrated. Having boards and employees that reflect the diversity of society, can only serve to enhance an employer’s brand.
Diversity and inclusion also play a significant role in retaining top talent. An inclusive organisation will have a diverse talent pool from which to develop leaders of the future and who are more likely to stay with the organisation and contribute to its future success if they feel included and respected.
What about Disability?
Ireland is bound under international law  to ensure that people with disabilities are not discriminated against in the workforce and that appropriate accommodation and supports are given to ensure access to work. Supporting and showing leadership in this area is a responsible way to conduct business and boards should ensure it forms a core part of company strategy.
People with disabilities are constantly overcoming obstacles and finding solutions to the barriers society places in their way, and are a skilled, enthusiastic and untapped source of talent for Irish businesses, yet they experience far higher rates of unemployment.
A recent report from the National Disability Authority stated that people with a disability have an unemployment rate of 26% versus 11% for those without  . Boards therefore have a responsibility to demonstrate a meaningful commitment to building a more inclusive workforce, stamping out discrimination and giving people with disabilities a fair chance at employment.
What can my Business do to be More Inclusive?
There are a number of simple steps boards can take to ensure that their business can become more inclusive:
- Understand what the terms diversity and inclusion mean, and remember that without inclusion and belonging, diversity risks being just a buzzword.
- Hold a mirror up to your organisation by examining your HR data and conducting employee surveys to gain insights on employee demographics and their overall experience in terms of inclusion. Then, act on it!
- Develop your diversity and inclusion policy. An effective policy will be led by your board and will ensure compliance with all relevant legislation, while demonstrating commitment to employee wellbeing and creating an environment for enhanced performance .
- Embed diversity and inclusion in your culture by making it a core organisational value, demonstrated and celebrated by your board, executive and employees at all levels.
At Irish Wheelchair Association, we are currently implementing our new diversity, belonging and inclusion policy. We aim to ensure that employees feel a sense of belonging by amplifying everyone’s voices, breaking down barriers, and enabling everyone to thrive and have equal access to opportunities. By cultivating our employees’ unique characteristics while encouraging collaboration, we aim to create an environment where everyone has equal opportunities to succeed.
Irish Wheelchair Association has partnered with organisations across all sectors to develop awareness and to create employment opportunities for people with disabilities. To find out more, visit the Irish Wheelchair Association website.
 PWC, ‘The PWC Diversity Journey’
 UN, Article 27 – Work and employment.
 OECD, ‘Disability, Work and Inclusion in Ireland’.