“We started inclusion in our organisation long before D&I became buzz words,” Vipul said with a certain flourish. He had piqued my interest. Being a Diversity & Inclusion consultant, I was naturally curious and wanted to know more about this success story he was referring to. We were at a facilitation event, and were part of the same cohort group.
Vipul Dharawdkar (name changed) heads the Learning and Development function of an IT company, which is into services and caters to the UK and US markets primarily.
“Sounds so interesting. I would love to know more and learn from some of your best practices, especially since you say that your journey started so many years ago.” I responded. “Yes, of course. So we hired people with disabilities a few years ago, they are hearing and speech impaired. We also have a non-discrimination policy in order to ensure that in the hiring process an eligible candidate is not denied due to disabilities.”
“Thanks for sharing that. What roles did you hire them for?”
“There are about 4 of them at the moment, and they handle data entry.”
I smiled at his enthusiasm as he continued. “Being hearing and speech impaired, we find that they are not disturbed by the noises in the environment, and are able to concentrate as well as focus on their work.”
“What kind of career development programs does the organisation have; and have you included these four staff into the program?” I asked.
The surprised expression said it all. “Inclusion into the career development program? But they are already doing a role they are best suited for.” He explained.
It soon became obvious to me that the organisation had not yet considered that their speech and hearing impaired employees could be suited for any other role than the ones they had been hired for. Moreover, it had not yet occurred to them that additional training or developmental support could be provided to these employees that would help them explore opportunities beyond their current roles. The conversation revealed to me another very interesting element- all the hearing and speech impaired employees were being treated as one big group, with very little consideration being given to individual performance or individual career aspirations.
I could see that the words ‘integration’ and ‘inclusion’ were being used interchangeably, and interestingly, it is not the first time I have seen this take place. It is critical that a deeper understanding of the word ‘inclusion’ be built, else we are in the danger of effecting minimal impact. After all, it is inclusion that brings diversity to life. Therefore, expanding the definition of inclusion becomes critical.
Just hiring people with disabilities or a person who identities himself or herself as a transgender, and increasing the gender diversity numbers, etc. surely cannot be considered as inclusion. That is integration.
True inclusion in spirit takes place when every employee in the organisation feels that she or he or they (as some transgender members prefer to be addressed) have access to the critical processes of the organisation, information and interaction networks, feels safe to bring and exercise their individual and whole selves at work, and most importantly, feels a sense of belonging in the organisation.
Inclusion does not stop with creating job opportunities for the disadvantaged or the minority groups. In fact, that is only the first step which has to be supported equally by the policies and the culture of the organisation, surfacing the need for changing mindsets, and very importantly, addressing both the homogeneous and the heterogeneous needs of the groups.
In the above case, for example, a non-discrimination policy exists, however, the culture does not support the ‘true’ inclusion of the four employees in question. And for that to happen, mindsets about sexualities, disabilities, or any other diverse group for that matter, will need to be tackled.
How can this happen?
To know more, do follow my upcoming articles and stories, where I will be sharing my views, suggestions and experiences in the field of Diversity & Inclusion. In the meanwhile, do leave behind your comments. It will be great to engage to in a dialogue on this topic.