Connecting with IDEA

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Megan Bissett
December 16, 2021
“Connection is why we’re here. It’s what gives purpose and meaning to our lives. It’s neurobiologically how we’re wired. It’s why we’re here.”

— Brené Brown

We are all driven by connection, whether this is our home life or our work lives. We all have this need to feel like we belong. Unfortunately, within modern-day working environments, the responsibility for driving connection is often relegated to the sidelines- typically left to the poorly named human resources department, and labelled something like Diversity and Inclusion (D&I). Although having a focus on D&I is not a bad thing, it is in fact only a part of this driving and fundamental need for connection.

In the last few years, interest in D&I has grown. The reasons for this are broad but often driven by

  • a realisation that increasing the diversity of employees is good for business and the bottom line
  • social pressure around the fact that professional knowledge work is no longer (thankfully) reserved for educated white men.

Even with this increased focus, the approach to work and the design of work largely still see job accessibility still favouring a narrow population.

Despite good intentions, many D&I strategies are still not getting to the real heart of the issue. which is why I would like to introduce you to the idea of IDEA.

That is:

  • Inclusion - everyone having a sense of belonging, a feeling they can express themselves and their ideas, and that they are valued.
  • Diversity - the differences between people demographics, experiences and cognition.
  • Equity- recognises that each person has different circumstances, and sets up a necessity for organisations, teams, and colleagues to “meet them where they are”.
  • Accessibility - where everyone has the ability to access all aspects of a job, without barriers physically, institutionally, and societally.

We see that the majority of diversity initiatives tend to focus primarily on mainly physical, observable characteristics such as ethnicity and gender - even though we have a solid understanding that this is not the full extent of diversity.

We know diversity is hard and inclusion harder, and that equity is often a resulting factor of the two. However, to be able to achieve these goals, we need to take a step back and look at the accessibility of job roles. Accessibility is often perceived, purely in the needs of those with disabilities. That is to say, mainly around physical accessibility, such as for wheelchair users and those using mobility aids. Although key in allowing physical accessibility, it is the bare minimum and not actually allowing true accessibility. Even then, this basic physical accessibility it's not always easy or readily accessible.

When talking about accessibility we should most definitely be focusing on the disabled, considering the employment gap between non-disabled and disabled people is 46.5%¹. However, we need to stop thinking about accessibility as something only a few need, but as actually something that can benefit all of us.  It’s especially real and resoundingly frustrating for those of us who have been often left out of the job market due to a lack of accessibility - whether that be those who are chronically ill, mothers, caregivers, neurodiverse, menopausal women, those of different socioeconomic and educational backgrounds, just to name a few.

Beyond having a greater talent pool to recruit from, the benefits of ensuring accessibility means that you have a greater chance of recruiting diverse people, as well as having better access for all. There are heaps of things you can do to increase accessibility - things like enabling people to act with autonomy, or establishing flexible work practices, or deploying technology that enables work to be easy, seamless, and accessible. This also increases the chances of inclusion and equity. By fully thinking about accessibility (and accessible options being the default options - not the added extra or exception), all employees are able to opt out of those not relevant to themselves, and those who need extra are only asking for their own personal unique needs to be fulfilled.

It’s only logical that access will look slightly different for each person, however, the baseline should be inclusive, to begin with. Respect for boundaries, health, and wellbeing, should be given. You should not have to “earn” accessibility. People should not have to constantly ask for accommodations, from being able to have the required technology, to be able to work where is comfortable for them. Your employees should not have to go through unnecessary hoops to have doctor’s appointments.  They should not have to prove to you they are worthy.

My own personal experience as a disabled chronically ill woman has been hard. It’s helped me to realise that when I’ve encountered difficulties in a workplace, it usually wasn’t as a result of my level of capability. Looking back, it’s easy to see that many aspects of workplace culture including a lot of arbitrary policies, procedures, and behaviours have made much of my potential career inaccessible to me. Whether it was the inflexibility, the distrust, the processes to go through to have a medical appointment, or even the downright bullying and disbelief of my disability.

I know it does not have to be this way.

Through focusing on IDEA, rather than just D&I, we have a greater opportunity to achieve workplaces that are inclusive, diverse, equitable, and importantly accessible. And without that, we cannot be truly diverse.

Photo by Nastuh Abootalebi on Unsplash

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December 16, 2021
December 16, 2021

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