As gender and equality is a hot topic, almost daily you will see a female role model featured on the front page, pitted against her male colleagues as it is publicized how much he earns comparatively. Or there are the familiar headlines reporting more sexual harassment in the workplace yet.
While people continue to be astonished by the amount of inequality that still exists, there is no let-up from people speaking out; the messages are loud and clear, and organizations are beginning to step up to take more effective action. However, there is still a group of women who appear to have been left behind.
Women with disabilities make up roughly 5% of the world’s female population, yet disabled women are still struggling to find their place in the women’s movement, and high-profile campaigns such as #MeToo are a reminder of what a long way there is to go before they can say that their voices are being heard.
According to a report by the British disability charity, Scope entitled Current Attitudes Towards Disabled People, more than a third (36%) of people tend to think of disabled people as not as productive as everyone else; nearly a quarter (24%) of disabled people have experienced attitudes or behaviors where other people expected less of them because of their disability; and a staggering two-thirds (67%) of the public feel uncomfortable talking to disabled people! Many people don’t realize that having a positive attitude towards disability is as equally crucial as barrier-free physical access and disability accommodation.
Like many challenges, education is key to overcoming them. First, increasing awareness and, second, teaching people how to confidently champion inclusion in everyday situations is the only way we will get change.
The Scope report shows that it is often only simple adjustments that need to be made to help reduce barriers disabled people face. Supporting organizations of all shapes and sizes to drive equality, embrace diversity and create more inclusive cultures is critical. Here are some of the ways that, together, we can change perceptions of women with disability.
Focus on women and disability in leadership
Seeing women with disabilities in leadership roles, being as capable and competent as their male or able-bodied counterparts, is the best way of changing perceptions and creating role models for future generations. Take a long, hard look at your current company’s culture, policies, procedures and ‘the way things are done around here’ and see if you can recognize the barriers that are preventing people from minority groups, such as women with disabilities, from making their way to the top.
Make it an issue
Get equality, diversity, and inclusion (ED&I) on the agenda, at the top. Your senior management team needs to understand the business benefits of a diverse workforce. Is it obvious what diversity already exists within your organization?
One excellent idea is for companies to introduce inclusion champions to represent different protected characteristics and act as ambassadors for ED&I. This is an excellent way of getting voices heard and keeping key issues, like providing fair and equal opportunities for women with disabilities, on the agenda.
Encouraging open conversations with others is an excellent way of changing perceptions. However, someone has to implement this, and if your senior management isn’t going to do it, then you need to do it.
Speak out and create a culture that fosters a working environment where people communicate openly with colleagues and managers alike. It’s not nice for people to be afraid of having difficult conversations; aren’t confident to challenge inappropriate banter or unfair decision making, and can’t openly share their feelings and express their needs without fear of being labeled a nuisance.
Awareness weeks dedicated to specific areas of ED&I, equipping everyone with learning resources to use during team meetings and company-wide inclusion surveys are great ways of getting conversations started and encouraging people to speak out.
Recruitment and Selection
Recruitment and selection practices are a significant barrier to disabled people even getting employed in the first place. In the Scope report, of the disabled people who said that they had faced problems with employment, 76% of them identified employers’ attitudes as the problem.
Today, disabled people are more than twice as likely to be unemployed than people without a disability. While you may not have the power to change this by yourself, you can start the conversations and be aware of this as you work further up in your company and gain more experience. Times need to change, and it is the junior employees who are the future.