How diverse is your company? I mean, really?
It’s 2019. There is unlikely to be any Canadian Corporation in the top 100 where Diversity isn’t clearly on the radar. Millions are spent on diversity initiatives, companies employ D&I experts, corporations regularly market their diversity. In fact most corporations believe they have solved the issue of diversity. Most companies believe they are following the cutting edge of diversity and inclusion best practices, perhaps even creating these best practices themselves
If you truly believe your company is diverse I would like you to consider this: Only 4% of corporations around the world are diverse. The rest are diversish. A new term for companies who play the game well but fail miserably. For example, check your companies website. Does it indicate that your company is an equal opportunity employer? If so, your company is unlikely to be diverse as Canadians with disabilities typically won’t apply.
As an activist with a significant reach into Corporate Canada I see too often the glossy brochures, the fawning over “world class” diversity initiatives, the complete lack of understanding that diversity, when ingrained in a Corporations culture, pays massive dividends, creates competitive advantages while at the same time placing such companies as leaders in their sector.
96% of companies fall into the Diversish category unless they are one of the few companies who have done nothing at all and yes, it’s difficult to believe but there are a handful of Canadian Multi-nationals who have done nothing beyond the basics of legislative compliance. They know only too well who they are. They will be irrelevant soon enough.
The easy piece of the diversity platform is to ensure women are employed in senior management roles. Most corporations have done so but wage parity is still an issue, women as governors on private sector corporate boards are still a minority with about 15-18% of board seats held by women. As we move along the spectrum of diversity the numbers shrink. People of different cultures, religion and LGBT in recent years have being Included more often but still lack reasonable numbers. For many companies, inclusion of these workers is about box ticking, tokenism perhaps.
Moving further along the spectrum of diversity and the numbers fall off the chart. People with disabilities and workers from First Nations communities. StatsCan recently published updated data showing that 22-24% of Canadians have a a disability. This is astonishing. Only a few years ago we were discussing a figure of 15-16%. We knew well that the number was growing but to go from one on seven to one in four in only ten years is indeed astonishing. The disability community is clearly Canada’s largest minority group, more than double the size of the next largest minority group.
Sadly but expectedly the Labour market participation of Canadians with disabilities remains stubbornly low. Statistics indicate 50-54% of Canadians with disabilities are not working however those stats don’t include anyone with no marketplace attachment. Therefore the more accurate figure is 70%. The exact same number I used when I first spoke publicly about inclusion in 2007.
We can no longer rely only on the benefits of inclusion to companies. The benefits are obvious to any CEO who takes the time to look at this vast untapped Labour force but they usually ignore this as a result of fear, fear of something they know little about. As well, awareness campaigns are losing favor, it’s not working. As well as continuing to discuss how Canadian corporations can and will benefit in so many ways by including skilled, educated, ready and willing workers with disabilities in real jobs for competitive salaries we have to ensure companies understand what a culture of inclusion looks like. We must continue to explain why corporate culture without inclusion is an automatic acceptance into the club known as being Divershish
Don’t be Divershish.
Please click on this short video. This is an amusing take on the Diversish world. Keep in mind though that the responses from those acting as senior business leaders are the exact responses I receive from the majority of real business leaders. Enjoy.
Now that Ontario’s Bill 148, the Employment Standards Act, has entered its 9th month we are starting to see an increase in the number of workers with disabilities finding jobs. As reported previously on the Inclusion Revolution blog, many workers with disabilities lost their jobs when the minimum wage went to $14 per hour.
The loss of jobs hit the retail sector the hardest. It is estimated that 65-70% of workers with intellectual disabilities who work regularly are employed in the retail sector with the largest number working in the QSR (Quick Service Restaurant) sector. Not only were jobs lost, workers who remained had their shifts and hours cut. As well, the next cohort of workers who were ready to start work, were held back from January-April of this year. The cost to the economy of the intellectually challenged community was high.
The good news is that this is changing. However this change, which is benefiting new sectors, has not bounced back for the retail sector. Why? Because there is a lack of leadership in all retail areas.
