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Moving beyond CSR: We're people, not plastic bags

05 Apr 2022

Moving beyond CSR: We're people, not plastic bags

On 30th March 2022, we gathered business leaders and funders to showcase creative responses to Equality Diversity and Inclusion. We are aware from discussions with our business members that Equality Diversity and Inclusion is a top priority for many. Read more about our EDI event here Creative Approaches to EDI, in partnership with UU B... (artsandbusinessni.org.uk)

We know that some of our businesses are already embracing EDI initiatives within their workplaces - we are also aware that some organisations may be feeling a little nervous about addressing this important topic, afraid that they are not using the correct language or worried about causing offence.

We gathered a brilliant array of speakers to help us to start the conversation and to gain confidence around addressing EDI. The event was co-hosted by the formidable Sean Fitzsimons, Disability Policy Professional & Activist and Project Lead for Harkin International Disability Employment Summit www.harkinbelfast.com.

On the day Sean issued a strong challenge in relation to how societal attitudes needs to change in relation to disability.

Read his associated blog below:

Disability & Organisational EDI: The Journey from well-meaning warm and fuzzy to strategic business priority and advantage. 

The last two years have presented untold challenges to the world. The need for individuals, communities, and business to flex and adapt has never been greater. The shaking off of ‘old’ ways of working has been roundly applauded by many; for others however these times of uncertainty are filled with anxiety, dread and deteriorating mental and physical health.

I would strongly argue it is, in many circumstances, rather ironically perhaps, the global community that was hit hardest by Covid that are best suited to rising to the new challenges of working the world out from under it. From remote and flexible working to the wider strategic thinking needed within Governments, NGOS and businesses globally to interpret the current and future needs of a rapidly re-organised world.

The current plasticity of business systems and structures that were once set in stone is being watched with a mixture of frustration, but also great hope and trepidation by a community who were told for years ‘it simply couldn’t be done’. The norms of large open plan office spaces, Monday to Friday (and beyond) 9-5 fixed working patterns, long energy sapping commutes, no parking, dangerous presenteeism and inaccessible buildings are seemingly gone.

While the toing and froing will likely continue for some years to come, we can say with some certainty – change experienced to date and more is here to stay. We must also be cognisant of the fact while we have the enormous privilege of living freely in the developed world, this is in sharp contrast to those disabled people caught in warzones, famines and decades of structural social and economic deprivation around the globe.  Our employment experiences as disabled people, much like the composition of the community itself are not homogenous. Economic empowerment is however a universal goal accepted as central to the advancement of any global citizens quality of life.  

While as ever, there are very notable exceptions, the majority of global businesses have until very recent years failed to understand the benefit of and need for disabled employees across all levels of their workforce. Furthermore, at Board and director level – the abject failure to reflect between 15-20% of the global population has undoubtedly impeded business growth and success.

Giving priority to addressing the marked absence of disabled people from organisations, is thankfully increasing at pace.  While the reasons for this are undoubtedly complex and myriad, first and foremost are the decades of tireless advocacy of those disabled activists and professionals who have served presidents and been presidents/ leaders/ community organisers in their own right.

Their work has been relentless, shaping national policy the world over, culminating in the right to work being enshrined at the highest level with the UNCRPD. We need to ensure that promising shoots of progress at the macro level are not merely a change in spite of apathy, a sudden commercial fetishization or disability being promoted to temporary cause celebre/ du jour (followed with subsequent fall from grace when the winds change). The rights of one single ‘group’ should never hog the EDI stage. Indeed, if we are to truly be advocates of meaningfully representing true intersectionality – disabled people merely want their space and their identity (in all its facets) recognised, protected and promoted. In doing this, organisation can play a critical role in providing not only opportunity to gain, retain, progress in employment but also shape how our society looks, operates and interacts with the disabled community.

Being able to access and influence those levers of power and direction offers a tantalising opportunity for millions to move beyond the oppression, socio-economic disadvantage, frustration, burn out, rights denial and ‘othering’ which has blighted them for centuries.

Sounds like an admirable thing to support, altruistic and something aligned with glossy corporate mission and values statements the world over. Simple? Perhaps, but the need for constant ongoing work to challenge the framing of disability inclusion/ engagement in corporate settings beyond the headspace of CSR, (we’re people, not plastic bags) – is testament to the mountainous terrain ahead as well as below.

Make no mistake, while the advantages to our community from the corporate world turning the page, would undoubtedly benefit us well beyond economic mobilisation – it is neither an charity to be received or handed down to have one’s right to work realised.

Many global businesses are now thankfully tuning into the undeniable advantage of having d/Deaf, disabled and neurodiverse minds present around every table. Let’s continue that momentum and also ensure that those SME’s (many of whom have the agility and ingenuity to be ahead of the curve already) continue to lead and model best practice.

Wondering where to start?

Recognise, respect and meaningfully engage with our community. Make space where we are currently not to be seen and heard – pass the mic and listen. Worried about starting the conversation? What better than the arts to demystify and unite.  I guarantee you, we’ll all win.

 

Sean Fitzsimons

Disability Policy Professional & Activist and Project Lead on Harkin International Disability Employment Summit www.harkinbelfast.com 

M:07730566533 | T:@ballyaltonboy  

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Arts & Business NI is generously supported by The Arts Council of Northern Ireland.