Over the years, persons with disabilities have come out of the periphery of the society and validly demanded that their rights be observed and their contributions be recognized. Managing diversity hinges on the recognition of diversity and differences as a positive element rather than a problem to be solved. Providing workplace accommodations for people with disabilities helps to retain talented employees, enhance employee morale and productivity, and enhance diversity. The research paper concentrates on people with disabilities as the diverse population, and reports on a semi-structured interview with a person with a mobility disability. The paper examines ways in which disability is culturally and socially constituted, usually at the expense of the disabled person. The paper demonstrates the significance of workplace diversity and inclusion and contends that workplace diversity ought to be a priority for all organizations. Drawing from her lived experiences and roles and responsibilities at her workplace, the interviewee provides eye-opening perspectives on the scale and incidence of workplace discrimination for people with disabilities. Most studies paint human resource management (HRM) diversity practices as merely interested in compliance, but neglectful of practices that foster and exploit workplace diversity. Surprisingly, the field experiences confirm that some employers are committed to hiring individuals with disabilities. The literature review and the field experiences show that embracing diversity and inclusivity helps organizations to enhance their efficiency, profitability, and competitiveness.
Keywords: Disability, Discrimination, Diversity, Diversity management, Efficiency
It is estimated that approximately 50 million Americans manifest a form of disability or another. Individuals with disabilities persist to register lower employment rates compared to other Americans, but whether this is because of or in spite of antidiscrimination laws, remains unclear. According to the US Bureau of Labor Statistics, only 17.1% of individuals with some form of disability had work, which contrasts with 64.6% of people without a disability.
Disability qualifies as a sociocultural construct that consigns traits to individuals, and discriminates among them, on the grounds of bodily differences. The perception of disability as diversity makes people with disabilities feel included and competent to contribute fully to communal, business, or organizational goals. As such, organizations should adapt their workplaces to employees with various needs in order to create a comfortable working environment. Such a move will provide a platform for people with disabilities to show their skills and grow their careers.
Despite prevalent assertions or perceptions that contemporary workplaces are free of discrimination, the empirical picture remains mixed and tangled. Today, in most countries around the globe, people with disabilities enjoy fewer opportunities to study and pursue careers they want. The experience of people with disabilities in the workplace is very crucial for me given that, after graduation, I intend to work as a human resource officer for mid-sized companies in Saudi Arabia. In my view, it is pertinent that the human resource officers commit to a workplace culture that builds respect, promotes inclusiveness, fosters diversity, and embraces the distinct qualities and skills of all workers.
A more inclusive and diverse workplace improves protections for people with disabilities and enhances their job prospects. However, the question on whether this trend extends to wages remains unanswered. In most cases, organizations that value and capitalize on workplace diversity manifest a productive and fulfilling workplace, which in turn fosters attracting and retaining of the best employees.
The American society, just like other societies across the world, remains soiled by centuries old assumptions that individuals with disabilities are sub-human and hence, not wholly entitled to the opportunities accessible to the general public as a matter of right. A close look into the attitudes towards individuals with disabilities cross cultures implies that societal views and treatment of individuals with disabilities are neither static nor homogenous.
In the years preceding the 1700, people with disabilities were perceived as possessed by evil spirits and sinners. The treatment of people with disabilities included physical and/or mental pain as a way to purge the spirits. From the 1800-1940s, people with disabilities were considered genetically imperfect, inferior, and polluting the race. The Social Darwinians contended that the protection of the “unfit” would undermine the process of natural selection and corrupt the choice of the “fittest” components essential for progeny. Some of the societal treatment of people with disability included dereliction, institutionalization, extermination, sterilization. In some cultures, people with disabilities were treated as outcasts, while in other communities they were treated as economic liabilities.
From the 1940-1970s, people with disability were portrayed as ill-fated and deserving societal pity and charity. The society both institutionalized and sought rehabilitation for persons with disability. In recent past, the society paints persons with disability as independent. The passage of civil rights and education laws, as well as issuance of Executive Orders, broadened services for persons with disabilities. As a result, people with disabilities were deinstitutionalized. In the post-civil rights movement era, people with disabilities enjoyed more community integration complete with settings that foster independent living.
The heightened visibility of individuals with disabilities stems from normalization, self-advocacy, and independent living movements witnessed in recent decades. However, the increased visibility has not automatically translated into widespread acceptance of persons with disability. Although, numerous changes have occurred in status and treatment of individuals with disabilities, the traces of tradition and past belief impact on the present-day practices influencing such group.
