Don't forget workers with disabilities in your D&I efforts

Most organisations would consider themselves open to increasing inclusion and belonging for all employees. However, too often diversity initiatives fail to focus on workers with intellectual and developmental disabilities, explains Agata Nowakowska.

As support for creating inclusive workplaces rapidly increases, organisations realise they must build a culture of diversity, equity, and inclusion to benefit individual workers.

Remote working is now the norm, and there are growing imperatives to ensure fairness in employment.

However, whilst hiring managers are actively seeking talent from the wider employment pool, they are missing a valuable opportunity.

While many employers are realising valuable skills lie with workers belonging to marginalised groups, such as those with physical disabilities and women, one diverse community is persistently missing from active employment strategies - neurodiverse candidates with intellectual and developmental disabilities (IDDs).

A recent Skillsoft survey confirmed that while a large majority (88%) of respondents said that their organisation has a DEI policy in place, less than half believe it includes people with IDDs.

The need to understand IDDs

It's important to understand what it means to be an individual with an IDD. Conditions include Down Syndrome, Fragile X Syndrome, and autism spectrum disorders (ASDs).

It's no hidden fact that it's simply harder for these workers to "find" jobs - and it's often a case of jobs needing to access them.

Although some candidates are actively sought through neurodiversity schemes at university level, standard recruitment practices continue to disadvantage neurodiverse candidates, and many face stigma and exclusion by organisations for roles which could perfectly accommodate their skills.

Disability inclusion

Meanwhile, the UK faces a severe labour shortage, with the Office for National Statistics reporting in December 2021 a record 1.2 million job vacancies, and that more than half of businesses who reported a worker shortage stated they were unable to meet demands.

It's time for proactive DEI strategies which reach out to workers with IDDs. Particularly at a time when business partnerships are being forged based on social values, organisations need to understand, step up and be ambassadors for inclusion.

There are three action-oriented strategies for building a truly inclusive culture:

Use digitisation to rethink recruitment and accessibility

A number of marginalised groups have benefited since the start of the pandemic in accessing roles they previously couldn't.

Individuals with IDDs may find commuting hard, or experience hearing and/or vision challenges which make working in open offices difficult. Working from home, in a way which makes them feel safe and comfortable, means they can focus on their tasks to bring significant talent to the table.

Understanding the accessibility and management needs of those with IDDs is important. Managers should have open and honest communication with candidates to ensure appropriate equipment and technology is in place and roles and responsibilities can be adapted for their needs.

It's important to ensure fairness in treatment in terms of providing career opportunities and skills development.

Instil a role-based approach to inclusivity

Once a clear strategy has been devised to harness the talents of candidates with IDDs, it's vital to consider the environment they are joining. It's important to have buy-in of all staff to a culture of constant curiosity, continuous growth, and development. Building a business community which starts with awareness can then lead to action.

All workers must be educated on how different skills contribute to the building of a better business, and what being inclusive means.

Offering all employees training courses on diversity in the workplace will enable a culture shift in the organisation, showing that there's more to business than building revenue. Open sessions for storytelling and conversation about the journeys of individual employees build trust and empathy, making it real for workers to understand.

Changing employment and team building habits does not happen overnight and it takes some commitment to acquiring, developing, and advancing talent in organisations without exception.

Create equitable career opportunities

If the skills of individuals with IDDs remain misunderstood and unappreciated, they are unlikely to be empowered to achieve their true potential.

Providing equal opportunities to match their skills to the right roles, enabling the learning of new skills, providing development opportunities and career support, is essential.

It's critical to assign a mentor who can work closely with them to establish objectives, listen to their needs, and adapt the work environment to suit their preferences. Providing the right forum for mutual feedback is key to building trust and positive outcomes.

Replacing the annual review with regular work and health checks will offer the best support for their physical and mental wellbeing. It's also worth remembering that setting any objectives or aspirations should be done with people versus for them.

Creating environments that showcase their work among team members will boost the motivation of workers with IDDs. Fostering a culture of listening to others will generate high reward in terms of an engaged and positive working experience for all employees.

A long-term mission

Forming an inclusive organisational culture doesn't just come from HR policy. It is a long-term mission which needs to be driven right from the top of the business, with each worker committed to share, collaborate, support, mentor and listen - appreciating others and the skills they bring to the organisation.

Some businesses have already familiarised themselves with the wealth of talent this valuable group of individuals can offer. For the diverse community being left out of recruitment conversations, it's time to start turning education into action to embrace individuals with IDDs within the workplace to build truly inclusive organisations.