How to make your workplace both flexible and inclusive

Rethinking the way we work is an opportunity for businesses to rethink their hiring processes and improve inclusivity, says Steve Ingham

As businesses try to welcome employees back to the office after 18 months of primarily home working, many are asking big questions. What is the best way to navigate hybrid working? How can we make the best use of office space? How can we create working patterns that are suitable for all? 

While we’re in a change mindset, there’s an opportunity to think bigger and consider how to make UK workplaces more inclusive, especially for disabled people.

Despite one in five people of working age being disabled, the employment rate is only 52.3 per cent in the UK. By contrast, the employment rate of people without disabilities is significantly higher at 81 per cent. A rewarding job is one of the most important vehicles for accelerating socioeconomic status, empowering individuals with confidence, a sense of purpose, and of course, financial compensation. Despite conversations taking place all the way up to government level, currently, a stark employment gap practically translates into 14.1 million disabled people being at a significant disadvantage in the UK. 

Yet businesses stand to gain from employing disabled people. There are many well-documented benefits of building a diverse workforce, but a large number of business leaders and HR teams do not fully appreciate the unique skillset that disabled people have at their disposal – from resilience and courage to a determination to succeed.

It is possible to drive change within your organisation and make a difference. Firstly, look at your recruitment process. Consider every element, from job descriptions to the interview process, and work with a specialist recruiter to evaluate the way your team recruits. Remember to stress you are open to applications from all candidates and avoid putting up unnecessary barriers where possible. Statements like “office-based role” can put potential candidates off applying because they demonstrate rigid hiring processes. During an interview process, be prepared to be flexible in order to cater to various preferences – some people may not want a video interview, whereas others may prefer it. What’s important is to make it clear that there are options, and that any concerns candidates have will be well received.

Of course, to truly reap the benefits of a diverse workforce, businesses cannot just focus on diversity and inclusion initiatives when times are good. It must be an ongoing process that is protected and sustained during tougher periods.

Inclusivity is a process that extends beyond bringing in diverse voices. Individuals from all backgrounds and capabilities thrive when values of tolerance and acceptance are introduced. Work with your HR teams to develop robust training programmes for all staff to help them be aware of their biases. Offer focused training for those conducting interviews, or with responsibility for line management, to help them empathise and understand the challenges some colleagues face and learn how best to support them. This both raises awareness of the importance of inclusivity, and encourages open and honest dialogue, which is vital. 

The final piece of the puzzle is to create a culture of belonging. Every employee should feel welcome, that they are valued, and can ask tough questions. This is one reason why employee support groups have become increasingly important, to champion all aspects of D&I, but it is especially relevant for individuals with disabilities. Staff members need an outlet in which to gain advice from peers, share stories and help boost their confidence at work – knowing there are others in the same boat. We have set up a number of these at PageGroup, including Ability@Page, which supports employees who are directly or indirectly affected by disability.

If you are struggling to find the right talent, I urge you to challenge yourself to become more inclusive and accessible. When recruiting, broaden search parameters and consider candidates who might otherwise have been overlooked – expanding the talent pool is the key to finding the right people and in turn, making business more successful. I also encourage you to think bigger than simple initiatives and to identify areas of opportunity to grow through inclusivity goals. And most importantly, hold yourself accountable.

Steve Ingham is global CEO of PageGroup