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Why should you create an inclusive workplace?
It’s all very well saying you should create an inclusive workplace, but what does that really mean and how can it help your business? Once you understand why you need to embrace inclusivity for your employees, customers and business practices, it makes your path to an inclusive reality a whole lot easier.
In an inclusive workplace, everyone has equal access, choice and opportunity, regardless of their age, race, gender, ability etc. Indeed defines workplace inclusion as ‘the process of providing every member of an organisation with equal access to professional resources and opportunities’. Being inclusive means ensuring that everyone feels valued as part of the group, acknowledging and celebrating differences and taking responsibility for offering equal opportunities for everyone. Creating inclusive workplaces is not only a legal requirement, but critical for the health of your business. Read on to find out why and stay tuned for part 2 of this blog about the practical steps you can take to ensure your business is inclusive.
The Equality Act
As a minimum, you need to create an inclusive workplace to avoid damaging claims of discrimination. The 2010 Equality Act legally protects people from discrimination in the workplace and wider society. It came into force in 2010 and brought together 116 separate pieces of legislation, making it illegal to discriminate based on disability, age, race, sex, gender reassignment, religion or belief, sexual orientation, marriage or civil partnership and pregnancy or maternity. This act makes it illegal to not create inclusive workplaces, and means that you have a legal responsibility to be inclusive in your recruitment, pay, working hours, management of staff and development of company policies. The Equality Act applies to all businesses including consumer services, health services, employment and the Public Sector Equality Duty means that public bodies have a responsibility to prevent discrimination too.
The Equality Act prohibits:
- Direct discrimination – if someone is directly treated unfairly because of a protected characteristic such as age, ability or sex.
- Indirect discrimination – this is when a practice, policy, or rule applied is applied to everyone and has a discriminatory effect on certain people.
- Harassment – behaviour that makes you feel intimidated, humiliated, offended or in a hostile environment.
- Victimisation – this is when you are treated unfairly because you’ve made a complaint about discrimination or given evidence for someone else’s complaint.
The Equality Act also means that as well as employers understanding their responsibilities, workers are empowered to fully understand their rights. They can make claims against employers if they aren’t being inclusive or if they reject valid requests for reasonable adjustments without looking at other ways they can enable the employee to carry out their role. If employers do reject these requests, there must be a business case for doing so. Make sure your business avoids any damaging claims by being inclusive in your business practices, and allowing room for any grievances to be adequately and fairly dealt with.
Reasonable adjustments for employers
Importantly, under the Equality Act it is a legal duty for employers to make reasonable adjustments for Disabled people. This means your business is responsible for making adjustments for Disabled people to access the jobs, education and services they need, as easily as non-Disabled people can. Failure to make these reasonable adjustments to ensure equal access to opportunities is unlawful. To be inclusive, everyone needs to feel fully welcomed, valued and accepted in the organisation without the need to conform and these adjustments help ensure this.
The Equality Act 2010 says that adjustments should be made to remove barriers to accessing things like education, employment, housing, goods and services like shops, and banks, and associations and private clubs like the Scouts and Guides. Disabled people should never have to pay for these adjustments. The reasonable adjustment duty contains three requirements for businesses and organisations:
- Changing the way things are done
If Disabled people are put at a substantial disadvantage, it is the organisation’s responsibility to change the provision, criterion or practice to remove barriers for Disabled people.
- Changing a physical feature
If barriers are formed by the physical features of your workplace, such as steps, signage, entrances and exits, parking areas, lighting, furniture or toilets, it is the employer’s responsibility to make adjustments to remove or avoid these. These adjustments could include things like providing ramps, making doors wider and providing clearer signage or rearranging the workplace to avoid or remove these barriers.
- Providing extra aids or services
This involves providing extra equipment or aids to help Disabled people access or do something. These adjustments are called auxiliary aids and services. For example, extra staff assistance or British Sign Language interpreters.
If a business doesn’t make reasonable adjustments, it is illegal under the Equality Act, and if a person asks the organisation to make changes and they refuse, a discrimination claim can be made. Make sure you avoid this by making anticipatory reasonable adjustments, and not waiting until it is too late. Think in advance about a range of impairments and how you can make your workplace inclusive and accessible to everyone who is accessing your services.
Remember that the duty to provide reasonable adjustments is also ongoing, and should be consistently reviewed and acted upon. If circumstances change for your business, like new premises or a new policy, reasonable adjustments need to be continually considered. It is not a tick box exercise, but an ongoing journey to do the best you can. For more information you can read Age UK’s factsheet on Equality, discrimination and the Public Sector Equality Duty.
Business benefits for inclusion
The legal requirement to be inclusive shouldn’t be the only motive – it is the morally right thing to do and there are a whole range of benefits that come with creating an inclusive workplace:
- With 16 million Disabled people in the UK, being an inclusive employer will attract a diverse range of talent and an inclusive workplace will retain that talent.
- Create a healthier work environment where everyone feels respected and celebrated. This can increase employee engagement, motivation and job satisfaction, as well as lowering staff turnover.
- A diversity of perspectives in the workplace can lead to new ideas, innovation and creativity in the business. In fact, diverse teams are 19% more innovative than others.
- Increase your customer understanding with an inclusive and diverse team who understand and reflect a wide range of consumer needs and preferences.
Creating an inclusive workplace is not just a moral imperative, it is a smart business decision that fosters an environment where everyone can thrive!
Best practice for inclusive and accessible workplaces and culture
To improve your inclusivity, your business might like to consider different areas of the workplace, and make changes as and where you can. For example in recruitment, working hours, pay, leave benefits, training, leadership or development of company policies. Always remember that inclusivity is a journey and there will always be ways you can better your business. Make sure staff have someone they can talk to about any problems, then take feedback proactively and make positive change!
For more information about the practical steps you can take to improve your inclusivity in your workplace, stay tuned for part 2 of this blog series, ‘How do I build an inclusive company culture?’
At Disability.Inc. we can help you to support any Disabled people you engage with through training, accessibility support and consultancy to help you on your inclusion journey. For advice, support, access audits and Disability Equality Training to ensure you meet legal requirements, please get in touch with us, we’d love to hear from you.