“If diversity is inviting people to the party, inclusion is asking someone to dance.” Diversity and inclusion are two big buzz words in our society today. Everyone wants to have a party, but how do we ensure that everyone has a good time and can boogie on the dance floor?
Job hunting after graduation is like moving from the wall to the dance floor. It can be an awkward and intimidating process, yet so rewarding once you start moving to the beat. With the workforce consistently evolving and changing, it can be a challenge for new grads to figure out how to get their foot in the door. This is an important consideration within the school-to-work transition, including for students with disabilities.
Job hunting after graduation can be a particularly challenging experience for new grads with disabilities. While our society is adapting a more inclusive mindset, there are still some barriers that prevent individuals with disabilities from accessing the workforce. Although it takes two to tango, employers need to take the lead in this dance. Despite the challenges, there are simple steps employers can take to attract a diversity of talent into their organization.
Unlearn and open your mind
Claiming to be a diverse organization is not sufficient. Society needs to unlearn its perception on diversity and inclusion. Generally, our mind gravitates to think of the physical differences that make people unique. Neurodiversity often gets left out of the discussion, intersectionality is disregarded and the focus is set on people’s limits instead of their abilities.
It is time to learn something new. We need to recognize there are many qualities, visible and invisible, that make people different. Each person with their mix of qualities brings a different kind of strength and talent to your organization. Some of the most influential people of our past and present have been identified as having a disability. Elon Musk, Albert Einstein and Mozart are some examples.
Connect with your target audience
There are more ways to post a job and recruit people than ever before. Campuses and various organizations have pivoted to holding virtual career fairs during COVID, and some of these target employers that are seeking to hire people with disabilities. Getting involved or just reaching out to a representative can help put your organization in front of your next designer, accountant or manager.
From observation, as a mentor I have noticed that many students with disabilities have limiting beliefs of what they can and cannot do in the workforce. Connecting with students can also help them widen their prospects on future career options. Most students have the perception they need to seek a job that caters to their special needs, which is a limiting belief. However, if more organizations actively seek and place themselves in the eyes of students with disabilities what may have seemed impossible for students to imagine becomes possible.
Be adaptive and flexible
Did you know that text message was invented for people who are deaf? A lot of the technological devices, programs and tools that we use every day were created to help people with disabilities. Take the lead and learn about the various software programs that can improve productivity and efficiency within an organization. Speech-to-text software or read-out-loud software are an easy addition for organization to improve accessibility for employees. Ensuring that your website and intranet comply with accessibility legislation is another important step. This ensures that both employees and clients with accessible needs can access your organization. Be adaptive and flexible to adapting various new process within the organization. For a prospective candidate, this shows your organization is a leader and at the forefront of integrating assistive technology.
Be open to change
Change is a part of life. In the business world, adapting to change can be easier for some industries than others. However, organizations may need to make shifts to attract candidates with disabilities. Some work policies – for instance, preventing work from home – can be restrictive and limiting to employees. These can create invisible barriers preventing individuals with disabilities from considering certain organizations for employment. There are some people who are more productive working remotely. Being flexible with working hours or breaks is one way to help create a more inclusive work environment.
Many regions are implementing accessibility policies, forcing small and larger organizations to incorporate new systems, policies and structures. There is support available to help many organizations ensure their business is accessibility compliant. This can consist of a website audit, reformatting documents or even training. This is not a journey that business need to navigate alone. From funding to education, there are many services and programs such as Enabling Accessibility Fund (EAF) or Small Projects Component to help business ensure their doors are accessible and inclusive to both staff and clientele.
It is 2021 and our actions need to match our words. It is not sufficient to have a diversity check box and a section to list any accommodations needed for an interview. Everything in life cannot fit into a box, including people. To be a diverse and inclusive organization is to be one where people are seen for their abilities and talents. This requires organizations to take the lead and be an example by letting go of limiting perceptions on diversity and inclusion. Get out and connect with people, make use of all assistive tools and get a helping hand when needed. No one wants to be a wallflower, so don’t be shy just ask for that first dance.