Often, when we talk or think about inclusion and diversity (I&D), we tend to focus on the issues that are literally right in front of our eyes. Colour. Physical ability. Gender. Over the years there has been tangible advancement in the way we consider these visible attributes and characteristics in the context of equality and inclusion.
Education and awareness achieve the twin objectives of not only putting I&D firmly on the radar but also enabling businesses to seek out expert support in identifying potential issues and developing strategies to ensure the principles of equality are safeguarded through appropriate employment and HR processes.
However, the challenges in addressing how employers handle the invisible components of equal rights is not as straightforward. Evolving effective and achievable strategies to ensure meaningful I&D policies capture and reflect the real diversity of the workplace can be daunting for business leaders in a world where there is less education and awareness around hidden issues.
Not long ago we marked World AIDS Day. More than 100,000 people in the UK are living with AIDS, all of whom are protected under the Equality Act – though many people with the condition are unaware of the fact.
But AIDS, like other conditions such as Motor Neurone Disease, Parkinson’s, Multiple Sclerosis and ME, can pose particular and specific challenges that require businesses to think and behave differently in order to create safe and productive spaces within which people can achieve and flourish.
The problem, though, is that many workplaces and their employees find themselves unwittingly trapped in an unhelpful and unspoken stand-off: the business hasn’t publicly declared a position on an invisible issue, and the employee living with that issue is reluctant to be the first to break cover and test their employer’s response in case it impacts adversely on their prospects.
The result? The business presses on in the justified belief that it is operating with a truly inclusive approach – because, emotionally and practically, that’s the perception the leadership has, and the employee continues to hide their issue.
They may not necessarily feel excluded, but they don’t necessarily feel wholly included either.
There are practical considerations, too.
The average cost of living with a disability in the UK – by which we mean the cost directly associated with managing that disability, is estimated to be £580 a month. For some people, it’s closer to £1,000.
So employers need awareness to be able to bring a level of understanding and practical consideration of the challenges that disability brings. That’s the kind of meaningful support that exhibits true recognition of the individual and makes a real difference to their perception of how they are valued.
In practical terms, the absence of a strategy that identifies and then nurtures those with hidden disabilities is only ever likely to result in the hastened departure of the employee and the loss to the business of their knowledge and skills.
So much of successful I&D strategies come down to seeing and acknowledging the whole picture, rather than the parts of it that are obvious. But that is only possible in an environment and culture where the hunger to learn is evident.
Just because you might run a business doesn’t mean you suddenly become an expert in diversity and equality and inclusion. Like all good management practice, there is a lot of behaviour and thinking that must be learned, and some unlearned.
Effective dialogue is essential – whether that’s dialogue with I&D professionals who can help you to uncover bits of the puzzle you can’t yet see, or dialogue with employees that enriches trust and encourages them to inform practice and policy, or dialogue that helps others to understand that whilst you may not have all the answers right now, you’re committed to finding them.
Invisible challenges are always visible when viewed through the right lens. All that’s required is the determination and commitment to identifying them.
In the 1992 film Glengarry Glen Ross the mantra of sales was ABC – Always Be Closing. In the world of I&D it’s different. The secret to success here is to
Always Be Communicating
If you’re ready to take inclusion within your business to the next level, we’re here to help you do it. Please contact us – we’d love to work with you to make a difference where it really matters.