This is what five women with disability at work say about creating an inclusive workplace

Published by Ankit Rajiv Jindal & Nimisha Jashnani | March 28, 2017 | in Accessibility Best Practices Employment

We recently concluded the celebrations of the International Women’s Day on 8 March. The United Nation’s (UN) theme for this year was “Women in the Changing World of Work: Planet 50-50 by 2030”. The focus of this theme was to evaluate how to accelerate the 2030 Agenda and build momentum for the effective implementation of the goal number 5: Achieve gender equality and empower all women and girls, one of the 17 Sustainable Development Goals. We are at a stage, where corporates have made significant efforts in terms of gender equality and empowerment of women at work, however, discrimination against women still exists. Women with disabilities deal with a double challenge and are even more invisible in society and at work.

We all know that people with disabilities in general face difficulties in entering the open labour market, however, a paper published by International Labour Organisation says, when seen from a gender perspective, men with disabilities are almost twice as likely to have jobs than women with disabilities. When women with disabilities work, they often experience unequal hiring and promotion standards, unequal access to training and retraining, unequal access to credit and other productive resources, unequal pay for equal work and occupational segregation, and they rarely participate in economic decision-making.

Thus, we thought to reach out to five inspiring women with disability at work to understand what is their stake on the position of women with disability at the workplace. We’ve gather some fascinating responses. So, without much ado, here is what they said:

Ranjini Ramanujam, who is a Process Lead at Infosys BPO and is a person with hearing impairment believes that it is important that organizations start considering all women as equal stakeholders and must have a zero-tolerance policy to any discrimination against women, irrespective of their disability status. Further, it is important the organization creates enough awareness campaigns to sensitize the workforce on disability issues and ensure that appropriate accommodations are provided to women with disability.  A barrier free (both mental & physical) environment is the bedrock of inclusion and goes a long way in enhancing the performance of not only women but for all employees. Unless the doors of opportunity are equally opened and discrimination of all forms is eliminated, woman with and without disability, even with talent and the necessary skills would not be able to perform at their peak and deliver at their best.

Nikita Raut, a visually impaired professional working as the Chief Manager – Regional HR Head at Bank of Baroda has a very balanced perspective on inclusion. She believes that inclusion is a two-way street. While, it is important for corporates to have an awareness of disabilities issues and a readiness to walk that extra-mile, it is equally important that people with disability, irrespective of the gender, must be ready to put in the efforts to meet the organization’s expectation. There is no substitute for merit or hard work. Further, she adds that the practice of job identification where only certain jobs are opened for people with disabilities should be abolished. Companies should have an open mindset and a scientific method of assessing and understanding of the employees’ skills and allocate job roles and responsibility that matches their abilities and experiences and maximizes the chances of their success.

Geeta (name changed), a dynamic recruitment specialist, working in a multinational organization in IT services sector says that current practices of providing employment opportunity to women or to persons with disability is just the tip of the iceberg and there is much more that needs to be done to foster a truly inclusive environment. There are several incidents where employees with disability, despite of having many years of relevant experience, are not considered fit for bigger and better roles and force to continue with same role for extended period. Being disabled and that too a woman creates a double whammy. There is a new glass-ceiling, marred with deep rooted stereotypes and mythical assumption, that results in restricted growth and job enrichment opportunities. If the corporates are hiring people with disabilities, especially women, they need to empathize and be cognizant of the serious implications of restricting the growth opportunities for a disabled professional. There are several women like me, often single, who are self-made with no strong financial and social support system. They only have their job/career to fall back upon for their future security and well-being. If they hit the roadblock and continue to be stagnant at the current level, the entire effort of initiation and building something concrete gets nullified in the wake of increasing inflation and the rising expenses because the old age and associated illness and several investments. This sense of insecurity plays havoc on a person’s mental, emotional and physical being and essentially erodes the confidence. Thus, I think the time has come for the corporates to prioritize the career aspirations of their disabled workforce, especially of disabled women. It is important to monitor the performances of employees with disability, develop interventions that help them to hone their skills, initiate personalize dialogue to understand their aspiration and mentor them to climb the ladder with confidence and dignity.

Swathi TP, an HR manager with MNC mentions that corporates need to provide an equal platform for women with disability by providing reasonable accommodation along with an open attitude. Very few corporates today consider women with disability as a potential talent pool. Recruiting someone with disability would sure be a learning curve and they would soon realise that all that it needed was openness to accept. Further, companies need to have a centralised fund created to facilitate reasonable accommodation for persons with disability and should conduct awareness programmes about people with disabilities.

