As society continues calling attention to the lack of representation for minorities and people with disabilities in the workplace, many companies are creating diversity and inclusion departments within their organizations. While that is a great first step, the creation of a DEI department will not solve the overarching problem – the solution must start much earlier.
The question is – how do you develop a diverse and inclusive environment? The answer seems relatively simple – it starts with having a diverse workforce. However, many organizations are still experiencing issues creating a diverse workplace. At BlazeSports America, our particular focus is adaptive sports and ensuring youth and veterans with physical disabilities and that the quality, diversity and availability of our programs are equal to sports programs open to those without disabilities. As the Executive Director, I have made it my personal mission to build a team who provides perspectives that I do not have, and I have found that is the most important aspect of developing a diverse and inclusive environment.
Cast a Wide Net and Ask Thoughtful Questions
When developing an organizational culture that is inclusive, begin with the hiring process. If you want a diverse company, be willing to interview and hire a diverse skill set. Start by casting a wide net – be sure to bring in a variety of different applicants from all walks of life. This offers a variety of perspectives within your workforce and delivers learning opportunities for all involved.
Additionally, within the interview process, be sure to give the interviewee a voice. Ask candidates thoughtful questions about what they bring to the table to get a better understanding of the point of view they will add to the company. Questions like, what does it mean to you to be a woman of color, what does being in a wheelchair mean for you as an individual. This allows people to come into the workplace feeling seen and feeling that their perspective is already appreciated and encouraged.
By allowing individuals to share their personal perspectives, the organization will benefit greatly as you have personnel providing unique viewpoints to drive the company or organization’s growth.
Minor Accommodations, Major Impact
It is important to understand the requirements that provide a diverse workforce. Again, by asking thoughtful questions you can allow your interviewee to share what they will need from the organization to be able to work there. Particularly, when it comes to physical disabilities, most companies will find that the accommodations that are needed are minor, and the benefits deliver a major impact.
For example, companies may be unsure of the accommodations needed for an individual with a physical disability. It is an opportunity to ask and make simple accommodations that reassure the individual that they are a welcome part of your team. In the long run, that company will gain a unique perspective and a powerful and diverse community of workers. That insight and impact in a corporation is immeasurable.
As an organization that serves those with disabilities, at BlazeSports we know that people with disabilities are often used to working harder and being more flexible than some of their peers. Rather than defining individuals by their disabilities, it is important to recognize the incredible qualities they have developed because of their uniqueness. They have likely overcome obstacles most people cannot imagine, providing them the perseverance and determination any company would want in an employee.
The bottom line is that companies and organizations should be more intentional about starting within the company to build a diverse and inclusive culture because this trickles out to every product or service they may provide. By hiring someone with a different race, gender, background, or disability ensures the audience the company wants to reach is represented within the company.
Surrounding yourself with the right people is the best way to ensure that everyone feels included and seen. Companies and organizations must do more than create departments, it must be adopted by current and future employees in order for the culture itself to feel inclusive. By casting a wide net, asking thoughtful questions and being willing to make small accommodations for people, organizations will thrive with input from all different walks of life. We hope that more organizations will join BlazeSports and others that have led the world in this area to advance the equality, visibility and human rights of people with physical disabilities.
By: Dawn Churi, Executive Director of BlazeSports