Designing for workplace diversity

An office with desks in a row with computer screens and people sitting at the desks.An inclusive workplace is one that values individual differences and makes people feel welcome and accepted. Workplaces and workplace polices need to think about how to be inclusive from the outset. As Pragya Agarwal says in her article on Forbes website, “Inclusive Design is not an afterthought… it has to be planned beforehand…” This also means that employees are not segregated based on any special requirements they might have. This is a thoughtful article and gives examples throughout. It is good to see universal design and inclusive thinking applied to both the physical and cultural aspects of the workplace.  The aim of a “diversity manager” is to make themselves obsolete – that is, the job is done.
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From diversity to inclusion at work

A mosaic of many different faces and nationalitiesWhen it comes to workplace diversity and measuring business performance there is no one right way to do this. According to a systematic review, equality and diversity need to be “embedded in the business strategy, not treated as an ad-hoc addition”. As with all universal design thinking – it has to be thought of from the outset and then thought about throughout the design process, whether it is a building, a service or a business policy and strategy. The research was commissioned by the Design Council. The findings make for interesting reading because they discuss the benefits as well as some of the drawbacks that need managing along the way. There are several references to original research included in the article. 

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Open Plan Offices: What’s the verdict?

Looking down into a large open plan office with desks and partitionsThe debate about whether open plan offices make good places to work continues. A team of Harvard researchers found that they weren’t. But it seems they were looking at the extreme of open plan, and poorly designed at that. In defense of open plan design, architect Ashley L Dunn argues that the Harvard study chose offices where there were no partitions and no separate meeting rooms or places for private conversations. These are elements that make open plan effective. You can read more from Dunn in the FastCompany article. By chance, most open plan designs end up being more accessible for people using wheeled mobility devices. Toilets and staff rooms might be another matter though.

It would be good to see an article such as this also tackle issues of inclusion and accessibility in office design, particularly for people who for example, are deaf or hard of hearing, have back pain, or have low vision. Some solutions are simple such as moving clutter from walkways. The video below from the Rick Hansen Foundation shows how simple things make a big difference – it doesn’t have to be perfect.

 

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Retiring Retirement

Red Green and Yellow balloons with 100 printed on them in white.Is it time to retire the word “retirement”? Does it have the same meaning now as it did 30-40 years ago? Ending paid work, especially if it wasn’t enjoyable, makes the idea of a permanent holiday a dream come true. But is it? For those who are not the retiring type, the notion of being on holiday for up to 40 years is not something they relish. They want to keep going past the nominated pensionable age. So this area has no one-size-fits-all solutions. But one thing common to all, is having the ability to get out and about and access everyday activities and be welcome everywhere, and to have a home that accommodates issues of ageing. That is, let’s have more universal design rolled out so we can have the choice to do what we want as we age. The BBC webpage has an interesting story about a 106 year old man who continues his medical work on a voluntary basis. Examples of centenarians still working include a barber, who has been cutting people’s hair for 95 years, and aYouTube star aged 107, who teaches her million followers how to cook dishes such as fried emu egg.  

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Will you hire me?

Front cover of report showing hands and a keyboardInclusive employment practice is not usual employment practice. While businesses might have a positive attitude towards the diverse nature of their customer base this does not always apply to their recruitment practices. But a handful of organisations are giving it a try. The Australian Network on Disability (AND), which specialises in assisting organisations to be more inclusive in their human resource practices, has developed an index. This year the top performers are the Federal Department of Human Services, the Australian Taxation Office and ANZ. AND has just published their 2017-2018 benchmark report. It can be downloaded in PDF, Word, video or podcast.  

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Employment articles

An older man carries a briefcase and looks in the window of a commercial building. A younger blonde woman carries a large red bag and is wearing a blue suit.The Financial Times has featured several reports on employment and disability. One of the articles asks employers to give themselves a chance to find hidden talents. Written by Lord Blunkett, past Work and Pensions Secretary in the Blair Government, it shows the importance of having champions at high levels of decision making. When it comes to budgets, disability is too often seen as a cost – and a cost that can be easily deleted. Lord Blunkett was there to make sure that didn’t happen under his watch. There are several articles and reports in this series on the modern workplace and disability, including flexible attitudes, and workplace adaptations.  

