“We all came up on an escalator – that’s accessibility. There’s doors that open automatically – that’s accessibility. Taxis, trains – that’s accessibility. There is all sorts of accessibility built in for us who do not think about ourselves as people who need accessibility.”
Deborah Frances-White, author and comedian
The theme of the IWFM Conference 2021 was ‘Emerging stronger’, with speakers tackling the megatrends affecting the world of work. Comedian and author Deborah Frances-White argued that all employees in a company deserve to feel a sense of belonging.
Inclusion is only part of the battle, Frances-White said, because a person can be included but won’t feel they belong without those who do belong making a concerted effort.
“There are all sorts of ways in which being white, straight and male does give you an advantage, in as much as you are part of the homogenised group. It doesn’t mean you’re going to have an easy time. You may not fit in there. You may have been bullied at school, maybe your dad was mean to you. But those feelings are personal. When you walk through the door, nobody’s looking at you, as if to say, can you do the job because of inherent things about you?”
Cultivate a sense of belonging
There needs to be conscious cultivation of a sense of belonging and inclusion in the workplace for those who may be of different races, genders and orientations by overcoming “tribal prejudices” that often make these groups feel excluded. This needs to be carried out by those who dominate organisations.
Being straight, white and male gives “all sorts of advantages”, Frances-White explained. It’s about being part of the homogenised group in organisations built by people like them. It does not mean being a part of this group will necessarily give you “an easy time” because every individual’s experience is different and diverse. Giving others a sense of inclusion and belonging is not taking away the right for straight, white males to have this too.
“When it affects non-disabled people [during the pandemic] – suddenly all the technology is there, the capability is there and everything is being run this way. It’s actually quite annoying because it was there, [disabled people] knew it was there, and they were asking for it – and they were told it won't be possible to come to this conference remotely. But now suddenly, it is possible to come to this conference remotely!”
When women are offered training it is usually done in a way that implies they are somehow under par and this does not help build self-confidence or self-trust and in turn a sense of belonging. When men are offered training it is sold like “Top Gun Training Academy” and the men feel like they are being singled out because there is some potential in them worth nurturing and this adds to a sense of belonging for them.
Measures taken during the pandemic can be used to make workplaces more accessible for disabled employees. Employees with disabilities have been requesting online events due to accessibility concerns. However, before the pandemic struck, these employees were told this was impossible. But companies have shown they do not take much effort to implement. There are accessibilities for able-bodied people that are taken for granted – the same consideration needs to be given to disabled members of society.
If you see that someone doesn’t feel like they belong, and they don’t speak up in meetings, talk to them one-on-one. Ask questions and when they say something interesting, ask them to repeat it in a relevant meeting. This is one way of nurturing belonging.
- How often do people in positions of power purposefully use their influence to include others?
- How much do others who have the power use that power to consciously change things?
- How much do you feel like inclusion stops at recruitment?