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What do people think when you talk about inclusivity in the workplace?

29th May 2020

Learners at work experience

By Emily Ross, Specialist Vocational Advisor

Inclusivity in the workplace does not just mean employing people regardless of gender, age, race & disability. While these factors are obviously needed to have a diverse workforce, we need to think of inclusivity in terms of “access”. Can someone with autism truly have the same access to a work environment if they are not given the chance for some meaningful work experience? Can they have the same access if reasonable adjustments are not made?

This week I was excited to see the launch of the IPA’s new iList, highlighting this issue and showing us which employers are committed to improving their inclusivity at work. The iList recognises 30 passionate individuals in the creative and media industries who are driving forward the idea of workplace inclusivity, and what this can look like for different people.

Diversity of a workforce, and the benefits this can bring, cannot exist unless an organisation is inclusive. I’m encouraged by awards such as these that are recognising a shift from companies acknowledging the need for change, to actually taking the first steps towards inclusivity.

For us, inclusivity is about breaking down barriers. Starting with training the workforce on autism awareness and the social model of disability sessions (these sessions promote that people are disabled by the barriers that exist in society, not by their impairment or difference – for example stairs are the problem not the person with mobility issues). This will help to change attitudes and stereotypes, and allow people to have access to opportunities to become active citizens.

Included on the IPA iList is Hannah McCready, from The Specialist Works who has been working closely with BeyondAutism to set up a work scheme for learners from our schools and Post-19 service – including a placement for her brother. A key part of the work experience programme is carving out tasks that meet the skills of the individual and alleviate pressure on others in the team, making the placements a positive and meaningful experience for all.

Hannah shared that they are “thrilled to play a part in this truly inclusive internship programme which helps provide meaningful work opportunities to those often overlooked. Our people absolutely love having the students around, and many have completed formal autism training as a result of the partnership. I hope other companies can use this partnership as a proof-of-concept for disability inclusion and replicate it in their own businesses.”

Partnerships such as these are invaluable in building the confidence of our learners, developing their social skills and allowing them to explore different options that are available in vocational environments.

Embracing inclusivity can bring benefits to an employer far beyond simply a match of skills to need. Employing those with a disability or additional needs can help to increase staff morale, positively contributing to the work output of an organisation.¹ Getting more people into paid employment is a boost for the economy – something we need to consider even more as we start the journey of recovery from the various impacts of Covid-19. Every step taken is helping to break the stigma and stereotype of disability, and to break the cycle of prejudice experienced by so many.

Employers who practice and promote inclusivity have often signed up to the “Disability Confident scheme”. This scheme aims to help employers make the most of the opportunities provided by employing disabled people. It is voluntary and has been developed by employers and disabled people’s representatives. The scheme includes small businesses and large employers in both the public and private sectors, and from a range of industries.

Others have sought ways to promote work experience and/or Supported Internships within their organisations. Large NHS trusts including Imperial and Barts, private sector such as GSK and Sodexo, and public sector such as Hounslow Council have all taken part in the scheme. The internships provide real work experience, with reasonable adjustments, job carving and job coaching taking place. This allows the individual to improve their skills and confidence to enter the world of work.

As part of my new role at BeyondAutism I will be working with employers directly to promote inclusive working, looking at providing tools that will support work placements for our learners and educating employers about Access to Work funding from the Department for Work and Pensions to help with reasonable adjustments so that any barriers to work can be dismantled.

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