TED speaker Tova Sherman’s key takeaways on being a ‘disability confident employer’

The following excerpt is reprinted from “Win, Win, Win! The 18 Inclusion-isms You Need to Become a Disability Confident Employer” by Tova Sherman. Copyright © 2021 by the author and reprinted with permission of the Reachability Association.

When the renowned business author, Steven Covey (The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People) introduced the idea of win, win in 1989, he invited both the car salesman and the car buyer to each have a win, creating a mutually beneficial situation. 

His message was clear: instead of someone having to lose in the deal, both can win if the car salesman makes money on the vehicle and the buyer gets a reasonably good deal on their new car.

The result: the buyer will likely return and, hopefully, tell others about how fairly they were treated. That is the concept behind win, win.

I have taken that idea to the next level, which is win, win, win. In a workplace, the third win can be established through the inclusion of diverse job seekers in your hiring pool and the overflowing benefit it has on the overall community. 

When I say win, win, win, I am referring to the employer, the consumer and the diverse workforce that provides your workplace with a fresh perspective and demonstrates a truly creative approach to how things can get done. Consider three wins in your next hiring decision.

In practice

Identify in your workplace an existing win, win, win scenario.

If there is none; now is the time to instill the message with your entire hiring team – so that moving forward the search for three wins is a given.

Diversity without inclusion is like a house without a foundation 

The truth is, you may be great at finding and hiring all kinds of folks from various backgrounds including newcomers, visible minorities and persons with disabilities, etc. (aka the House) – which translates into a diverse workforce. Where employers often struggle is on the inclusion piece (aka the foundation). 

You may have the most diverse workforce but if leaders are not knowledgeable on what makes an inclusive workplace – where everyone is welcomed and accommodated to equalize the playing field – then you have built a house without any foundation. 

Houses lacking foundations tend to collapse. So, remember there are two parts to including diverse populations in your workplace – ensuring your team is aware of your desire to be both diverse and inclusive and providing them the tools to succeed in doing so.

In practice

How often do you provide your team (from the top down & the bottom up) access to learning around diversity & inclusion?

If your answer is rarely or never – it is time to change that. How? Agencies, like reachAbility, provide new knowledge, as it relates to inclusion, in communities across Canada. Reach out to one near year today!

There are two ways to ensure inclusion; education and osmosis 

In my travels as an accessibility, diversity, and inclusion trainer I am always able to spot individuals who have worked with persons living with all types of disabilities simply by how they respond to my tips on inclusion.

For instance, if I am discussing the ease of accommodating someone who uses a wheelchair and see a participant in the classroom nodding their head up and down enthusiastically, I can almost promise you that person has worked with/knows well a person who uses a wheelchair.

The head nod reflects their participation and comfort with the suggested accommodations. That’s what I call osmosis – having worked alongside a person with disability is one of two ways to remove stigma from your workplace and create a truly inclusive culture. 

The other way is unlikely news to anyone – which makes it even more surprising that it is so rarely found – I am referring to the importance of education around disability for your entire team. Having developed and disseminated all levels of diversity and inclusion training I can assure you people are surprised by what they discover about inclusion – most of them for the very first time.

In practice

Have you ever provided your management team actual information on your commitment to inclusion?

The newly minted ACA: Accessible Canada Act (2019) makes now the perfect time to ensure you are compliant with the current accessibility standards. Start by reaching out to the experts 

The fish stinks from the head 

As a CEO, I take the responsibility of being in charge very seriously. In the workplace, my messaging is key to success. A leader’s tone, style and messaging matters.

If inclusion is important to you, then it must be made clear through more than just words and policy shifts but with a clear plan in place that shows the entire team you are committed to a diverse, inclusive workplace. 

In the United States the ADA (Americans with Disabilities Act) and in Canada The ACA (Accessible Canada Act) represent the best in workplace standards. Step one is to take a look and ensure you are compliant. There may be very capable members of the team who want to ensure a welcoming workplace and they are to be rewarded for their commitment. But it will take clear messaging from the top if diversity is to be a part of everyone’s core responsibilities, rather than just more work for your HR team. 

In practice

Take a close look at your most recent job ad(s) and ask yourself; when is the last time the verbiage was changed, and does it reflect your inclusive hiring strategy?

Stigma’s power is in silence 

Stigma of persons living with disabilities—in the workplace and beyond—exists because we do not talk about it.

People often avoid discussing what they don’t understand, and that is why myths about disability persist. Studies across North America continue to report employees with disabilities have fewer sick days and higher loyalty, thus staying longer, so why the concerns? 

Education of your existing team is crucial to building the foundation required to ensure a healthy, happy workplace filled with diverse people. Silence can no longer be an option in the workplace, and leaders must replace it with honest conversation. 

In practice

Where did you first learn about disability (for example; schoolyard, TV, news program, etc.)?

How was the source of your knowledge of persons with disabilities defined by that experience? Expand on these questions by posing them to your team (based on your comfort level).