More people with disabilities are finding work today than ever before. Some agencies such as ODEN (Ontario Disability Employment Network) are reporting that they simply cannot keep up with demand. This is wonderful news indeed. In fact, many of these jobs are in manufacturing, especially food manufacturing where wages are high and benefits are the norm. Compared to the QSR sector, entry-level jobs typically pay minimum wage and benefits are rare.
The list of companies who are building capacity with workers who have a disability is impressive. The work of advocates and activists is clearly paying off. Some of this, of course, is born of necessity as our shrinking labour force means employers have to reach out to normally shunned demographics. The disability community of course being the largest one.
According to Joe Dale, executive director of ODEN, these companies take about 8-10 months from initial contact to the individual’s first working shift. The good news however is that the company then employs 10-12 workers at a time, building capacity right away.
Where does this leave the retail sector?
A lack of inclusion reduces profits. It’s that simple. It reduces innovation, it increases turnover and it increases absenteeism relative to those companies that do have inclusive practices. It reduces sales and it reduces transactions.
Currently there is no leadership in the retail sector. Not only are brands not participating in inclusive practices, associations supporting retail brands lack leadership as well. A quick view of any of their websites will show this to be a fact. Of course they all indicate that they are inclusive and accessible but overall this is lip service.
This means there is a massive opportunity out there for a brand to capitalize on a clear competitive advantage. McDonalds at one time (1993) was going to be the countries star employer for youth with disabilities. The program died before launch when George Cohen, then CEO, left the company.
Who wants this? Would A&W like to add 15% to its bottom line and be the leader in inclusion for the retail sector? What about the GAP? Would they like to capitalize on a sure thing? Enjoy low turnover?
What about Wendy’s? Would they like to see increased traffic, transactions, sales? Or would they rather leave that to Subway and lose precious market share?
What about the Bay, Home Depot, Walmart?
This is a massive opportunity to be Canada’s leader of inclusion in the retail sector
Who wants it?
Regardless of whose politics one follows or supports, there is little doubt that the President of the United States has normalized racism and bigotry.
Not only is there plenty of evidence that the President himself is a bigot and perhaps a white supremacist, it is also clear that President Trump has surrounded himself with like-minded advisors, he has also placed like-minded people in very important positions where their views on race, religion, sexual orientation and much more are, to be charitable, horrible.
What was once considered to be in very poor taste only two years ago is now normal. President Trump has given his supporters license to act boorishly and act with ignorance towards any group they don’t like. It is now normal for a white guest on a talk show to say to a black guest, who’s opinion he doesn’t agree with, “are you out of your cotton picking mind”
Yes, the normalization of such comments. Two years ago that comment could have been a career ender, today it’s ok. It’s ok because the President permits and actively encourages such behavior.
Imagine what would have happened if President Obama or President Bush had called legal asylum seekers animals. The outrage would have been huge but not with President Trump. We have become so accustomed to his dreadful behavior that we internalize it as perfectly normal.
It’s up to all of us to stick up for minority groups who are under siege, living in fear, targets of hate. However there is one vulnerable group that the current regime have attacked who are often unable to defend themselves; people living with disabilities.
The first incident against the disabled was during the election in 2016 when Trump mimicked reporter Serge Kovaleski who has Cerebral Palsy. Trump denied doing so as he so often does but the behaviour was obvious, clear and horrible. The Future Presidents actions should have damaged his election prospects, they didn’t. The normalization of bad behaviour was clearly underway.
In the past week we have another glaring example. This time from Trump political campaigner Corey Lewandowski. Lewandowski upon learning an 8 year old child with Down Syndrome had been separated from her mother used a cartoon Tuba sound that has the same effect as meaning “you lose” or “who cares”
Remember, it didn’t start with gas chambers. It started with politicians dividing the people with an “us vs them”. It started with intolerance and hate speech and when people stopped caring, became desensitized and turned a blind eye. Hate became normalized.
Remember, they came for the disabled first.
America. A once respected world leader, a country that has done so much for the world, now to be remembered for the way it treats its most vulnerable citizens.
