An employee with a disability holds a meeting with colleagues
Initiating and maintaining effective corporate diversity and inclusion policies is often seen as a core responsibility of an organization’s senior management team.
While leadership at the board level is undoubtedly an essential component in making this possible, it alone will never produce optimal results for employees with disabilities.
Governments certainly have a role to play in creating the regulatory frameworks necessary to scale and nurture an ecosystem of organizations that adhere to best practices, but what about the grassroots?
Networks and resource groups of employees with disabilities, also known as ERGs, are the elementary bottom-up driver for integrative disabled-friendly workplaces.
Covid-19 provides an important communication link between employees with disabilities and managers in critical areas such as workplace adjustments and digital accessibility. As Covid-19 continues to drive tectonic changes in the way we all think about work, they are more important today than ever.
The present moment is marked by great uncertainty. The eye of the Covid storm is on us and even if things calm down hopefully in the months ahead, no one really knows what the future of work might look like.
The safest bet would be something between the two extremes of huge chunks of dilapidated former office buildings reaching the metropolis skyline and hordes of vaccinated workers cheerfully piling themselves back on public transport to commute to the office – eager to end the nightmare of the last 12 months to experience behind them.
Regardless of the hybrid model of remote and office work emerging, resource groups of employees with disabilities will play a critical role in ensuring that employees dealing with long-term health conditions are taken on the journey.
chances and risks
In terms of homework normalization for everyone, a unique opportunity has arisen. This should of course leave room for useful, in-depth discussions with management and IT teams about customization and accessibility.
The opportunity is not a one-way street, however, and additional dark and dangerous threats remain.
Last but not least, the daunting prospect of disability inclusion is inadvertently penalized as employers face wider pressures from business transformation in the post-pandemic world.
Even more worrying is whether employees with disabilities and long-term health conditions will be disproportionately affected by the inevitable tranche of layoffs that are likely to coincide with the end of the pandemic whenever possible.
Change the game
Kate Nash OBE is the founder and CEO of PurpleSpace, the world’s first social business that brings together ERG leaders with disabilities in over 800 organizations and cares for the interests of around 440,000 disabled employees from around the world.
Specialized in “Networkology” – – PurpleSpace is the art and science behind building high-performing ERG networks, providing leadership training, networking opportunities, and a best practice hub for the professional development of individuals performing ERGs to mirror their employer’s D&I initiatives and to support.
Regarding Covid’s legacy, Nash prefers to focus on the more positive effects of the pandemic in diversifying labor practices and recognizing some of the more general humanizing effects that came with moving to remote work.
“For almost a year now, millions of people who work from home have been staring into the chief executive’s living rooms and kitchens, and maybe even seeing kids running by,” says Nash
“The pandemic has highlighted the complexity of our entire lives.”
However, when it comes to customizing ERGs, Nash sees the benefits as simpler and less nuanced overall.
“I’ve heard story after story from our network leaders who have been given this time gift because they generally take longer to manage their own medical procedures or just get dressed in the morning,” says Nash.
“ERG executives often burn the midnight oil to run their network because, in addition to coping with a disability, they have their day job.”
She continues, “I firmly believe that the supercharged digital age that we were forced into through no fault of our own will at least help our ERG executives set up these virtual coffee mornings in a way that will be much simpler and simpler, more elegant for her. “
Nash was CEO of Disability Rights UK for five years from 2001 to 2006, and authored the highly acclaimed book Secrets & Big News in 2014, which deals with the sensitive issue of disability disclosure.
Stepping out of the immediate pressures of the pandemic, Nash quotes fellow executives from their decades of cutting-edge business experience to summarize the core functions of ERGs.
“ERGs are not like unions,” says Nash. “They are not structured that way. However, I remember Mark Fisher (former Operations Director of Lloyds Banking Group) telling his ERG director, “I don’t want you to be a union, but I don’t mind that you have a union touch.”
Nash continues, “What he’s saying is ‘I want to get difficult information.’ Sometimes an ERG is involved in the process of revealing the truth to the Power, and sometimes they have to be involved in exposing incredibly uncomfortable truths. “
PurpleSpace has headed the #PurpleLightUp Movement – a global initiative celebrating the economic contribution of 386 million people with disabilities worldwide.
Last month, #PurpleLightUp The United Nations’ annual International Day of People with Disabilities took place on December 3, with a 24-hour global broadcast that included panel discussions, webinars and interviews with D&I and ERG executives from around the world.
A consistent theme that resonated throughout the event was the central role of storytelling campaigns, whether in the form of written articles or filmed video testimonies, to enliven and humanize the inclusion of disabilities and keep them from being just dry statistics and corporate policy commitments.
Dedicated, in Nash’s own words, to “support the idea that experiencing disability is a normal and natural aspect of human differences”. – – Video campaigns signal the presence of an inviting and diverse corporate culture, not only for existing employees, but also for potential candidates.
Headlines that have enjoyed widespread recognition in the past and that can still be viewed online include Barclays’ “This is Me” campaign, Shell’s “Be Yourself” campaign and Fujitsu’s “Be Completely You” campaign.
Whatever the post-pandemic world has in store for future disability inclusion in the workplace, storytelling campaigns and sharing lived experiences as effective media for gaining understanding and empathy will surely be part of the mix.
Perhaps in the early 2020s more than at any earlier point in history, it will be concepts that disabled workers have been familiar with for decades, such as: For example, dealing with uncertainty and the need to have a fleet of feet when it comes to adjustments and adjustments, something that the rest of the workforce appreciates and understands a little more.