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Artificial Intelligence: a re-think on inclusion

front cover with black upper case title, amplify accessibility with a purple V shape on its side and a young woman in sports gear runningAs technology and artificial intelligence (AI) evolves, businesses will have to consider the ramifications. Technology will determine the inclusiveness of our emerging digital society. These developments have the potential to bring many more people with disability into the workforce – provided accessibility and inclusive practice are considered today. Accenture.com has posted a report, Amplify You, on the state of play for digital inclusion. In the introduction they claim:

“As technology evolves and new platforms emerge, the way businesses design and develop new technology will determine the inclusiveness of our digital society. New technologies have the potential to bring an estimated 350 million people with disabilities into the workforce over the next 10 years—provided we design with accessibility in mind today.” 

The 24 page PDF report covers understanding the digital divide, design for humans, AI is the new UI, and more. I the last section, What to Do Now, it has bullet points under headings of: Understand the implications of accessibility, Design accessibility into your business, Build an ecosystem of accessibility – and continuously think about what is next.  

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How to get colleagues thinking inclusion

A magnifying glass is held over a grid montage of human facesIt’s one thing for an individual in a group or workplace to understand inclusion, universal design and accessibility, but it sometimes seems people turn their ears off when it is mentioned. AND has posted on their website some tips to help get others on board. There are links to other documents and a self assessment tool. The main point is that change is a slow process – a journey. It needs a whole-of-business approach – one person cannot do it alone, but perhaps it is a start. Story-telling is a good tool too and they have links to videos. It is timely for ABC TV to be broadcasting a program on 3 April called Employable Me. The series draws on science and experts to uncover their hidden skills. It follows people with neuro-diverse conditions such as autism, OCD and Tourette Syndrome as they search for meaningful employment. The Australian Human Rights Commission published a report “Willing to Work” which covers the issues for older people and people with disability. There is an Easy Read version too. 

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Diversity and inclusion: why don’t they care?

A bearded man in a white shirt leans back from his desk and computer. He is laughing and has a sticker on his forehead that reads, be happy.The Fifth Estate has published a very interesting article titled, Why people hate on diversity and inclusion (and how to get them not to). It’s by the CEO of Diversity Council Australia, Lisa Annese. She argues that when diversity and inclusion fall on certain ears it raises hackles as being a problem. She quotes David Gaider, “Privilege is when you think something is not a problem because it’s not a problem to you personally.” Annese discusses the research that shows the more diverse a company’s workforce, the more satisfied the whole workplace is, and that leads to improved productivity. It should also lead to better service for their customers. They are a diverse lot too!

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Universal Design at Work

five young people in the picture, two men, three women. Three are sitting on couches, and two stand behind. They look like they are having a discussion. Four are white, there is one black woman.The principles of universal design can be applied to the workplace as well as the built environment. Some of the basics are covered in Sean McEwen’s slide presentation, “Workplace Diversity Strategies: Utilizing Universal Design to Build an Inclusive Organization” such as: 

Physical accessibility (ramps, ergonomics, work stations)   
Systemic accessibility (protocols, polices, flexibility)
Leadership / Interactional Competencies (cultural agility, EQ)
Work Culture Accessibility (inclusive, employee well being etc)

The presentation addresses the question, “How do we intentionally design recruitment and onboarding protocols and workplace cultures that work for everyone?” It covers cultural agility, micro inequities, wellbeing at work, and strategies for building an inclusive team, among other topics. There is also an employment toolkit with various sections that can be downloaded. While the focus of this web tool is on people with disability, the principles can be applied to any group that is considered part of population diversity. This resource comes from Canada.

For an Australian perspective on similar issues, see the Australian Network on Disability (AND). They specialise in creating disability competent organisations and businesses. 

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