I was upset by lack of thought a number of times this week. It made me think…
Every time a worker belittles a disabled colleague, ignores accessibility and regard to equality, or a frontline employee talks to a client in a disrespectful way; it’s the whole organisation that adds to the harm imposed on the disabled population. If the organisation is part of an institution or sector, these small but harmful exchanges add up. Together the systemic impact of each individual experience contributes to overall inequality – a huge cost to society.
How do we begin a conversation about difference without embarrassment? Most professionals say they are fearful of talking about disability – worryingly many have been told not to say anything. But not addressing the inequality and discrimination disabled people face in the workplace is part of the problem. For countless reasons the matter rarely comes up for discussion, as many no doubt believe organisations reflect the community they serve. Sadly the evidence is overwhelming, prejudice and systemic discrimination IS HUGE.
Disabled individuals shouldn’t have to wait to be treated fairly, it should be an organisational priority to address safety within and beyond their walls. The right to a professional environment that is free from harm is rarely on offer. Because many businesses still do little to acknowledge the barriers they impose on disabled professionals. They simply don’t know that they exclude many talented people in all sorts of ways. While organisations fail to consider the barriers they need to address, they will continue to contribute to an increasing gap in rights within society more widely. From an organisational perspective, therefore, is not up to disabled employees, or disabled clients, to be more fluent about their experience (forests of accounts already exist). The onus is on business leaders, as those with influence within the business community, to articulate the barriers, discrimination and injustice the disabled population face. Ableism needs articulating more succinctly in organisational aims, strategies and purpose.
At the heart of responsible business, therefore, is an imperative to address this injustice perpetuates unsustainable costs by passing on the price. Not solely at operational level, but at strategic, taking equality seriously, and developing strategies as a route to a better fulfilment of governance responsibilities. Because the distinctive nature of any disadvantage prevents more equitable participation, addressing it becomes a matter of investment in the well-being of our communities.
As legislation makes clear, there is duty on business leaders to address equality, diversity and inclusive practice in the workplace. However, many still avoid the homework needed to do this, because few acknowledge how many perspectives need addressing for their strategies for them to be equitable. Disability is one of 9 characteristics, one of those needing addressing with equal energy – a diet not a menu!! All need equal consideration, there’s no choice as to which gets picked or prioritised. Each group needs work in order to restore a degree of fairness. Addressing inequality is to acknowledge the experience, knowledge and wisdom that disabled professionals bring to workplaces. Bearing in mind, that the duty is on the organisation to be proactive, as it needs to address the sexism, racism, homophobia, and religious intolerance within its walls. Disabled people face specific barriers, therefore in addition to a commitment, or long-term plan, to keep going further as our relationships with disabled workers develop, and we invest In the benefits of our organisation’s inclusive practice.