Discrimination, Inclusion and Work

A man with grey hair is walking on grass and using a powered grass whipper snipper.Participation of older people in the workforce is the topic of ongoing policy debate. Working longer seems a simple answer to population ageing. However, stories abound about employers discriminating against people over the age of 50 years. But is this the only group to face workplace discrimination and exclusion?

Rethinking Advocacy on Ageing and Work challenges the notion that only older people experience discrimination in the workplace. Philip Taylor highlights the policy contradictions about work across the age spectrum. He asks whether working longer is a reasonable proposition for both employees and employers. He also critiques the Human Rights Commission’s Willing to Work report as too narrowly focused. After all, ageism doesn’t just apply to older Australians. A longer version of this paper was published by Per Capita. 

Taylor’s paper is one from a set of conference papers focused on discrimination and employment. They include: 

From jobless to job ready outlines a collaborative model of preparing people for work. Case studies illustrate that tailored education programs and collaborating with local industries achieves productive outcomes. This is especially important where poverty is a factor.

Breaking Through Barriers to Assist Young People who are Blind or have Low vision has micro case studies to illustrate Vision Australia’s project. It gives an overview of how employment barriers were overcome so that participants achieved their goals.

Enhancing Inclusivity at Work Through Mindfulness takes the discussion beyond gender, culture, age or sexual preference. It asks us to think about the every day judgements we make about other people. It’s these judgements that make true inclusion a huge challenge.

 

Returning to work with universal design

A modern office with lots of space and workstations by windows.Returning to work post-pandemic might be a bit scary. A useful article addressing the psycho-social issues discusses universal design as a wellbeing solution. That is, to place equal weight on the wellbeing of all employees.

Against the backdrop of COVID-19, Bonnie Sanborn argues that universal design principles increase employees’ perception of being valued at work. For example, adjustable workstations and social spaces with easy access for all employees. Being able to freely express concerns and ideas without fear of reprisals gives a sense of psychological safety.

Suggestions include creating layouts where all employees have equal access to the best views. This might mean allocating this space as a common area. A blanket standard for ergonomic features on furnishing might sound equal but doesn’t cater for differing needs. Giving people the right tools and equipment for the job shows the boss understands the nature of their job. 

The article, The Psychology of Returning to the Office: How Design Helps, discusses these factors and more. There is a reference list at the end.

 

Ageing and work: debunking the myths

Two men are working on a construction site. One is holding a circular saw which has just cut through a large timber board.Age discrimination is illegal in Australia, but when it comes to employment things get tricky. And then there is the question of the government wanting people to work to a later age. However, what are the real facts on this issue? Philip Taylor is a researcher in this field and challenges the many long-held notions about older people and employment. He lists eight myths in a summary of an article for the Diversity Council of Australia

Myth 1. Age discrimination towards older workers is endemic. Reality: Age discrimination is potentially faced by all workers.

Myth 2: Different generations have different orientations to work. Reality: It is employee life stage (e.g. school leaver, working parent, graduating to retirement) that makes a big difference – not generation.

Myth 3: Older people are an homogeneous group. Reality: Older and younger people have intersectional parts of their identity which impacts on how they experience inclusion at work.

Myth 4: Older workers outperform younger ones in terms of their reliability, loyalty, work ethic and life experience. Reality: Performance is not linked to age – except in very rare circumstances.

Myth 5: Older people have a lifetime of experience that managers should recognise. Reality: Relevant experience, is more valuable than experience, of itself.

Myth 6: Younger workers are more dynamic, entrepreneurial, and tech savvy than older workers. Reality: Older people have a lot to offer the modern workplace.

Myth 7: Younger workers feel entitled and won’t stick around. Reality: Younger workers are more likely to be in insecure employment and to experience unemployment. 

Myth 8: Older people who stay on at work are taking jobs from younger people. Reality: Increasing the employment of older workers does not harm and may even benefit, younger people’s employment prospects.

The title of the article on the Diversity Council website is, Myth Busting Age Discrimination at Work. You will have to sign in for the full paper. 

The summary is titled, What are the myths (and facts) on ageing and work? and you can find out a little more about the myths listed above.

You might be interested in a related article on including people with disability in the workplace – it’s a lot easier than most people think. 

 

Inclusive Towns: business, tourism and employment

A multicoloured logo of overlapping circles.The Inclusive Towns project is about increasing the participation and inclusion of people with disability. It presents the arguments heard before about missing out on potential business by ignoring this group and their fellow travellers. What makes this project different is help with employment of people with disability. The project produced a website with four key guides:

Links to many other helpful resources are included on this website including one on accessible events.

