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Making the workplace of the future more accessible for all

Making the workplace of the future more accessible for all

Did you know that over a billion people experience some form of a disability globally. That is 15 percent of the global population. And yet, only 4 percent of businesses are actively engaged in creating structures that welcome persons with disabilities into their workforce. While many walls that used to exist earlier in terms of diversity at the workplace have come down, there are many that remain steadfast especially for persons with disabilities. Besides being deprived of access to employment, persons with disabilities also suffer from unequal hiring and promotion cultures, unequal pay for equal work and occupational segregation. Research also shows that 80 percent of persons with disabilities globally are unemployed, a number that has risen further during the Covid-19 pandemic. What’s ironic is that enterprises are losing value for not being inclusive enough to include persons with disabilities. Studies have found that organisations including persons with disabilities at the workplace see a jump of 28 per cent in revenue, 30 per cent rise in profit margins and doubling of net incomes. A virtual panel discussion ‘Disability Inclusion in Workplaces – Creating a Diverse Work Culture’, presented by Livemint in association with Accenture, delved into the barriers of inclusion, the steps needed to address key challenges, the ways to unlock true value of every employee and the roadmap for change in a post pandemic world. The discussion started with an understanding of what the barriers for inclusion are when the business case for hiring individuals from this vast and highly talented pool has been made. “According to research which we have done, what we see is that organisations more focused on disability engagement are growing three times faster and their profits are growing about four times faster than their peers. I feel the three things which are holding companies back are – a lack of understanding of the scope of the talent available, a lack of understanding of the potential benefits that I just spoke about in terms of profits and growth, and misconceptions about the cost versus the return on investment for disability inclusion, said Sanjay Dawar, Managing Director and Lead – Capability Network, Global Network (Argentina, India and Poland) and Strategy, Accenture. In today’s times of great resignation, it is time for companies to focus on the value that every employee brings to the table. There are several challenges in hiring talent with disabilities, like inadequate physical infrastructure, a lack of resources or even policy frameworks in some companies that are not inclusive. “There’s a certain value you have in doing the right thing and I think math is not always the best way to point that out. In my mind, the larger challenge is not a lack of skill but a lack of will. When we talk about people with disabilities, the natural tone of those conversations always ends in affirmative action, about how we need to accommodate them. This needs to change, said Rampraveen Swaminathan, MD and CEO at Mahindra Logistics. In the tech wave that we are living in, organisations can leverage technology to unlock the potential of employees with disabilities and help them thrive and not just survive at the workplace. “Technology is surely an enabler. The pandemic has proven that we can all use technology differently and comfortably even in the comfort of our homes. This is an opportunity for people with disabilities to get employment because now they no longer need to worry about some of the challenges of physical infrastructure or transport of getting to the workplace and moving around, said Shilpi Kapoor, CEO at BarrierBreak, where 65 per cent of the staff strength is comprised of people with disabilities. Over the last 3-4 years, an increasing number of companies are looking to build inclusive and accessible technology. The landscape is slowly shifting, and we now need to look at technology from a broader application perspective, and not just using solutions to only cater to a certain subset. Large tech companies like SAP are integrating accessibility natively within their products. “At SAP, I had the pleasure and privilege of being a product company representative. We have an SAP accessibility guide, which is not just for our HR products but for every single product. The guide has built into it notes on how the products are accessible for people who are differently-abled. These are not features that are good to have but are must have, otherwise we do not release the product. That’s the level of dedication, said Shraddhanjali Rao, Vice President for Human Resources at SAP India. Disability is not just limited to physical disability that you can see, but also neurodiversity disability like autism spectrum. SAP has been running a program on autism for over 10 years, where they dont hire people for certain roles, but for what they are good at and place them in roles that fit those skill sets. Building a culture of equality acts as a powerful multiplier of innovation and growth for any enterprise, large or small. “When it comes to physical infrastructure, I think top management and companies need to realise that if you have an accessible company, in terms of having a physical structure that is completely accessible to persons with disabilities, you are not only catering to persons with disabilities. Everybody in the world is very temporarily able-bodied and is just an injury or a small fracture away from needing a wheelchair, said Nipun Malhotra, Founder, Nipmans. Organisations need to make inclusivity a part of their DNA in order to really make a difference. “Our CEO has made inclusion and diversity her personal agenda. It starts from the top, you’ve got to have global sponsors in a global organisation like ours, and you need to have the people as champions because it’s critical that they start from the top and go down, said Dawar. Moreover, 75 percent of disabilities are actually invisible. There needs to be a programme to encourage people to self-declare and sensitise the ecosystem about it so that the entire environment around it is empowered. At SAP for instance, every learning curriculum is open for people who are differently abled. “I have seen so many challenges, people are feeling fairness in the career assessment and growth opportunities. You ensure that youre providing them a platform, but also giving them opportunities to learn and grow. You need to integrate experiences, you don’t start a parallel process, which is just a short term fix, said Rao. Added Malhotra: “Persons with disabilities have a much higher cost of living compared to others. This could be because of medical costs, attendance and caretakers, and the challenges they face in terms of finding accessible transport. Sensitivity to these challenges and trying to solve these problems together can go a long way in creating an equal opportunity workplace. According to an Accenture survey, while 67 per cent C-suite executives believe that they have built a supportive workplace, only 41 per cent of employees with disabilities agreed. “This can be overcome with having a program with measurable outcomes, drive more communication and recognition of people who embrace it and focus on onboarding and upskilling the entire environment, said Swaminathan. Seeing persons with disabilities in leadership positions can help others create role models for many others but research has shown that people in senior leadership positions often hide their disabilities. There is a disconnect when it comes to using technology to solve problems related to disability. “Accessibility is a journey. There are a lot of challenges when it comes to AI because people with disabilities are rarely part of the data itself. That for us is a huge problem for us, said Kapoor. Earlier, a lot of persons with disabilities were fighting to work from home but companies were resisting that. The entire narrative changed with Covid when this became the norm for everyone. Now, as office spaces reopen, offices must also keep the focus on making office spaces more accessible for the disabled. Download.

brand-post 2021-12-22 Livemint