Can you be ‘a little bit inclusive’?

A few years ago, if I had asked employers about their approach to diversity, most would have said it wasn’t relevant to them. Business is about making profit, delivering products or services and getting the best people for the job. They weren’t interested in inclusion or having a diverse workforce – they just wanted to get the job done.

Thankfully, things have changed. A bit. Now, when I talk to employers about diversity I don’t always receive blank looks. Some will even show genuine enthusiasm, telling me about their programmes to attract BAME (Black, Asian and Minority Ethnic) candidates, and their plans to get more women into board room positions. If I’m really lucky, they will tell me about stuff they are doing around LGBTQ+. This is great – diversity is finally on the agenda!

When I respond with equal enthusiasm, and ask what they are doing around disability, the tone changes. Quite often, the answer is – nothing. The reasons vary, but can include:

“We’re focusing on gender this year”

“Most of our roles are very physical”

“We’d love to, but we just don’t have the budget right now”

“We need to get everything in place first”

“It’s not a priority right now”

and even, on one memorable occasion would you believe, “We employed a disabled person once. Didn’t work out”

There seems to be a belief that you can pick and mix which bits of inclusion you like. Except that’s not really inclusion, is it? You can’t be ‘a little bit inclusive’, any more than you can be ‘a little bit’ pregnant. You either are inclusive, or you aren’t. If you are saying “we’ll be inclusive to this group, but not that group” – that’s not inclusion.

This tongue-in-cheek video would be funny, if it weren’t so true to life!

I’ve been to a number of events which were marketed as being about “diversity” or “inclusion” or even “diversity and inclusion”. And the content has purely been about race and gender. No other characteristics got so much as a mention. I’m not saying that race and gender aren’t important. They are – they are crucial. But let’s not pretend that this is about diversity or inclusion unless we, well, include everyone. And let’s not forget that people from ethnic minorities, women, gay people can be disabled too. Or can become disabled. Most (83%) disabled people acquire their condition while of working age. It’s the one protected characteristic that can happen to anyone, at any time.

So is your organisation avoiding disability inclusion using one of the excuses above? Do you sound like the people in the video?

Because if so, however good your race and gender programmes might be, you aren’t being inclusive unless you include disabled people too.

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