December 1st 2015 I was walking towards the House of Parliament in Whitehall, London to listen to a debate on the distribution of funding for Autism programs in the U.K. when my phone rang.
It was Moira Welsh, an investigative journalist from the Toronto Star whom I had been working with for over a year on the subject of Ontario’s Sheltered Workshops. A Sheltered Workshop is a manufacturing or packaging business staffed by “workers” who are intellectually challenged. Moira had written an expose on these locations with the first post published a few days prior to this phone call. The second was published November 30th, the day before the phone call. There were other posts ready to publish.
For years I and many others had fought hard to close down these dreadful entities. Many in society wrongly believe that these places are doing good work, that it is a safe place for these individuals to go to, to socialize and to earn some money.
The reality is very different. First, none of these workers in the 45 or so large workshops in the Province earn anything at all. Perhaps in some cases they may earn a stipend, perhaps a movie pass after a weeks work. Secondly, the only people working at these shops are those with intellectual disabilities, secluded from the rest of society. These workshops are often connected to or associated with social service agencies such as Goodwill, Community Living, the Salvation Army and others therefore they receive funding through the Ministry of Community and Social Services.
Seclusion by design is oppression.
Despite our work to challenge various governments to change course, close down the model and get these individuals into real jobs, nothing happened until that phone call from Moira. Moira says to me, “Mark are you sitting down?” “the Government has caved, the sheltered workshop model is dead”
This happened as a result of the Stars expose.
The Minister responsible for this decision was Helena Jaczek, Minister of Community and Social Services. It was a brave decision indeed because many non-disabled people relied on the sheltered workshops for their income, managing the shops, while parents of adult children working in the shops did not at first understand what would happen to their sons and daughters. There was fear and that of course was understandable.
Sheltered workshops have often been depicted as sophisticated slavery. Very few countries in the world allow them to exist, Canada has been ridiculed by European countries for continuing to use this model. The workshops were originally created after World War II to rehabilitate injured soldiers so they could return to work. In the late 70’s someone came up with the idea that this would work also for those with disabilities. Perhaps it would have been if the idea was a stepping stone to real work for real pay but that rarely happens.
One may wonder how it is possible that workers can earn less than minimum wage in Canada. The Employment Standards Act has a carve out that allows a sheltered workshop to pay by piece work. The shop however determines the production goal and often that goal is beyond the means of even non-disabled workers. In fact even with Bill 148 in place in Ontario with a new minimum wage of $14 per hour, sheltered workshops still can continue to pay workers whatever they wish.
The reason I am writing about this today is because this week a group of parents and support workers from Guelph traveled to Queens Park to protest the closing of the workshops. These parents are desperate however they are misguided. One parent pointed out that her son enjoyed going to work and socializing with others. Of course he does, he knows no other normal, he doesn’t know what he doesn’t know. Social media for the most part supported these parents because as I said previously society doesn’t typically understand the damage these workshops are doing.
The government gave the workshops a soft deadline of five years to transition. From my perspective more than half the workers in a sheltered workshop are employable in real jobs for real pay in the private sector. The Government did not legislate the end of the model and that in my opinion was a mistake because some shops have gone underground, rebranded as gathering spots with no programs or strategies while some have approached private sector donors so that they can continue.
For those who can’t work in real jobs, innovative programs need to be designed. Life skills programs in an inclusive setting where these individuals are interacting every day with people who are not disabled.
People with intellectual disabilities reach their full potential in the workplace while working with those without disabilities. They mimic or try to be like those around them. If they are in a workshop with other people like them, the set the bar extremely low, in a real job they try to emulate those who are so called typically normal. Only then can a worker with an intellectual disability be the best they can be.
Although I certainly feel the frustration and fear of the families who traveled to Queens Park this week, a return to this dreadful model must never happen. The transition is under way, it’s not easy but it is entirely necessary so that thousands of Ontarian’s with intellectual disabilities can live a life where they are independent, supporting themselves and living life to its fullest. Anything less is unacceptable.
Be Direct, Be Daring, Be Bold