Matt Ting is the National Innovation and Customer Engagement Manager at AimBig Employment ,a disability employment services provider that supports people with a disability to find meaningful and sustainable work. He shares his thoughts on what businesses can be doing to build more equitable and inclusive workplaces beyond COVID19.
With the world struggling to cope with the ongoing uncertainty that the pandemic has brought, diversity and inclusion is more important than ever. Businesses that are able to rise to the occasion will not only be better at supporting their employees but will also drive sustainable business outcomes.
I define diversity and inclusion as having a workplace that reflects the community your organisation is operating in. If you’re looking around and seeing all the same faces, that’s not representative of our society or your customer base. How can you develop and market a product or service if you don’t understand your customers? How can you be innovative without a diversity of voices? If your workforce isn’t diverse, unconscious or conscious bias will be impacting your decision making. Perhaps you’re not judging applicants on whether they can actually do the job, so you’re not getting the best talent.
In my role I develop new and innovative solutions to support our clients to get work-ready and into jobs. We cover all disabilities, and also provide specialist services for those with mental health and musculoskeletal disabilities. There can often be a cookie-cutter approach to disability employment, so I always look for ways to do things differently.
An example of that is AimBig’s popular BusyBeans program. A large cohort of our clients want to get into the hospitality workforce, but what we found was that people were getting placed into busy, public environments where they were getting stressed and anxious and would ultimately leave. That’s how the BusyBeans program was born. It’s an in-house barista service that’s set up in office environments which are generally quieter and more suited to the people we were training, primarily people with intellectual disability, autism or mental health conditions.
Unfortunately, the pandemic has had a disproportionate impact of people living with disability. Many people with a disability are employed on a casual basis and casuals were the first to lose their jobs at the start of the pandemic, highlighting the issue of insecure employment for many people with a disability. Casuals for the most part also didn’t qualify for JobKeeper payments, which was an additional blow. Mental health was another big issue. There has been a positive side for some employees though. We see the shift to work- from-home as a real opportunity for those with physical or musculoskeletal disabilities, particularly in regional areas.
Top tips to improve your company’s diversity and inclusion.
Recent research indicates that 84% of people think it is important for an organisation to promote diversity and inclusion for everyone, yet 62% of Australians feel they can’t bring their true selves to work.[i] What we do know is that successfully supporting diversity and inclusion in the workplace can have a profoundly positive impact on company culture. Employees can be 9.8 times more likely to look forward to going to work, 6.3 times more likely to have pride in their work and 5.4 times more likely to want to remain with their employer for a long time.[ii]
- Understand the difference between equality and equity
I hear the word equality a lot, but not equity. Some employers pride themselves on being equal opportunity employers, without understanding that some groups need more support than others. In the diversity and inclusion space, when you look at all of the different cohorts, I believe disability is the
one where equity is the most important. For example, your gender, or your ethnicity, or your sexuality, generally don’t have any impact on your ability to perform your job. Disability is the only one where you might need extra support, particularly in neurodiverse or mental health cohorts.
- Spend less time thinking and more time doing
One of the biggest mistakes companies make is that they spend far too much time thinking about it and less time doing it. Don’t put it into the too-hard basket, or let it get kicked down the road so it never gets done. Our approach is that it’s not as hard as you think. It’s about hiring humans. You’re already hiring humans with all sorts of different backgrounds and experiences without waiting for specialised programs or strategies. People with a disability make up 20% of the workforce, meaning you’re already supporting workers with a disability, you just don’t know it.
- Utilise the support that is available
Businesses also don’t realise the amount of free support that is out there, including organisations like AimBig. There’s a lot of funding from the government to help, such as wage subsidies and workplace modification funds. There are lots of experts to talk to including AimBig and the Australian Network on Disability. People want to help you succeed.
- Get to know people as individuals
Sometimes diversity and inclusion initiatives, although well- intentioned, can make people with a disability feel separated from their colleagues. Examples of this would be companies that announce to the entire team that they’ve just hired a person with a specific disability, and everyone needs to do disability awareness training, and suddenly everyone will look at that staff member differently and worry about doing the wrong thing. You need to get to know people as individuals, like you would any other new employee.
[i] Indeed report 2021, Smoke and Mirrors: The state of diversity, inclusion and belonging in Australian workplaces.
[ii] Great Place To Work, https://www.greatplacetowork.com/resources/blog/why-is-diversity-inclusion-in-the-workplace-important