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Even as we near the end of 2016, when the subject of ‘Diversity and Inclusion’ comes up, we still often hear the platitude: “I don’t discriminate. I treat everyone the same.”
At ARES Staffing Solutions, this is a topic that we cover frequently with our employees, colleagues, vendors and clients. We want all of our stakeholders and partners to understand the definitions of ‘equity’ and ‘equality,’ how they both differ and work together, and how we can properly support and retain employees in the workplace.
Writer Amy Sun gracefully tells us that “Equality is treating everyone the same. Equity is giving everyone what they need to be successful.”
Because we often require different tools, conditions and accommodations to succeed in the workplace, equal treatment sometimes isn’t fair, and it doesn’t necessarily set employees up for success. It is important that the treatment of employees and customers be ‘equitable’ versus ‘equal.’
Take three employees at Company X. If the organization’s core business hours are from 8:30am-4:30pm and Tom’s wheelchair accessible transit cannot get him to work until 9:00am, he may need some flexibility around when he starts and finishes his day, although he can work the same amount of hours. Kabir does not require this flexibility; however, to properly view content on his work laptop, he needs an assistive technology solution to magnify his screen. Mei doesn’t require any accommodation.
Just as we each bring unique talents and abilities to our workplaces, each one of us needs different tools, conditions and/or treatment to do the job. To set us up for success, and to bring us all to a level playing field where we can participate fully and be included, we need to be treated differently and equitably. ‘Treating everyone the same’ only works if we all require the same things.
On December 3rd, we will celebrate the United Nations International Day of Persons with Disabilities (IDPD) worldwide. The theme for 2016 is “Achieving 17 Goals for the Future We Want,” which refers to 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) that focus on creating a more inclusive and equitable world for Persons with Disabilities.
It takes time, focus and the practice of application for organizations to understand all of these concepts, and to apply them fairly and consistently with their employee population. Many of us are operating in different places on the continuum. Good employers that are on the journey toward becoming ‘disability confident’ are making the time to focus on being inclusive and equitable with their workplace language, culture, policy and practice.
I love the concept ‘disability confident.’ It was originally coined by the U.K. Department for Work and Pensions (DWP), which launched The Disability Confident campaign to assist companies to remove barriers, break down negative myths, promote the positives, change attitudes and to encourage hiring and retaining Persons with Disabilities.
Susan Scott-Parker, Business Disability Forum CEO and Founder, says that a disability confident company:
– Understands that disability impacts all parts of the business.
– Identifies, and removes barriers, for groups of people.
– Is willing and able to make adjustments for individuals.
– Doesn’t make assumptions based on someone’s disability.
For Ontario-based employers and organizations, the expectation is that by 2025, Ontario will be completely accessible for all of us. Ontario residents should be able to fully participate and contribute at work and in their communities, and to receive services in a fully accessible manner. To achieve this, we must work together with the disability community to eliminate disability specific barriers if we are committed to treating people equitably.
Ultimately, to be successful, we will need to actively remove barriers, and to integrate accessibility to the point where it becomes the obvious, natural thing to do. For many organizations, it will involve a huge culture change, and it’s well worth it. The possibilities are endless. For employers, Persons with Disabilities, our province, country and economy, if we all do our part, it will be a huge win.
In the end, equality won’t be enough in workforces where people require different treatment to function on a level playing field. To be fair, we sometimes need to treat people differently by making adjustments, removing barriers, providing the proper tools and conditions, and promoting and implementing accessibility. Equitable treatment is an effective strategy to support, include, and retain our workforce. And those of us who truly care about accessibility and aren’t ‘window dressing’ when it comes to accommodation will be the winners in the recruitment and retention of our teams.
So please, employer, don’t treat me the same!