The project is a partnership between the City of Greater Bendigo, Loddon Shire & Mount Alexander Shire in Victoria. It was funded by the NDIS. 

A wheelchair user enters the frame on the left hand side. The background is a blurred out cafe setting.

Designing inclusive surveys

Picture of a hand holding a pen and filling in boxes on a survey formWe all know that no matter how objective we try to be, biases exist. Researchers try to avoid them when they design surveys. But it isn’t easy as bias is by nature invisible to the owner. So a bit of help is handy. Using a screening survey to hire people can disadvantage people from diverse backgrounds for several reasons. Most researchers know the usual pitfalls, but perhaps not those relating to ethnic diversity and cognitive differences. Or for people with disability. A really helpful part of this short article is the reference list. Here are just two items:

A Catalog of Biases in Questionnaires includes sources of bias, issues with questionnaire design, and problems with wording, language use, and formatting, plus more. There’s lots of examples too. By Choi, B. C., & Pak, A. W. (2005)

Another good one is about integrating universal design into questionnaires. The focus is on people with learning disabilities. Of course, this also suits people who find reading English as a second language difficult as well. So the authors recommend that instead of making accommodations for people with learning disabilities, the questionnaire should be designed to suit all participants. Lots of good information here. By Goegan, et al, (2018). 

The title of the article is,  Removing Bias from a Hiring Survey for a Diverse Applicant Pool.  

 

Hidden Talent: Autism at Work

A man stands with his back to the camera and is looking at lots of pieces of paper pinned to a whiteboard.You’re missing out by not hiring staff with autism. This is one of the points made in a FastCo article, about the ways to support staff with autism. It’s possible you already work with them now, but neither of you know. Common behaviours are social ineptness, lack of eye contact and blunt remarks. Sound familiar? The article gives a brief overview of some of the diverse ways autism presents. Many people with autism can focus for long time on a topic – if it interests them. Attention to detail and pattern recognition skills are often well used in technical occupations. Some have unique ways of viewing situations and can bring great insights to problem solving.

The article lists some of the ways to accommodate employees with autism, such as reducing environmental stimuli. Clear communication that doesn’t rely on social cues or facial expression are also recommended (isn’t this good for everyone?) The title of the article is, You’re missing out by not hiring autistic workers. It originally appeared in The Conversation.

See the Harvard Business Review article, Neurodiversity as a Competitive Advantage. The Sydney Morning Herald has an article on autism and academia – Autism, a neurotype not an insult.  

 

Diversity, Disability and Disbelief

A young man stands between library book shelves. He has a large book open in his hands.Requiring accommodations for inclusion can be an invasive process. When the disability isn’t obvious, disbelief by others becomes another barrier to inclusion. So just owning up and spelling out what you need is painful enough, but then not to be believed is the final straw. If you have a mental illness this can be devastating. A personal story by a library employee highlights how attitudes are just as important as any physical or workplace accommodations people might need. The title of the article is, The Impact of Disbelief: On Being a Library Employee with a Disability.

Abstract:  As a library employee with a hidden disability (post-traumatic stress disorder [PTSD]), just going through the accommodation process is difficult. The process is invasive and includes an in-depth interview with a disability specialist who knows nothing about you. The process also requires a letter from a care provider detailing both the accommodation and why it is necessary. In order to get an accommodation, the person must first be diagnosed by a medical professional or a psychiatrist, which is often expensive and time-consuming to obtain. The process is made more difficult and painful when supervisors and administrators do not recognize the validity of the condition for which the accommodation is needed. This paper explores the accommodation process, its impact on the employee, and the politics and psychology of disbelief and suspicion surrounding disability accommodation. Through the lens of personal experience and reflection, I will explore how the library, while a place of learning and advocacy for knowledge, can also be a place of ableist views that limit the abilities and potential of employees with disabilities. I will also provide guidelines for combating ableism in the library workplace.

There is a companion article Disability, the Silent D in Diversity, which gives the library experience of wanting to have diversity, but not wanting it to be too difficult.

Barriers to employing autistic adults

Logo for Aspect CapableIf there is a supportive environment, many autistic people could be employed. Indeed, they could flourish and be an asset to the workplace. Employers need to know what sort of adjustments are needed so they can reach their potential. Often they are really simple, particularly if thinking from a universal design perspective. An interesting and informative article from London South Bank University covers the topic comprehensively. The open access article can be downloaded in Word from the university website. The title of the article is “Identifying and Addressing Barriers to Employment of Autistic Adults”. In the UK they have The Equality Act and The Autism Act which emphasise access to work. Good to see this topic being covered.

Aspect Capable website has more information on a Australian initiative and the video shows how autistic people can achieve in the workplace.

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.

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.