Embracing a diverse workforce is good business

By Mahin Rashid
Sep 19, 2018
Photo credit: vadimguzhva/iStock/Getty Images

The first question people often ask in social situations is, “what’s your name?” The next question is, “what do you do?” Too many British Columbians with disabilities do not have a good answer to the second question. September is Disability Employment Month in BC and it’s a good opportunity for businesses to review their strategies in how they’re enabling individuals with diverse capabilities to be part of their teams. This is something that the Presidents Group, a network of change-driven B.C. business leaders, championing for more accessible, inclusive workplaces, encourages year-round. 

A number of BC businesses - small and large - participate with the Presidents Group. The group aims to share best practices with fellow organizations to demonstrate how hiring people with disabilities has been a valuable talent strategy. These organizations believe that embracing a versatile workforce is not only the right thing to do – it’s good business. And there are many reasons to support this.

B.C. is facing a labour shortage, with an expected 900,000 job openings by 2028. Despite this, the unemployment rate for people with disabilities is still 11.6%; much higher than the rate for people without disabilities at 7.1%. With 334,000 working-age British Columbians identifying themselves as having a disability, these individuals represent a significantly untapped labour market.

Two local workplaces, Gabi & Jules Bakery and the Vancouver HSBC office, share examples on how they’ve been able to support a diverse workforce.  

Adjusting delivery times at Gabi & Jules Bakery

Presidents Group member Lisa Beecroft owns Gabi & Jules Bakery in Port Moody. When the bakery needed a new delivery driver, Beecroft worked with the Pacific Autism Family Network to hire Conrad for the delivery driver position.

Beecroft made slight workplace adjustments to fit Conrad’s needs. For example, Conrad’s schedule was modified so that he can deliver at non-peak times to avoid any anxiety he may feel from being in the café during high-volume times. Not only does this make the job more manageable for Conrad, but it also makes great business sense for Gabi & Jules – deliveries have proved to be more efficient during non-peak times. Conrad continues to be a valued member of Gabi & Jules, and among the bakery’s small staff of 20 employees, 35% of these employees identify with having a disability.

Interpreter Services at HSBC

Another organization involved with Presidents Group is HSBC. In 2014, the HSBC head office in Vancouver hired Renu as a Business Analyst. Renu has a BSc in Software Engineering and a BBA with a focus on Finance. In addition to her two degrees, Renu is a CPA, CGA. Her role as a Business Analyst involves understanding business change needs, assessing the business impact of those changes, capturing, analyzing and documenting requirements and supporting the communication and delivery of requirements with business stakeholders. This could be technical (upgrading a system), regulatory (to ensure HSBC is compliant), etc. Her education and CPA, CGA designation have allowed her to hone the skills that this role requires. 

Renu is deaf and uses sign language to communicate. When needed, she is able to utilize interpreter services provided through HSBC. Renu has communicated to her managers and colleagues that booking meetings in advance helps ensure she has an interpreter is present. As HSBC is an international bank, and her colleagues are spread across the continent, Renu utilizes assistive technology to participate in meetings when she works from home. For example, Renu and her interpreter both have iPads, so she can Facetime into meetings and participate on conference calls. 

“I work with colleagues with all different abilities. I don’t always know what they need to be successful in their jobs, and vice versa. If I need a tool or an adaptation, it’s important for me to speak up. Employers want to ensure their staff are doing the best job they can – which means that they are enabled to do so. I am lucky that my employer is very open and receptive to removing barriers so I can perform at my best in my role,” says Renu, who was recently promoted within her role as a Business Analyst. 

Conrad and Renu’s experiences are just two examples of how small modifications in the workplace can enable persons with disabilities to add to the value of their organizations. More case studies can be accessed through the President Groups’ site.  As September is Disability Employment Month, this is a great time to boost awareness in your organization about year-round efforts to encourage workplace diversity.

Mahin Rashid is an Accessibility and Inclusion Consultant for the Presidents Group – a network of change-driven BC business leaders who are champions for more accessible, inclusive workplaces. The group represents businesses of all different sizes and sectors.

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