Minal Bhalekar, a consultant with a large multinational organisation, says that women with disability are more likely to quit their jobs due to lack of support system. To address this, corporates should provide counselling support to women with disability. The counsellor should be able to handle the concerns of the employee with sensitivity and encourage women with disabilities to continue working and be financially independent. This will also enable the organisation to collect periodic feedback from women with disabilities and design policies and processes which are inclusive.

Further, Minal mentioned that safe and accessible commute for women with disability is essential. Women with disability become easy targets for eve teasing and harassment. With inaccessible transportation, and lack of safety, this becomes another reason for dropping out of work. Corporates should provide accessible and safe transport to women with disability even during day hours.

These are some powerful narratives coming from five of the strong-willed women at work. It is important note that it’s not merely issue of creating accessible workplace, providing career growth opportunities, accessible and safe transportation and counselling services to ensure women with disabilities are retained at workplace but creating a whole ecosystem including inclusive policies and process which ensures full participation and advancement of women with disabilities at workplace.

For too long, the specific needs of women with disabilities have been invisible, both to the advocates of women’s rights and those of disability rights at the corporates, institutions and government levels. They remain at the margins of decision-making.

What is your take on creating an inclusive and a non-discriminating workplace environment for women with and without disability? Do you agree with these opinions? Or what’s your idea of creating an inclusive workplace? We would love to hear from you. Please do send in your views to info@deoc.in or comment in the space provided below.

Additional notes:

  • “Arthur O’Reilly. “Employment Barriers for Women with Disabilities” in “The Right to Decent Work of Persons with Disabilities” IFP/Skills Working Paper No. 14. International Labour Organization 2003).
  • According to a United Nation’s report, “An estimated one in five women live with disabilities and the prevalence of disability is actually higher among women than men (19.2 versus 12 per cent). Contributing factors include the lower economic and social status of women and girls, gender-based violence and harmful or gender-discriminatory practices. Yet, women and girls with disabilities remain at the margins of decision-making and work on gender equality”.
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About the Author

Ankit began his career in 2006 as an executive at Infosys BPO and progressed to supervised a team in HR Operations with 20 sub-processes, supporting 6 national centres. He has been consistently rated as high performer and was promoted as Subject Matter Expert in less than 2 years. Ankit then decided to pursue his Masters in Business Administration from the prestigious Faculty of Management Studies – University of Delhi. At FMS, he was elected as the President of the HR and OB society where he undertook several initiatives for the growth and development of the students in the campus. He has also worked with Redwood Associates, Bajaj Allianz Life Insurance Company Ltd., Sony India Ltd. for internship and short-term projects.

Nimisha Jashnani is a disability inclusion consultant with over 11 years of corporate experience including 6 years in the disability inclusion. Prior to joining DEOC, she led the disability inclusion program at Capgemini India and worked with IIM Bangalore as a coordinator for Office of Disability Services. Nimisha has contributed to a book titled "Library Services for Blind and Visually Impaired People", published by APH Publishing Corporation. She is PGDM from TAPMI, Manipal and BE from MBM Engineering College, Jodhpur.

11 comments on “This is what five women with disability at work say about creating an inclusive workplace”

  1. It is still surprising to see such kind of discrimination in corporate jobs. The inclusion campaigns we are running in this country has to focus more on the attitudinal barriers of the staff and the society.On the other hand,condition is worst in government offices from infrastructure barrier to the people around,it demotivates person with disability. As a part of my research I have been through few government offices and took interview of the women working there. It is shocking to know that the staff does not want them to be in office just because of the disability. They are jealous how a person with disability can be paid equall to their salary. In my point of view there should be a committee in every offices for person with disability which should organise sensitized camps for the employees and should act as a redressal forum for them. This could be one solution I came up with. I would appreciate to be a part of the discussion. Feel free to comment.

  2. This article is extremely inspiring and thought provoking as it contains first hand experiences. Based on the research that I have done, it is important to bridge the gap between the corporate world and individuals with (or without) disabilities by facilitating consistent interactions between these 2 stakeholders. If employees from the workplace can reach out to organisations that train or teach people with disabilities, it will help dispel any myths or stereotypes one might have.
    Just like how students familiarise themselves with the corporate world through placement opportunities, such interactions can enable people with or without disabilities to make a more informed choice before entering the corporate world. It will help employees to facilitate that transition better as well.

  3. This is an inspiring and thought provoking article as it contains first hand experiences. Based on my research, in order to create an inclusive workplace, it is important for the key stakeholders to interact consistently. Just like how students on campus familiarise themselves with the corporate world through campus placements, it will be a good idea for organisations to interact with individuals with disabilities. This will help the organisations to dispel any myths or stereotypes they may have and people with disabilities will get a realistic picture of what the corporate world expects. Both stakeholder groups can then prepare themselves accordingly and facilitate a smoother entry into the workplace.

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