Last reviewed: 22 June 2022
- An organisation’s culture is how people in the organisation act, how they think, and how they make their colleagues feel. It is also embedded in the policies and practices of the workforce.
- An inclusive culture is one where disability is talked about openly and positively, and where people can ask for help or for things to be done differently when needed.
- Disabled people will be deterred from applying by an un-inclusive culture – and an un-inclusive culture will make it harder to implement inclusive recruitment practices.
- You need buy-in from senior leadership to create an inclusive culture – but you also need to implement concrete steps in policies and practices.
What is culture?
Culture can be hard to define – it includes how people think, act and feel in the organisation. An inclusive culture is one where people feel included in their teams and in the organisation’s strategy, and correspondingly, where everyone acts in a way that is inclusive to their colleagues.
This includes policies and practices, but it goes beyond it. The saying goes that culture eats strategy for breakfast – meaning, you can implement processes to improve inclusion, but without senior management buy-in and proper implementation from managers, these steps will fall short of the intention behind them.
An organisation has an extensive mental health and wellbeing programme. The wellbeing pages encourage people to use the mindfulness apps available and to talk about how they are feeling with their manager and colleagues, particularly if they are feeling overwhelmed or struggling with workloads or out of work issues, Stacey notices, however, that her manager looks rather stressed.
When Stacey raises this her manager just says “everyone’s stressed, it goes with the job!” Stacey often receives emails from her manager late at night and can see that some have been sent by senior management to her manager very late at night and at weekends. She rapidly realises that the culture of the organisation is to “always be on” and responsive. She thinks: Perhaps this is why it has the mindfulness apps.
How does culture relate to recruitment?
Culture is relevant to recruitment in a number of ways:
- An inclusive culture will attract disabled applicants and candidates
- An inclusive culture will lead to jobs being designed in an inclusive way – with consideration of the different ways things can be done and flexibility built in wherever possible
- Hiring managers and other colleagues will think about job design in a way that will be more likely to create inclusive jobs and attract the widest possible pool of talent
- An inclusive culture means hiring managers and recruitment processes will assess fairly the abilities of disabled applicants and candidates.
People can quickly gauge the culture of an organisation. Disabled candidates coming to interview will be able to tell whether the culture is one where they will be included. It may even be apparent from the job advert they read before deciding whether to apply – job adverts written using un-inclusive language, or for a job that was not designed inclusively will deter disabled people from applying as they can be indicative of a culture that does not value inclusion.
Equally, an inclusive culture means that disabled applicants and candidates are made to feel welcomed reflexively. Hiring managers know instinctively and through practice to do the basics like inviting applicants to ask for adjustments and making sure venues for interview and assessment are accessible. In this context, a disabled candidate’s abilities are much more likely to be apparent, and your recruitment processes can work to find the candidate who is genuinely best for the role.
Lois Barker – Why an inclusive culture matters to me
Lois Barker, a disabled graduate, spoke at our 2023 Annual Conference about why she looks for clues about a workplace culture when deciding what jobs to apply for, and why an inclusive culture is vital to her.
How to create an inclusive culture
There is no one-size-fits-all solution to creating an inclusive culture. An approach that suits your organisation will need to be tailored to the current culture and needs of your organisation. Below we set out a few key areas to examine and work on.
Culture comes from the top down, so senior leadership buy-in is crucial. You can start by appointing a senior disability champion to talk visibly about their lived experience of disability.
Disabled applicants could be invited to contact the senior champion with any questions or concerns they have about the recruitment process.
Managers can make or break efforts to create an inclusive culture, as your candidates and new starters will largely be interacting with the organisation through them.
Give people managers training on disability inclusion, so they know how they can support disabled members of their team. Make sure managers are well-equipped to maximise the potential of any disabled new starter that joins their team. For example, they should know:
- How to have sensitive conversations with their team members about their performance and any support they need
- How to identify the need for adjustments and talk to their team members about this
- Setting realistic goals for their team members and not overloading them with too much work or unrealistically challenging objectives
- What language to use when talking about disability
- How to set a good example of inclusive behaviour for their team – such as not replying to emails out of working hours and being open about their mental health
- What the organisation’s policies and processes say about agreeing and implementing adjustments quickly
- Any other sources of support available for their disabled team members.
Our People Manager Toolkit has more advice and information for People Managers.
Induction and training
To get the best from your employees, they must have the tools they need to perform at their best. Induction is a key part of this – good inductions give new starters the skills and knowledge they need to start doing the job. They may also need training to provide them with any extra skills and knowledge.
An inclusive culture seeks to set the scene for new starters by giving them the tools they need to get started in the role. An inclusive culture also seeks to find opportunities for developing employees’ skills and knowledge through training and development.
Processes and practices
Embed the principles of inclusion in your organisation’s processes and practices.
- Is there a process that candidates can use to ask for adjustments, which is clearly advertised and familiar to hiring managers?
- Is there a policy of regularly reviewing the accessibility of interview and assessment venues against set criteria?
- Is it clear to new starters how to ask for adjustments? Is this process straightforward to use and as swift as possible?
Explore our Getting Started Toolkit for more areas where policies and practices can be made more inclusive.
© This resource and the information therein are subject to copyright and remain the property of the Business Disability Forum. It is for reference only and must not be copied or distributed without prior permission.
If you require this resource in a different format, contact firstname.lastname@example.org.