There are numerous studies on this topic that arrive at the same conclusion: A diverse and inclusive workforce can increase revenue, provide a competitive advantage, improve retention, and enhance employee satisfaction.
Being born without fully developed arms and legs, I was fortunate to face the practicalities of accepting diversity at an early age and embraced the ability to perceive life through a different lens.
In my working life, I’m often involved in complex commercial transactions and projects which require abstract skill sets and persistency, some of which I can attribute to the brain training I’ve undergone in living with a disability.
The barriers to achieving greater diversity in our workplaces, to my mind, fall into two broad categories: mental barriers and education/support barriers.
The first can be overcome by making an active decision to practice having an open and questioning mind.
In my job as an adviser to businesses, I validate assumptions with fact and logic and the same principles should apply when recruiting.
Outside of work, I am a director on the board of JFA Purple Orange, a South Australian organisation with a mission to create a world where people who live with disability get a fair go at what life has to offer.
JFA Purple Orange is steering a three-year project called ‘Road to Employment’, designed to address the barriers to employment for people living with a disability.
This project has been initiated to assist businesses develop industry-specific knowledge, confidence and a commitment to diversity and inclusion and employing people living with a disability.
Through this project, we have recently collaborated with government, tertiary and professional bodies and businesses to develop a recruitment and employment resource toolkit for organisations of all sizes that are committed to diversity and inclusion.
The diversity and inclusion toolkit has a strong focus on the inclusion of people living with a disability and will be available from September 2021.
Ultimately, we need to look at the recruitment process holistically and inclusively – employers are seeking the best candidate, and a job seeker is looking for the best opportunity to apply their skills and expertise to a role, regardless of circumstance.
For an employer, the open and questioning mind needs to be embedded at every level of an organisation and its culture, including brand, strategy and messaging.
The second category of barriers, education and support, is applicable to both employers and job seekers and particularly relevant for (but not exclusive to) small to medium businesses, where there may not be a designated HR function.
Without adequate advice and training, a business will often make the decision whether to hire an applicant based on perceived risks – be these commercial, legal and/or practical.
A risk averse organisation will likely avoid the situation altogether, while a risk tolerant organisation may approach recruitment hastily, without appropriate culture and practices in place.
Both scenarios can easily be mitigated by seeking appropriate guidance and support at a reasonably moderate to low cost, if any.
In the recruitment process, it is acceptable to frame a conversation in a way that opens up a discussion about one’s perceived strengths or weaknesses.
It could be as simple as asking “are there any adjustments that we can make to bring your best self to work?” Or “do you have any questions and/or would you like to discuss anything further with us?”
In the event that any adjustments are required to a workplace, there is usually government funding available for employers to do so.
My own experiences of seeking employment after graduation in 2012 were a steep learning curve. Seeking the same opportunities in the accounting industry as my ‘able-bodied’ peers was complicated by having a clearly visible ‘disability’.
In face-to-face interviews, organisations were uncertain on the etiquette of the situation, and I went through a lot of trial and error to work out how to broach the topic.
Since starting my career, I have seen a shift in the attitude towards embracing diversity and inclusion in the workplace but acknowledge that we still have a lot to do.
In 2021, it is evident that businesses are embedding diversity and inclusion practices into their branding, marketing and strategy. The current Toyota ads for the Olympics are just one example of this.
While this symbolism and representation is great to see, it is important that diversity and inclusion are layered throughout an organisation to maintain consistent messaging for all parties involved, including employees, customers and other external stakeholders.
At a business level, most organisations have embraced Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) and strive to do the right thing – diversity and inclusion is an important element of this.
However, our diversity and inclusion hats shouldn’t come off when we leave our 9 to 5 – this is something as a society we should be committed to at all times.
My current workplace has never treated my disability as a point of difference – I have the same KPIs as anyone else in my role and I wouldn’t want it any other way.
Further training and support for businesses is available from The Office of the Commissioner for Equal Opportunity, Fair Work Australia and a number local industry experts and diversity and inclusion consultants that can provide tailored services – links to some of these resources are included below.
Daniella Biagi is Senior Manager, Business Services at BDO. She is Chair of the SA / NT CAANZ Diversity and Inclusion Panel, Director on the Board of JFA Purple Orange and Co-Chair of the ‘Road to Employment’ finance leadership group.
Resources for employers:
EOC – https://www.eoc.sa.gov.au/
Fair work – https://www.fairwork.gov.au/tools-and-resources/online-learning-centre/diversity-and-discrimination
D&I consultants https://www.diversityinclusion.com.au/our-team
United Nations – 4 simple things all companies can do to promote diversity and inclusion https://unglobalcompact.org/take-action/20th-anniversary-campaign/4-simple-things-all-companies-can-do-to-promote-diversity-and-inclusion
Purple Orange – Road to Employment https://purpleorange.org.au/what-we-do/our-current-projects/road-to-employment
Robert Walters D&I Report –https://www.robertwalters.co.uk/hiring/campaigns/diversity-and-inclusion.html
Funding and support for workplace modifications https://www.jobaccess.gov.au/home
Register of Cultural Awareness Training Providers – https://www.dpc.sa.gov.au/responsibilities/aboriginal-affairs-and-reconciliation/resources-and-publications/register-of-cultural-awareness-training-providers
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