How to ensure equal growth opportunities for employees with disabilities at your workplace

Ensuring equal career growth for the disabled
Ensuring equal career growth for the disabled

In India, companies, especially in service industries like IT, Hospitality, Retail etc., have been hiring persons with disability for more than a decade. By and large, we have not heard of any major stories of the initiative failing. On the contrary, all the early adopters have experienced a direct impact on the business, which also influenced their profitability; including through matrices such as better productivity, lower attrition, and higher workforce morale. Moreover, isn’t it simply the right thing to do? Yet there is  one concern that I have been observing and have been talking about in all my corporate speaking sessions  at the inclusion events.

Today, several  employees with disabilities are now starting to experience a new glass ceiling with limited-to-nonexistent growth opportunities.

There is this myth about the leadership skills and the abilities of persons with disabilities that can cause an impediment to taking on bigger roles and having a bigger impact on overall organisational goals.

One of  my colleagues with hearing impairment  was consistently  given the highest rating but when it came to promotion, the managers felt that  my friend’s hearing impairment  would  be a problem for the team because he wouldn’t be able to take calls.. In today’s time when there are multiple way of communicating including skype, emails, yammer, etc., why presume a person’s competency or incompetence?  My friend was a very effective communicator and yet was not given a chance to demonstrate his skills. Eventually, he had to leave the company and  join another organization abroad which could fulfil his aspirations..Not many are lucky like him. Quite a few are  stagnating in the same  roles for many years.

There are only a handful of people who can really talk about growing  and getting career growth opportunities that are on par with non  disabled employees. There is a disparity

Job enrichment and career progression are serious causes of concern. It’s not about promotions alone, but also if they are being considered for directly dealing with clients or handling meatier responsibilities.

Here are a few tips.

Get your basics in place

  • Have an equal opportunity policy where there is no tolerance for discrimination in providing relevant growth opportunity to employees with disabilities.
  • Make sure you have an inclusive appraisal process where your tools and systems are accessible.
  • Even when companies procure appraisal tools from third parties, they should make sure that these tools are accessible.
  • Have inclusive training and skill enhancement programs, ensure that venues are accessible and online LMS are compliant to WCAG etc.
  • All managers must be sensitized and made aware so that they affirmatively evaluate their subordinates with a disability for promotions and growth opportunities.
  • A grievance redressal system must be put in place and all employees should know about it.

Dig into the data and get uncomfortable .

Take stock of the employee situation. What the share of employees with disability across different organizational levels? What’s the performance rating. When was the last time they got a promotion?

Compare with your organization average: for instance if the average within your organization is 3 years for promotion from grade x to grade y, do you see an unusual  patterns? Are employees with disability being overlooked despite having the required ratings? D If so, check with line and HR managers and probe.

Create focus tracks to nurture employees with disabilities.

Like, for  women employees, it is a great idea to have a focused career strategy. Also consider having career coach ; organize  mentoring sessions, ensure inclusion in leadership trainings.

Create individual career plans.

It is  important to make line and HR managers accountable  for taking  pro-active steps for employees with disabilities.  Encourage them to discuss in detail the career growth options, articulate what the employees need to learn to grow within the organization. If there are skill gaps, encourage them to take training or provide on-the-job coaching,  etc.

Discuss alternate growth options with employees with disabilities.

Promotions are not the only form of career growth. One can give short term assignments with expanded roles, horizontal / vertical movement   for newer responsibilities, onsite exposure , customer facing roles, cross team collaboration opportunities and many more. Specialized  Training can be another options. Many organizations  have partnerships with universities for higher education that can also be made an integral part of training and skill development. W

Provide that Nudge  to employees.

Often  employees with disabilities may enter into a shell or they or maybe they are just too overwhelmed that they have a job, that they may not ask for career growth. It is important for them to realize that  just like for all other employees, growth is an equal right for them too.  Organize peer-to-peer sessions with high performance employees with and without disabilities. Explain them it is their right to grow and even demand for it, but also make them understand that one needs to earn it and deserve  it. They have a right to non-discrimination. Explain them the grievance redressal procedure.

The need of the hour is for organizations and industries to draw parallels with the journey of women’s inclusion, and create focus tracks to drive equal growth opportunities for employees with disabilities.


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