Having a sense of belonging, feeling respected and valued, and being surrounded by a level of support and commitment from others to do your best work: these are some of the main factors that define inclusion in the workplace.
Fortunately, the conversation about what constitutes a diverse and inclusive workplace as well as the benefits of creating one, is starting to spread. Even so, there is still more that can be done to bring truly marginalized and, at times, forgotten or overlooked individuals into the conversation about workplace diversity and inclusion.
While many positive steps have been made in defining diversity in the workplace, we believe that diversity should extend beyond gender equality. Other characteristics such as age, ethnicity, sexual orientation, disability, beliefs, socioeconomic status and mental health status should also be considered in the scope of a conversation on diversity.
One example we find particularly compelling to mention is individuals who are grappling with mental health and addictions challenges, both at work and in the journey back to work.
Statistics show that individuals with a mental health condition are more likely to be unemployed, with unemployment rates as high as 70% to 90% for those with the most severe cases. According to a survey by Morneau Shepell, depression and anxiety are considered the most prevalent mental health conditions that affect employees in the workplace.
For those who are employed, around 500,000 Canadians are unable to work due to mental health problems in any given week. Furthermore, compared to older workers, employees aged 30 and under are twice as likely to take sick leave related to mental health concerns.
In spite of this critical mass of individuals who are struggling, and in some cases suffering, in silence, the conversation around opening a hiring pool to persons with disabilities – including and especially mental health and addictions challenges – is still fairly uncommon.
Stigmatization: A Barrier Made of Beliefs
When most people think about accessible workplaces or spaces, they tend to think about structural improvements or enhancements, like ramps, elevators and buttons on doors, that can be made. And, while these are important steps to take in creating an inclusive built environment, we would also advocate for building a culture of accessibility.
While physical and mental disabilities can present unique challenges to those who live with them, stigmas and beliefs about what these individuals can’t do is far more prohibitive. Beliefs that persons with disabilities cannot perform regular tasks as other employees do lead to fewer opportunities and lower paying jobs.
To be clear, those beliefs about limitations are opinions rather than facts and the impact is substantial, not just to the persons with disabilities, but also to employers and the economy as a whole.
In Canada, 650,000 Canadians with disabilities who either worked in the past or said they were capable of working, were in fact not currently working. To put that into perspective, the number of working Canadians in January 2019 was estimated to be about 18.9 million.
Research from the Conference Board of Canada shows that failing to provide accessible workplaces to accommodate people with disabilities could cost Canada billions of dollars in lost economic growth. If businesses were to be more accessible and inclusive towards people with disabilities, the economic impact for Canada would be significant.There is already evidence gathered to show just how significant the impact is to companies who choose to be more diverse and inclusive in their hiring practices by including persons with disabilities. According to a report by Accenture, companies (on average) gain 28% higher revenue, double the net income, and 30% higher economic profit margins. Furthermore, companies that have improved their inclusion of persons with disabilities are four times more likely to have total shareholder returns that outperform those of their peer group.
How Can You Make Your Workplace More Diverse & Inclusive?
Having a conversation about improving or enhancing diversity and inclusion in your workplace is an important starting point. Eliminating stigmas, respectfully calling out and addressing discrimination or bias are key to building an authentic, sustainable approach to a more diverse & inclusive workplace.
More practically, initiatives such as assistance programs are considered useful to employees coping with mental health stress. In addition, reasonable accommodations from employers and assistance from colleagues also act as additional support in the workplace. With access to the right support system, employees with mental health conditions can be just as productive and efficient as other employees.
Anecdotally, we have heard from organizations that have undertaken diversity and inclusion initiatives that simply getting started with making positive changes in the organization creates momentum to do more. For example, intentionally creating a diverse candidate pool before moving to a hiring decision changes the makeup of a team and in turn invites newer perspectives to the organizational culture.
In our own experience, we have seen the success stories of organizations who have decided they would start out small by hiring from our temporary labour pool before eventually finding a very strong business case to either hire full time or expand their diversity and inclusion policies to actively consider working with persons with disabilities moving forward.
A Win-Win-Win Solution
Whatever the motivation behind prompting a discussion about being more diverse and inclusive as a workplace, the benefits to individuals, communities and economies are clear.
Productive work has been identified as a leading component in promoting positive mental health and in paving the way for a rich and fulfilling life in the community.
Organizations with inclusive cultures have employees that are six times more likely to be innovative, three times as likely to high-performing in their work, eight times more likely to achieve better business outcomes, and twice as likely to meet or exceed financial targets in the workplace.
We are fortunate to witness the impact that expanding the idea of diversity and inclusion can have. By allowing persons with physical and mental disabilities as well as persons recovering from addictions to meaningfully participate in the workforce, we are certain that our communities and economy will be stronger and more resilient over the long term.