As an HR manager at an IT and business solutions firm, I’ll be the first to admit that my company’s approach to diversity and inclusion needed a fresh, more modern take. I know I’m certainly guilty of writing policies and procedures solely from the HR perspective, while the employee point of view is often glossed over. This can lead to us (and others) struggling with disability inclusion.
Recently, I came across the Employing Abilities @Work Certificate program by SHRM Foundation and the Workplace Initiative by Understood. This free disability inclusion HR training course gave me a much-needed reminder that the employee perspective is just as important as the employer perspective. In fact, both perspectives need to be considered when developing policies and procedures that will be effective for everyone involved.
Here are a few practical takeaways I got from the program.
1. A good interview process starts with HR training—and training for everyone else
The interview and selection process is unique to each organization. Still, it’s likely to involve people beyond HR.
That’s why all members of the interview team need to understand best practices for interviews. And that includes being mindful of employees with disabilities—including disabilities that you may not be aware of. The Employing Abilities @Work training covered some best practices for interviews, like these:
- Assess a candidate’s engagement with difference in mind. For example, some candidates may be uncomfortable making eye contact. Others, including those who have invisible disabilities such as ADHD, can be visual thinkers. If you expect each candidate to have the same interview style, you’ll miss out on good candidates.
- Be flexible with your interview style. To get the best picture of a candidate’s strengths, engage them by adjusting your approach. It’s OK to sit in silence while a candidate formulates a response.
- Be mindful of the environment. Ask yourself whether the interview space is wheelchair accessible. Is it free from noise and other distractions? Inviting the candidate to tour your workplace might help to ease conversation.
These best practices are easy for me to share with other, non-HR members of the interview team. This gives us a shared understanding of basic expectations. And these practices still allow me to preserve the uniqueness of my organization’s overall approach.
2. We can make the accommodations request process easier
Another takeaway I got from the program was that the process for responding to accommodation requests doesn’t have to be complex.
I learned that the initial request needs to contain minimal information—just the employee’s name and what they’re requesting. There’s no need for a long, arduous form that requires lots of information or medical questions.
Cutting down on what’s required means you’ll get the necessary information while making the request more efficient for the employer to review.
3. Advancement is the key to supporting and retaining employees
Disability inclusion goes beyond the selection and possible accommodation process. As with any employee, this question is vital: How do we, as a management team, support and keep this employee?
My organization is keenly aware of the main motivators for retention—among them, opportunities for advancement. Understanding the strengths and interests of your employees is the first step toward supporting their advancement.
Consider offering modified work schedules and other types of flexibility to all employees, so everyone has more opportunities to thrive.
And as I learned through this training course, advancement offers an opportunity for HR to discuss if any additional support is needed.
4. We should keep disability inclusion at the center of all of our work
I’m lucky to work for a firm that truly believes in diversity and inclusion. Our CEO, Gurpreet Singh, refers to himself as the “Chief Enabler.” This sends the message that leadership buy-in is a given.
In my position (and for me personally), I want to ensure that disability inclusion is central to our work. We need to live out our values all year long, in everything we do.
To that end, here are some guidelines I picked up from the training:
- Managers should check in with their reports frequently. A simple call, text, or email is a great way to see how each employee is doing. Ask how their project or work assignment is going and if there’s anything notable (good or bad). Avoid asking “yes” or “no” questions like “Is there anything else I could be doing for you?” Instead, ask open-ended questions like “What else could I be doing to support you?” And note that informal chats can be useful, too.
- Make sure managers have what they need. Managers should have the knowledge and resources to effectively support their employees. A good starting point would be to have them take the Employing Abilities @Work course themselves.
- Education, education, education! I don’t believe an annual training, on its own, is effective enough to foster meaningful inclusion. One way we promote year-round learning for our employees is through short, focused lunch-and-learns that are easier to absorb.
The Employing Abilities @Work course is one of the best HR training opportunities I’ve participated in recently. I encourage every HR department to have at least one person go through this program. It’s a simple and cost-effective way to increase compliance and build a stronger framework for inclusive employment practices.
With the knowledge from this course, I feel ready to take that deep dive, reflect on my current policies, and present my findings and recommendations to my C-suite executives.