Promoting Diversity in the Workplace - Paralympic Legacy

Dr. Purushothaman
December 5, 2013

The London 2012 Paralympics is now upon us, and if it’s anything like the Olympic Games just a month ago, we are in for a real treat. Nearly 5,000 athletes will come together to compete in what’s set to be a truly inspirational 11 days of sport.
London Mayor Boris Johnson believes that the Paralympic Games could change people's attitudes towards disability for ever. Indeed, the Games are a brilliant opportunity to open people’s minds to disabilities and demonstrate what those with impairments are able to achieve across all walks of life, including in the workplace.

Raising awareness

Research recently carried out by Cisco revealed that most people think that the Paralympics is key to raising awareness around disability, inclusion and diversity. Of 1,000 people surveyed, 77% agreed that hosting the Paralympic Games in London will help increase the level of understanding around physical disability in sport.

In addition, 79% of respondents also said that the Paralympics could play an important role in championing diversity of all types including age, race, background, gender, religion, disability and sexuality.

Changing attitudes in the workplace

One of the most important elements in changing people’s attitudes around disability is raising awareness and visibility, plus increasing familiarity in day-to-day life. People often feel apprehensive about things that are not familiar to them, or they have a tendency to make assumptions about what is and isn’t possible.

The Paralympics is a great chance to challenge misconceptions about what is possible. While its main focus is sport, it’s likely the Games will help people to consider what is possible in all areas of daily life, including the workplace.

The role of HR in diversity

When it comes to human resources, HR teams are particularly well-placed to encourage leaders and managers in their businesses to consider the value of diversity as a whole - this could relate to employees, clients and form part of the wider talent agenda.
Additional Cisco research also shows that a staggering 69% of people were not aware of any strategy by their employer to promote diversity in the workplace. This is where HR has a fundamental role to play in ensuring employees are aware of key policies, and communicating these effectively across the business as a whole.

Benefits of diversity and inclusion

In fostering a truly inclusive workforce, organisations can serve their diverse range of customers, drive innovation and take real advantage of the talent they have. It’s fairly obvious that if you have a group of people with different skills and backgrounds coming together, you are likely to get many more ideas and varied opinions.

By bringing together a group of individuals, all with their own unique backgrounds and skill-sets, employers have a responsibility to ensure everyone can be themselves and contribute fully, so that they can reach their full potential - for themselves and for their company. If this does not happen, it’s likely that those who are ‘different’ to the majority will disengage.
Every employee wants to feel valued at work. What happens when this is not the case? Decreased communication, decreased self-esteem, decreased involvement, decreased morale, lower productivity and increased absenteeism.

Employees who feel respected for their talents and differences, and recognised for their strengths, will undoubtedly be more engaged as well as increasing their morale and productivity levels. Research also suggests that employees working in an inclusive and diverse environment are more likely to stay with their current employer. This results in a positive impact on attrition levels for the organisation.

Businesses that embrace people with disabilities often find that they are better able to connect and serve their disabled customers, both through the products they develop and the way they engage with them. Companies who employ disabled staff also tend to have higher morale. ( employment/recruiting-disabled-people)

Embracing individuality & difference

A culture which is both diverse and inclusive enables organisations to really leverage the power of diversity. Encouraging people to bring their ideas and challenge the status quo in a constructive way leads to much higher levels of innovation.
As we look to the Paralympics to ‘inspire a generation’ let’s hope this inspiration pervades all areas of our society.
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