I had an opportunity to attend the session of National Association for Software and Services’ (NASSCOM) Diversity & Inclusion (D&I) Summit in Bengaluru, February 27 - 28. This is an annual NASSCOM conference, where leaders from governments, corporations, and persons from diverse backgrounds come together. At the conference, they work together to review the progress made in increasing representation based on gender, persons with disability, and LGBT, as well as chart the way forward for an inclusive journey.
Now in its 10th year, the theme of the summit was Crystal Ball Gazing: DI in 2020 and beyond in a connected world, which urged organizations to redefine their goals for diversity and inclusion. The summit explored a triangular approach of conversations. The discussion pivoted around “Enablers,” including legal and compliance frameworks; “Dilemmas,” which included personal narratives from all walks of diversity and how organizational interventions have enabled them to climb the ladder; and “Disruptors,” using technology to achieve new heights of inclusion.
I spoke about what ideas should shape the future of Diversity & Inclusion path for persons with disability. Here are the top five highlights from my presentation:
The business case for employment of persons with disability is well-established
Enterprises have been hiring persons with disability for more than a decade. And by and large, we have not heard of any major stories of the initiative failing. On the contrary, all the early adopters have experienced a direct impact on the business, which also influenced their profitability; including through matrices such as organizations experiencing better productivity, lower attrition rate, and higher workforce morale. So, it’s time to acknowledge the business case of employment of persons with disability is well-established and must be considered as an accepted reality. Therefore, the business case should not be an excuse for corporations to provide (or not provide) employment opportunities to persons with disabilities.
Disability inclusion is a business commitment and not merely an HR initiative
I use screen-reading software that helps me to operate computers. At my previous organizations, it could take as long as three months to procure the software, get the necessary permissions, and install on my system. However, in my current organization, the software was procured and installed and ready to use on my system before I joined. What differentiated the current organization from my previous employers was a strong leadership commitment and a shared vision of creating a seamless and an empowering work environment. Of course, my manager and the CMO went the extra mile to ensure the timely procurement of necessary software. But they could not have done it themselves without the extended team sharing the same vision. It’s about time that we ask: Are teams across organizational functions in sync with a shared vision of enabling or empowering persons with disability? Are the organization’s people, policies and processes in place for creating a barrier-free and non-discriminating environment for persons with disability?
Persons with disability are both external and internal stakeholders of your organization
It is time persons with disability are seen as core stakeholders of external enterprise. Let’s talk about the possibility of persons with disability being your customers, investors, influencers, and suppliers. According to a few reports, persons with disability, and their direct social circle have a disposable income more than $8 trillion. Are your products and services designed in a manner that makes them usable by persons with disabilities? Is your marketing collateral, such as annual reports, accessible or available in alternate formats? Do offices or shops adhere to accessibility standards thereby making them inclusive?
There is a new glass ceiling plaguing corporations
Let’s not cherry-pick a few success stories and believe disabled people are having a flourishing career. Despite my employment history of many years, there are hundreds — or perhaps even thousands — of disabled people who are experiencing a new glass ceiling with limited-to-nonexistent growth opportunities. Job enrichment and career progression are a major cause of concern that requires serious deliberation. Let’s start talking about the number of persons with a disability getting promotions and better roles. Many of my disabled friends have not received a single career promotion despite being very good at their jobs. Disability continues to be cited as the primary reason for denying growth opportunities. And it’s just not about hiring and promotions. It is important to understand how many persons with disability are being considered for both travel and onsite opportunities. How many persons with disability are represented across the different organizational levels? Is there a new glass ceiling that’s plaguing the organization? I think the need of the hour is for organizations and industries to draw parallels with the journey of women’s inclusion, and create focus tracks to drive equity and growth opportunities for employees with disability.
There is a need to broad-base all social responsibility initiatives to make them inclusive of persons with disability
According to the World Health Organization (WHO), there are more than one billion persons living with a disability, and more than 80 percent of them live in poverty. While the world has experienced a significant level of reduction in poverty during the U.N. Millennium Development Goals, persons with a disability did not experience the same level of poverty reduction. That means persons with disabilities somehow missed the imagination of the policy-makers and philanthropy organizations. I think it is about time institutions across all spectrums start asking themselves why disability inclusion isn’t mandated by corporate CSR boards in programs focusing on vulnerable groups. Shouldn’t women with a disability be a part of empowerment programs for women? Are there no children with disability experiencing malnutrition, or who need education, or who are getting exploited? Disability should be considered across these groups, rather than in silos. At the same time, it is important to not abandon focused efforts on disability. There is a large gap in areas of education, research technology, policy-making, and assistive products and services that need to be filled and supported.
As we move forward, the measurement of success for the inclusion of persons with disabilities should not only be focused on the number of persons hired alone, but also on the quality of their working environments. Disability inclusion should now be seen as a commitment and not a short-term initiative in which we begin to measure ourselves on a maturity scale for maintaining an inclusive and barrier-free environment.
Post Date: 2017-05-01