Compassion is often the main driving force behind workplace disability inclusion, but a social entrepreneur points out that disability inclusion is more than just a compassionate practice, and if implemented properly it can have a transformative effect at the workplace and in society.
“Compassion is not a bad thing in itself; it actually motivates people to do something to help those in need,” Francis Ngai, Founder and CEO of Social Ventures Hong Kong (SVhk), explains. “The problem is if compassion is the only driving force behind inclusion practices over an extended period of time, it suggests arrogance and a top-down mentality because Diversity & Inclusion (D&I) isn’t seen as a two-way street to create shared values or build something better together.”
Instead, we can pivot to a narrative that focuses on cultivating empathy. The objective then becomes creating a caring society where disability will no longer be seen as an obstacle, but as a motivation to live a meaningful life.
“The key essence of empathy is that both parties are treated on an equal basis. It requires us to open our hearts and minds to understand the issues faced by the other side. In the end, it is about promoting genuine communication and breaking up barriers to equal participation,” Carlos Yap, SVhk’s assistant manager (innovation and incubation), says.
It is not uncommon for people to associate D&I with corporate policies and large corporations, and some might even question why small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) should bother with D&I. “We are a big company – well, we are big in our hearts,” Ngai replies.
Humour aside, Ngai’s answer actually encapsulates why implementing D&I may be less difficult for SMEs. According to Ngai, SMEs are agile and not encumbered by policies. This means SMEs can promote D&I at the workplace in no time – all it takes is to get the bosses and senior management on the side.
“For SMEs, authentic leadership is a key essence in the successful implementation of D&I,” Ngai explains. “It helps cultivate an empathetic culture at the workplace where stakeholders learn how to deal with issues in an honest manner. In the end, this helps eradicate discrimination and barriers to equal participation.”
Apart from authentic leadership, it is essential for SME owners to realise that D&I is as much as helping employers to tap into a rich talent pool. “Quite often SME owners have apprehension about how to deal with underperforming disabled employees,” Walter Tsui, Founder of CareER, says. “And this apprehension leads to doubts about the value of D&I and in some way entrenches some prejudicial thoughts.”
As an SME owner, Ngai acknowledges the apprehension but says that the beauty of an SME is the ability to adapt easily. “Instead of being constrained by a job description, we decided to look at what a particular disabled candidate or employee can offer and then work around the issues.”
“Our commitment to D&I has led us to think outside the box or to innovate. This way we are able to harness the full power of D&I and achieve a win-win situation.”
Unlike large corporations that may be driven by established D&I policies, SMEs have more room to adopt a targeted approach and goal-oriented frameworks. The lack of a dedicated policy can be compensated by the support provided by CareER, as there are tools and workshops to help SMEs to embark on the D&I journey more smoothly.
“The support provided by CareER is multi-faceted. For example, we co-hosted a workshop under the CareER Jockey Club Thriving Grass Career Development Program this year where our staff members and CareER members were able to interact in a fun and educational way. Through this co-learning process, we were able to gain a better and more personal understanding about D&I practices, and their relevance to our work,” Tiffany Fung, SVhk’s impact producer, remarks.
For Ngai, CareER is playing a key role in helping SMEs to understand that D&I matters to them, too. Also, support from stakeholders, such as The Hong Kong Jockey Club Charities Trust, can help CareER scale up the effort. If one day disability is no longer seen as an issue in finding a job, but rather, a positive attribute and unique asset, that means society is able to unleash the power of its future talent.
CareER provides career development and campus supports for higher educated persons with disabilities and SEN, meanwhile, promotes equal opportunities and disabilities inclusion at the workplace.
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The CareER Jockey Club Thriving Grass Career Development Program is tailored for higher educated persons with disabilities and Special Educational Needs (SEN). During the program, participants will be given training opportunities to build self-confidence, improve personal competence, as well as develop leadership and communication skills. For more information, please visit: https://career.org.hk/key-program/
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