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Gender, Race, Ethnicity & Disability = Diversity




Gender, Race, Ethnicity & Disability = Diversity

Lesa Bradshaw (Psych Hons, Psychometrist in Independent Practice, Dip

HR Management, MBA) is a co-owner of Bradshaw Le Roux Consulting. As

a leading specialist in creating inclusive disability cultures at organisational,

governmental and societal levels, Lesa combines her professional experience

with her journey as a person with a disability, to deliver an impactful message

about the value of diversity today. She is a seasoned international speaker

on the issue of disability inclusivity. She was the recipient of the 2018 BWA

Regional Business Award and the Umyezani Disabled Entrepreneur of the

Year in 2018.

A key objective of transforming an organisation is shifting workforce perceptions by adjusting the way they think and behave so that an

organisation can move forward with one shared vision. The path of change often challenges the assumptions of an organisation’s structures,

how it operates and its environment. Part and parcel of an organisation’s journey of transformation is embracing the role of workplace diversity

in creating a culture that is responsive to broad opportunities, societal values aligned with embracing diversity that can adapt to competing

demands for innovation; thus organically enhancing business performance. Having a diverse set of perspectives, cultures and experiences is

critical to driving growth and prosperity. Therefore, it is essential for organisations to acknowledge that diversity breeds innovation and innovation

breeds business excellence.

Generally, organisations invest heavily in diversifying their workforce in areas of gender, race and ethnicity. However, disability is not fully

incorporated into a diversity plan or seen as a critical target area. Essentially, disability remains the ‘poor cousin’ of the diversity family with a

sporadic or limited commitment to entrench the value of this form of diversity in an organisation’s structures, policies, belief system or, most

importantly, as a critical tool to drive innovation.

More often than not, disability is addressed with the best intention, but not in the inclusive manner in which it deserves to be tackled. The

efforts for such well-intentioned interventions are often directed towards creating employment opportunities or Skills Development programmes.

However, these interventions are often lacking in substance, which results in persons with disabilities having the perception that they are not

significant contributors to the business. An organisation may achieve its diversity targets through recruitment processes; however, they will not

realise the full value or potential until disability is included as an integral part of a diversified workforce.

The definition of diversity refers to a range of different things. Transformation refers to a marked change in form, nature, or appearance.

Therefore a ‘diverse’ and ‘transformed’ workforce would not only incorporate the typical gender, race and ethnicity criteria, but that of

disability as well. True unity only takes place when disability is included. However, incorporating disability more often than not requires a

changed mindset. The following are non-exhaustive principles to guide organisations in driving disability inclusion as a critical part of their

diversity agenda.

Lead by example

An inclusive business culture begins with leadership that leads by

example and commits to creating an accessible culture where all are

given a platform to perform equally and with dignity. Corporate leaders

need to embrace disability as an integral part of their organisation’s

culture and communicate the value and potential of persons with

disabilities in their workforce. To achieve this, corporate leaders must

promote non-discriminatory recruitment policies and include mentorship

and career advancement opportunities for persons with disabilities

based on merit.

Check assumptions

Challenge the assumptions about what persons with disabilities can do

– remember that ‘disability’ does not refer to a homogeneous

community. Create consistent awareness around disability inclusion and

ensure that the right stakeholders are on board to drive the process.

Doing this will explore inbred perceptions of myths, stereotypes,

attitudes and both conscious and unconscious discrimination.

Apply flexibility and creativity around

reasonable accommodations

A ‘reasonable accommodation’ which has the effect of minimising the

‘disabling barrier’ is what usually stands between the success or failure

of persons with disabilities. Whether a reasonable accommodation is

in the form of an assistive device, flexible working hours or accessible

facilities, each should be explored on a consultative basis with the

person with a disability and, if necessary, with an expert in workplace

disability to ensure accommodations are reasonable and cause no

undue hardship.

Create a transparent and trusted workplace

Although there are persons with disabilities who have apparent

disabilities, there are many with invisible disabilities who may not

feel confident to disclose them. Being cognisant of how disability

is communicated in an organisation can create an environment

where an employee with a disability will feel safe to disclose their

diagnosis. Critical to success is normalising ‘disability speak’, avoiding

condescending phraseology, aligning the organisation’s message with

the social model of disability rather than the medical one, and providing

‘disability relevant’ information as part of ‘general’ topics to reflect

respect and value.

Ensure that recruitment drives do not

exclude persons with disabilities

What many organisations do not grasp is that there is a pool of talent

and innovation in the form of persons with disabilities ready and more

than capable of complementing an organisation’s workforce. However,

enticing and encouraging this talent to engage means organisations

must make their point of contact and requirements accessible to all.

Online job application systems, websites, as well as sourcing processes,

should be designed to invite candidates with or without disabilities

to apply for employment. It would be beneficial for organisations to

highlight their openness to reasonable accommodation and, most

importantly, scrutinise job requirements to ensure that unnecessary

barriers are not presented as a result of ‘common but not essential’


Invite disability onto the corporate ladder

Employees with disabilities frequently get stuck in entry-level positions or

Learnerships, often with little or no opportunity to move into permanent

roles or up the corporate ladder. Witnessing employees with disabilities

move up the career ladder contributes significantly to a culture shift

surrounding the value and potential of this form of diversity. There are

many mechanisms for identifying and developing potential. Mentorship

programmes have the potential to facilitate such development by

identifying skills gaps, opening training opportunities, and encouraging

employees with disabilities to be considered for promotions. An

organisation will make a bold statement by applying reasonable

accommodation measures at each ‘rung’ of the career ladder.

Brand your company as disability inclusive

Persons with disabilities are more likely to apply for a job where

they see themselves reflected in the brand of the organisation.

Therefore, disability should be communicated as part and parcel of

an organisation’s diversity statement, as a part of the organisation’s

marketing and advertising campaigns, which reflect disability as just a

‘normal’ part of society’s diversity.

Networking accessibility

Access is critical to inclusion. In all organisations there are occasions

where meetings, conferences and networking or teambuilding events

are held off-site. Organisations must habitually ensure the accessibility

of the location and the infrastructure, specifically in terms of overnight

accommodation and transportation. As a norm, event organisers and

co-ordinators of events should take accessibility of materials and

communication platforms into account and include all types of diversity

into their event planning and activities.

In conclusion, I find that when organisations are addressing disability

inclusion from anything less than a transformational perspective,

its success tends to be hampered by unintentional ignorance that

encourages continued exclusion. The founding principles of Bradshaw

LeRoux Consulting are to unleash the potential of persons with

disabilities through educating organisations to embrace disability

as an integral and valuable part of their workforce. More often than

not, the core reasons for an organisation not having a fully diverse

workforce are the barriers they themselves erect. A key success factor

to transformative inclusion lies in a multi-pronged, consistent approach

which aligns with the principles of dignity and equality for all

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