The future of work is a hot topic. The experts around the world are in a constant battle to try and predict the global trends that will shape how businesses will work in coming years. As we enter a new era where conventions of the past may not neatly align with what we are currently accustomed to, organizations should think deeply about the evolution of the workforce, particularly through the lens of diversity and inclusion.
Talking about diversity and inclusion, on this occasion of World’s Disability Day here is our special coverage on how organizations can be future ready for employees with special needs.
When you employ speacially-abled workers, not only do you reap the benefits of a skilled staff, but you also build a diverse workforce and foster a culture of tolerance and respect—qualities that attract top job candidates, partners and customers. Additionally, you will be able to take advantage of a number of programs that encourage businesses to hire specially-abled employees.
However, after doing a number of research online, speaking to leaders and listening to some of the best practices in various forums, most often we heard organizations taking pride in creating employment opportunities for people with special needs in lower-paying jobs like retail accountant, attendants in hospitality sector, delivery jobs, etc. Unfortunately, most of these opportunities are a result of ‘tick-in-the-box’ activity.
How many times do we read about a person with special needs holding an executive position in a company? In the race of skilling and upskilling its workforce, organizations also need to reflect on a primary question:
- Are we future-ready for our employees with special needs?
- How do we align our digital strategy with our employees with special needs?
- Are we doing enough to create a career path for them to survive the future of work?
Take this example of Accenture. This multi-professional services company that provides services in strategy, consulting, digital, technology and operations has initiated multiple steps towards the growth of persons with special needs. Some of the notable practices include the Career Path Framework which identifies various employee touchpoints/interventions required through the career life cycle of Persons with special needs at Accenture and builds levers to create a successful level playing field. Another program called ‘Abilities Unleashed’ PwD is a Leadership Development Program, exclusively for persons with special needs and offers an 8-month blended learning experience which includes classroom sessions, leadership mentoring, one-to-one strengths coaching and self-study. The program has been extended globally and is due to launch for employees across geographies this year.
Each summer Microsoft hosts global hackathons as a part of their annual, oneweekevent. Since the first hackathon in 2014 the company formed 'Ability Hacks' focused on empowering differently abled employees and solving unique challenges.
One of the factors organizations should also consider while delivering these learning programs is involving employees with special needs in the L&D team or training delivery team. The program cannot be totally bias-free and impactful until and unless people who can empathize with the challenges of this group of people into the strategizing committee of the development program.
A multinational technology company, Flex adopted the same practice. Uma Maheswari Santhanaraj, started out as a technical trainee at the Flex facility in Chennai. Selected for her potential, Uma has risen to the Supervisor level. Through collaboration with the Vocation Rehabilitation Centre in Chennai, Uma received training to support PwD employees at Flex. Today, she acts as an interpreter for the speech and hearing-impaired workers at the facility and trains them in soft skills. She has also worked with other trainers to help them support other employees.
Last but not the least, learn from your initiatives. Know where you lag and the challenges you faced in hiring and developing people with special needs. Take this idea from Prione, a joint venture between Catamaran and Amazon, who launched an initiative to build awareness and track the person special needs status of its current employee base. In line with this, as part of our 2020 plan, the company is creating a playbook based on the learning's of our PWD hires that will include best practices and tie into its overall unconscious bias program.
Finally get everyone in the organization to support the inclusion and development of employees with special needs. It is imperative to sensitize everyone in the workforce towards the needs of other employees and that a conducive environment is created where everyone respects each other avoiding any kind of unconscious or conscious bias to creep in.