Opinion

Stop virtue signalling and develop real diversity and inclusion in your business

- July 28, 2022 3 MIN READ
Young woman with prosthetic arm working at desk on laptop

When it comes to diversity, equity and inclusion in workplaces, sadly, many people with disabilities are overlooked. Author, motivational speaker and disability activist, Lisa Cox, says it’s time to stop the virtue signalling and take a better approach.

The Australian population is composed of many people, and at least 4.4 million have a disability. Not many of them are awarded the same work and career opportunities as the rest of the population. In fact, only around 39.8 per cent of that 4.4 million are employed.

The business world and job markets have marginalised people with disabilities, largely due to assumptions and misunderstandings around the capabilities of people with disabilities, and how varied their skills may be from person to person.

At the same time, there’s a rise in awareness of social equity and with consumers readily aligning themselves with brands that showcase a strong moral code, businesses have taken more interest in hiring candidates from marginalised groups.


Virtue signalling? No thanks …

Diversity and inclusion is supposed to level the playing field and give everyone a fair opportunity. It is not helpful, nor is it authentic, when businesses jump on the bandwagon and hire people with disabilities for the sake of drawing attention to themselves.

While people with disabilities need new opportunities, they need to be hired on merit as a candidate for the job, not so that the business can shine on social media, feel good about hiring the ‘underdog’ and point to their virtue. It’s degrading to use people for this type of gain.

Welcoming employees with disabilities into the workplace is about much more than ticking a box on a form.

hiring people with disabilities is good for business

How do organisations share that they are committed to diversity and inclusion without going for inspo-porn?

There are a number of fantastic brands that are leading the way and finding that balance. There are also some doing a terrible job but rather than name and shame, there are lessons to be learnt from their mistakes.


Here are some suggestions for how to go about it:

  • Focus on why you want to include people with disabilities in your team. Is it genuinely because you see the value of it for the world, for the families and the community of people with disabilities? Be honest and make sure your heart is in the right place.
  • In terms of your actions and your words, focus on the candidate’s skills and not on their limitations or disabilities. Remember, if you wouldn’t say it about a non-disabled employee, then it may not be necessary to say about a disabled employee.
  • Do put out a statement on how important diversity and inclusion is for the health of a business, without naming the people that represent this in your company.
  • Don’t treat candidates with disabilities differently during the recruitment and onboarding phases. Would you put on a song and dance for a non-disabled employee? Give candidates with disabilities the privilege of fitting in.
  • Hire and repeat – do not just do it once. The whole idea is to get the best talent for the job and look more expansively, venturing beyond tried and tested channels.
  • Test and measure workplace productivity to see the value of the employee’s impact on the workplace.
  • Revisit your workplace conditions and ask yourself if the workplace is accommodating for all of its people, not just the one that makes you feel good about your policy. All employees should feel valued.
  • Tweak your marketing materials if need be. Look at your website, social channels and other platforms and be diverse in who you choose to showcase in the brochures. It is not just about people with disability.

For businesses that want to know how to make the switch effectively, without virtue signalling and without being counter-intuitive to the goal, working with a professional can help to combat any unconscious bias that affect the approach and the decisions made.


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Now read this:

‘How are you creating space for other people?’ 4 diversity and inclusion experts on what businesses can do better

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