The concept of disability is inflected with a myriad of differences. It is essential to note that the meaning and impact of disability shift significantly based on whether the attitudes of the public or the environment accommodate a disability or does not. Disability represents a physical or mental impairment that considerably impedes a major life activity. For instance, in one context, the individual who utilizes a wheelchair can be considered to be in a state of full dependency, but in another context, the individual can be considered as independent.
When looked through social and cultural perspectives, disability can be conceived as another way of being or another form of diversity. Hence, disability constitutes a natural extension of diversity, and organizations can gain from embracing people with disabilities. Disability, as a form of diversity, is an equal associate to gender and race in diversity circles, especially given that the notion of providing accommodations is not alien to all three. At the foundational level, accommodations for diversity merely appreciate that every employee need not necessarily fit the same mold. The recognition of disability as a form of diversity demands acknowledgement of personal needs and establishment of creative remedies to optimize individual contributions.
This section highlights the major theoretical themes that frame this research. Discrimination theory, organization theory, social justice theory, labor market/economic, and human resource theory highlight themes along the spectrum of ideas centering on why an individual with a disability may or may not be recruited. Diversity can be regarded as context-based, relative, and selective. In its narrow definition, diversity is viewed as concerned with the differences on age, disability, gender, race, and ethnicity. In it broad definition, diversity is considered as encompassing aspects such as religion, culture, capabilities, personality, lifestyle, and language. All-inclusive diversity delivers the widest view to diversity and is evident in divergences of perspectives, actions or perceptions.
There are three core approaches to managing diversity, namely: diversity management, equal opportunities, and ethical, learning-based approach. Equality legislations have extended to the concept of people irrespective of background. Antidiscrimination directives have concentrated on fostering workplace equality and equal treatment in employment. Diversity management represents deliberate attempts to manage a diversified workforce the gain of the organization.
Equal opportunities approaches seek to safeguard the disadvantaged groups against discrimination, prejudice, and inequality in employment and support minority groups with equal opportunities grounded in legislative forces. Individuals with disabilities are hired to improve organization’s reputation or exploit tax breaks. Similarly, persons with disabilities may not be hired owing to the costs linked to accommodation of the disability. Organizations hire persons with disabilities in the event that the benefit (in whatever kind) to the organization surpasses the costs (in whatever kind) to hire that person. Since private decisions can yield to undesirable outcomes within the aggregate, it is necessary that governments intervene so as to bring about the desired end of wider employment of individuals with disabilities. Recent legislations on people with disabilities such as Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) and Rehabilitation Act (1973) have replaced biased views on people with disabilities with views that enable all people of all ages and capabilities to exploit and maximize their potential. Antidiscrimination laws demand that employers provide reasonable accommodations for employees with disability.
Organization theory identifies the function of organizational culture as a potent, yet habitually invisible, determinant of organizational behavior. The unwritten rules relating to “how things are implemented around here” explain why some organizations fail to embrace disability as a form of diversity. Social responsibility and the pursuit of social justice may also impact on the hiring decision since it may translate into hiring individuals with disabilities or showing an interest in hiring without necessarily the support of economic potential. When considering a candidate with a disability, organizations reflect on the law, their own prejudices, the economics, and sense of social justice before arriving at the course of action.
Accommodation for diverse population comprising of people with disabilities in the workplace, at best, delivers mixed outcomes. Studies show that inequality and discrimination among people with disabilities in the workplace still exist. The appreciation, establishment, and exploitation of diversity still suffer neglect despite attempts of HR managers to conform to affirmative action and equal employment opportunity legislations that eradicate discriminatory practices, foster diversity, and guarantee that disadvantaged groups are provided with a fair access to job opportunities.
In core human resource areas, there exist potential discrepancies between adopted organizational rhetoric on managing diversity, and the reality of organizational practices. Although, the existing data point to a high degree of awareness of the law and a significant compliance activity, the data does not illuminate on the sincerity or the efficacy of employer efforts and imply that negative attitudes towards disabled people remain, especially persons with certain forms of disabilities. Largely, employers show more positive feelings about persons with physical or sensory disabilities compared to individuals with cognitive or psychiatric disabilities.
