One of the greatest challenges facing organizations today is how to instill a culture of diversity, equity, inclusion and belonging that is innovative and sustainable for the long-term. Coined by many thought-leaders as the “challenge we have yet to find a solution for,” many organizations are diving deep to break down silos and engrained biases and solve this challenge at individual and systemic levels. However, even as we are doing this work, there is a diverse community often left out of these conversations: People with intellectual and developmental disabilities (IDDs). In fact, a recent Skillsoft survey found that while 88% of respondents said that their organization has a DEI policy in place, less than half believe it includes people with IDDs.

People with IDDs continue to face a persistent and unique set of challenges when attempting to enter the workforce. Ian Harper, an athlete from Special Olympics Great Britain and a Sargent Shriver International Global Messenger shared, “After I left school, I applied for thousands and thousands of jobs, but nobody wanted to know about my disability. It made me feel flat, excluded, and depressed. I was not a priority. People with intellectual disabilities are typically at the bottom of the list of hiring priorities, which results in too many people being forgotten and left out.”

To put it simply, people with IDDs are standing outside organizations’ doors, knocking to be considered for roles that they’re more than capable of handling, but nobody is answering.

With nearly every industry facing rampant labor shortages and millions of prospective employees with disabilities seeking work, the time is now to evolve DEI strategies and build truly inclusive cultures. Here are three action-oriented strategies for doing just that.

Leverage Digitization to Rethink Recruitment and Accessibility

The permanent rise in remote and hybrid work has been accompanied with a variety of challenges and opportunities for the talent market. On one hand, the physical office spaces we were accustomed to have taken a backseat to virtual conference rooms. On the other, remote work has added a significant layer of convenience by reducing the physical toll of a long commute, while also bringing new technology to the forefront of our day-to-day workflows.

Combined, these changes to how we work have been welcomed transformations for individuals with IDDs that are limited in their ability to travel or are faced with hearing and/or vision challenges. Additionally, this has allowed recruitment and human resources (HR) teams to tap into a significantly larger talent pool, providing a golden opportunity to increase workforce diversity.

As digitization escalates, it is important to have open and honest conversations with candidates and employees who are identified as having IDDs to get an assessment and understanding of their accessibility and leadership needs. Do not assume that virtual tasks are equal in ease of access and start having career conversations from day one. Career growth and upward mobility are important to people with IDDs as much as for anyone else.

Instill a Role-based Approach to Inclusivity

Once the strategy has been set to make a more concentrated effort to bring people with IDDs into the organization, it’s important to think through what the environment they’ll be coming into looks like. Building an inclusive work environment requires buy-in from all employees and for them to have a mindset of constant curiosity, continuous growth and development. Additionally, it’s critical that all team members understand and acknowledge their role in this effort. Ultimately, this starts with generating awareness, which can then lead to action.

Creating awareness of what goes into an inclusive culture through education helps employees better understand the disparities faced by people with intellectual and developmental disabilities and offers guidance on how organizations and individuals themselves can support this mission. Provide them with access to training and development courses that present a diverse set of perspectives. Ensure they shine a light on the experiences of underrepresented groups by creating safe spaces for storytelling, as stories create connection, inspire and shift perspectives.

While creating awareness through learning and education is the first step, it can’t stop there. True inclusion is a commitment to action — a commitment to acquiring, developing and advancing talent in organizations without exceptions.

Create Equitable Career Advancement and Mentorship Opportunities

The reality is that the skills and abilities people with IDDs possess are routinely underestimated and undervalued, and they are often unable to achieve their true potential. At the end of the day, everyone wants to learn and grow, and providing equal opportunities when it comes to training, mentoring and career advancement is paramount.

Just like any other employee, pair individuals with IDDs with a mentor who can work with them to establish objectives, understand their needs amidst the changing nature of work and more. Establish processes for inclusive feedback to ensure that both sides are empowered to share positive experiences and areas for improvement.

Furthermore, promote and support learning opportunities for people with intellectual disabilities to learn skills that prepare and enable them to enhance their contributions to communities and workplaces. Work together to create learning environments that are inclusive and conducive of their needs and allow them to demonstrate and contribute their skills and talents in visible ways with their team members. And, always foster a culture of curiosity and encourage everyone to question status quo to ensure their voices and feedback are heard and factored into the workplace dynamics.

When setting these goals and aspirations, remember that this should be done with people versus for them. Understanding when to press pause and truly listen, observe, ask questions, and reflect will work wonders in providing a truly inclusive, respectful and optimal experience for all employees.

Everyone has a role to play in building an inclusive organizational culture. Leverage the tips outlined in this article to get started.

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