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Inclusion is about removing barriers for all

A recent London HR Connection panel explored the most helpful definitions of inclusion and disability

Inclusion is about removing barriers to success for all rather than striving to better include certain ‘minorities’, according to a panel speaking at a recent London HR Connection event.

“I’m sick to death of people talking about inclusion being demonstrating inclusive behaviours,” said Graeme Whippy, a business disability consultant currently working with Channel 4. “Inclusion is about removing barriers that stop people being their best and bringing their whole selves to work.”

He added: “We’re all different, which means we can all butt up against things in the workplace. Then that makes someone feel like ‘the other’. It means they’re not focusing fully on doing their job; they’re working around those barriers… For me it’s like friction; it’s wasted energy.”

Also speaking on the panel was Jane Hatton, founder of Evenbreak, a social enterprise helping employers attract and retain disabled candidates, and author of A Dozen Brilliant Reasons to Employ Disabled People. Hatton runs Evenbreak lying flat with a laptop above her because she has a degenerative spinal condition that prevents her from sitting down.

Hatton explained that she only hires disabled individuals – so that her staff truly understand the issues her business addresses, but also because they’re typically “brilliant” employees used to creative problem-solving. Given the discomfort and pain they’re used to navigating every day they're also likely to have lower absence rates and less likely to “call in sick with a sniffle”, she said.

Hatton agreed that inclusion shouldn’t be about reactively accommodating certain ‘diverse’ characteristics such as a disability, but treating all employees as individuals with specific needs. She explained the importance of a “social model” approach to disability rather than a “medical model”, which highlights that “it’s the stairs for example, or lack of Braille, that makes someone disabled”.

“So no-one’s actually disabled,” said Hatton. “In the Midlands where I used to live I’m incredibly disabled because I can’t sit in a car or on a train to travel anywhere… But here in London I have exactly the same impairment but I live next to a bus stop and I can stand on a bus, and I can stand on the Tube… So I’m only disabled by societal attitudes and constraints.”

Hatton explained that for disabled individuals small accommodations make a huge difference, and that these will often benefit the wider workforce. She pointed to the example of standing desks: “Those are good for everyone. No-one should be sitting down all of the time; that causes back problems.”

She added the example of interviews, highlighting that many studies suggest this is a flawed way of assessing capability and potential. Therefore introducing other methods of assessment for autistic candidates, for example, potentially benefits all prospective employees, said Hatton.

Whippy added the unhelpfulness of talking in terms of ‘reasonable adjustments’. “We talk about ‘workforce adjustments’; ‘reasonable adjustments’ is so 20th century… it makes it sound like disabled people are unreasonable,” he said.

Also speaking on the panel was Adelaide Veyre de Garrigues, head of resource supply chain for the apps business unit of Capgemini. She spoke on the importance of the business case for D&I.

“Everyone agrees we need to do the right thing, but then getting to it is a different thing,” she said. “Unfortunately it's only when you’re losing business and money [through not attracting the right talent] that you [change] things,” she said.

Veyre de Garrigues offered advice on attracting female returners. “What we’re finding is women will need a lot of meetings and chats, and to go for dinner and hear about the team [they’ll be joining] before they’re ready to join your company,” she said. “You need to be a bit different in how you approach it. You have to invest the time in understanding their background and what they want.”

Meanwhile Sheila Heard, founder and managing director of Transitions, a social enterprise that runs placement and employment support to assist refugee professionals into work, offered advice to HR and employers on working with agencies such as hers.

“There are so many agencies saying ‘work with us’ and it can be really trying and confusing,” she said, advising organisations to have clear D&I targets to help them choose who to partner with.

“Be assertive with an agency like us; just tell us politely to go away [if we're not currently the right partner],” she added.