Image: from BBC news at bbc.co.uk/news
What a joy it was to see EastEnders star Rose Ayling-Ellis and her partner Giovanni Pernice not only lift this year’s Strictly Come Dancing crown but do so in a way that challenged assumptions about deaf people and dancing, writes IOSH President Louise Hosking.
The way prime-time TV audiences came to admire the special type of creativity Rose Ayling-Ellis brought to Strictly as a deaf dancer will have opened millions of minds to the potential offered by those of us living with disabilities. Rather than seek sympathy for her deafness, Rose proudly told the viewers how “it’s a joy to be deaf”, then left the rest to her beautiful dance talent.
To me, this year’s Strictly gave us a stirring demonstration of inclusion. Imagine this transplanted into the workplace and you have a situation where differences are valued and used to help workers reach their potential and thrive. This is also about diversity where, again, difference is recognised and celebrated. Diversity in the workplace acknowledges the benefit of having a range of perspectives when problem-solving.
The world of work has so much to learn from Rose and Giovanni. Inclusive, diverse workplaces have already become vital to the sustainability of businesses and economies and they’re going to become more so. Just as Rose helped us see dance in a new light, so we all benefit when we embrace and value the diversity of thoughts, ideas and ways of working that people from different backgrounds, experiences and identities bring to a business or organisation.
People want to give their best
From a bottom-line perspective, if businesses are to be competitive, everyone who works for them will need to be able to make their best contribution. Yet the spin-offs to this will continue because people want to work for employers with good employment practices, including good job design and flexible working. This is key to recruitment and skills retention because people want to give their best and they want to feel valued at work. Something else to be factored in, of course, is the strong contribution these good working practices make to an organisation’s image and corporate reputation.
My profession, occupational safety and health, is a key enabler in creating safe work environments where all can thrive, that put people first. As chair of the OSH profession’s leading world membership body, the Institution of Occupational Safety and Health (IOSH), I’d recommend you look at our new social sustainability campaign, Catch the Wave.
One of our key partners at IOSH is the International Labour Organization (ILO), the UN agency for the world of work, which has identified 1 billion people worldwide with disabilities (that’s 15% of the world population), with 80 percent of them being of working age. The ILO reports that employment rates in this global community remain low and that many barriers to work still exist.
The ILO, whose Global Business and Disability Network works for the benefit of businesses, people with disabilities, economies and communities worldwide, points out how employing people with disabilities makes good business sense. It also states that while adjustments to the working environment are sometimes needed, these adjustments cost nothing in well over half of cases. The UN body also reports how employers of disabled workers consistently claim that people with disabilities perform on a par or better than their non-disabled peers when it comes to productivity and attendance.
I fully support the ILO when it suggests that:
- Businesses should focus on skills rather than stereotypes and so access a still untapped pool of talent
- Diverse experience brings different approaches to problem-solving
- Higher levels of loyalty and enthusiasm are generated when workers feel included
- Customers value companies that demonstrate a real commitment to inclusion.
To me, it’s time for wider employer health, safety and wellbeing strategies that are geared towards a human-centred, worker-friendly work environment, one that’s tailored to all workers’ needs and abilities. It’s also time employers developed more inclusive and supportive workplace cultures and managerial styles that not only support people living with disabilities to work (sometimes through rehabilitation and return-to-work programmes) but to go on and flourish.
Rose said of her unforgettable TV dance experience: “I’ve become more than I’ve ever been because of Strictly.” Let’s hope more disabled workers can begin to think similarly of their time in the workplace.