Effective diversity management through effective HR practices and procedures delivers positive outcomes. In contrast, defective diversity management is most likely to yield to conflict, increased employee turnover, demotivation, and reduced organizational performance. Having an accommodative workplace is one of the steps toward building an inclusive workplace culture in which all employees feel valued and recognized because of their distinct qualities, perspectives, voices, and ideas. Organizations must ensure that their employment practices remain a source of competitive advantage. There is a strong business case for recruiting persons with disabilities since individuals with disabilities equally make competent, reliable employees. In addition, individuals with disabilities constitute unexploited skills’ source and talent and underserved market segment. Recruiting persons with disabilities can add to the overall diversity, workplace morale, and creativity and improve an organization’s image.
Human resource management functions as a fundamental ingredient for organizational success. At the operational level, HRM involves aspects such as recruitment, development, training, rewarding, and performance evaluation while at the strategic level, HRM activities are interested in bringing value to the organization.
HR managers should provide vision and leadership for their institution to ensure that the institution reflects the ideals of diversity management, especially those relating to workplace inclusion. HR managers and professionals have a role in establishing an organizational culture that fosters accommodation within the workplace, especially in the recruitment and hiring processes. Organizational culture shapes employee perceptions regarding the work environment, which in turn, influence engagement, productivity, and job satisfaction.
Managing diversity is critical to the realization of employee’s full potential and sustaining competitiveness. As such, organizations must institute a new culture to ensure that it better utilizes its human resources. Successful diversity management can be attained through the use of suitable HRM strategies directed towards improving organizational learning, knowledge creation, flexibility, and work environment.
As a future HR practitioner, I appreciate the significance of workplace inclusion, as a HR strategy, which must be anchored in organization-wide attitudes, policies, and practices. Inclusion, in this case, represents the process of engaging and valuing all individuals in an environment irrespective of their differences. Inclusion necessitates a proactive strategy grounded in a conscious decision to respect all people and giving them the chance to become valuable members of the organization. The creation of a positive work environment for people from diverse backgrounds should encompass strategies for the inclusion of individuals with disabilities, recognizing that all employees yearn to engage in an environment that enables them to work to their full potential.
People with disabilities bring unique skills to the workplace and improve workplace diversity. However, most organizations, but not all, fail to adequately accommodate employees with disabilities. As my interviewee affirmed, some companies in the US recognize that people with disabilities enjoy the right to be fully independent just like other people. My interview with a young woman with mobility disabilities and who works as a graphic designer cleared the fog regarding the competency and experiences of people with disabilities in the workplace. The interviewee confirmed that some workplaces, such as hers, are friendly and accommodative to people with disabilities, which ensures that all employees exploit their full potential. The interviewee’s workplace is adequately adjusted to her needs without going overboard to provide extra attention or sympathy, which can be a source of embarrassment for the subject.
Personally, I found the field experience refreshing and unorthodox to what the literature review had revealed. My field experiences prove that discrimination against people with disabilities in the workplace is not widespread as the bulk of researches portray. The interviewee made me realize that people with disabilities do not need sympathy, but rather a workplace that is accommodative of their disabilities. The field experience also demonstrates the fundamental role played by leadership, especially in the HR department, in ending discrimination against persons with disabilities in the workplace.
Workplace diversity and inclusion guarantees that all employees enjoy full participation within a workplace, and their values and individual differences recognized and managed. The creation of a welcoming environment of trust, appreciation, and mutual respect allows all employees to collaborate effectively in the workplace and enhance the performance of the organization. The enactment of antidiscrimination laws such as the ADA has increased the visibility of people with disability and ensured that the concept of disability as a kind of diversity does not remain opaque, exotic, or threatening. The antidiscrimination laws have equipped employees with more tools for vindicating their rights or realizing their goals. Although, legal safeguards from discrimination practices on the basis of disability are indispensable, such guarantees cannot be conceived as the sole strategy towards eliminating the social exclusion and discrimination encountered by Americans with disabilities.
Diversity management should be made a priority agenda, especially when formulating and implementing HRM practices. Employers should do more and better to deliver the promises detailed in antidiscrimination laws, especially in bringing about wider social shift in attitudes about and conduct towards individuals with disabilities. A review of the information gathered from the field and literature affirms that gaps still exist between the ideal workplace and the reality on the ground. Given the weak empirical correlation between attitudes regarding disabled people and employers’ behavior, further research on employers’ attitudes is needed to shed light on the complexity of workplace decision making on diversity. Since majority of organizations perceive diversity as essentially an issue of compliance with legal provisions, there is a need to enhance HR diversity strategies centering on recognition and exploitation of workplace diversity.