Creating inclusive workplaces with Change 100

Cara Jones, Change 100 Intern

Cara is one of our Change 100 interns. She tells us about what she's gained from the experience.

A collection of illustrations and words
Illustration by Jenny Leonard

While working in a care home during lockdown after being made redundant, I found out that I had been accepted onto the Change 100 Programme, Change 100 aims to improve career prospects for disabled students and graduates  It also encourages employers to adapt their workplace to become more inclusive.

As well as getting an internship, you also receive mentoring and can take part in a 6-month Professional Development programme. In June with Britain, we were just coming out of lockdown, so the Professional Development sessions were set to be held virtually. Chatting with other participants over the Zoom chat box seemed strange at first. I hadn't had a lot of contact with other disabled people, so it was eye-opening to find out how universal some of my experiences with disability were.  These experiences were not, as I had believed, just a result of my lack of effort.

My employment experience

Like many disabled people, I have struggled in education and employment. Job interviews were also a problem. It was nerve-wracking knowing that there was a significant chance that my application would be rejected based on my disability. A quarter of employers admitting they would be less likely to employ someone who is disabled.

Alongside, working with my mentor Christina and learning about disability rights through the professional development sessions has given me the confidence to stop belittling my disability.  I used to go to great lengths to mask my mental health problems and the fact I am autistic. I now plan on disclosing my disability during recruitment in the future.

Change 100 graduation event

Earlier this month I attended Change 100’s graduation event. The event was attended by interns both past and present, as well as partner employers. My highlight was the panel discussion. The panellists shared their thoughts on recent advancements in disability rights, and what still remains to be done. The panel included Shahana Ramsden, Deputy Director of Workforce Transformation for NHS England and NHS Improvement South East, Victoria Passant along with two current 2020 participants.

Panellist Morghan Nunn-Menson was a Change 100 intern at Royal Berkshire Fire and Rescue. He now works there as a Business Support Assistant. Describing himself as a “strong advocate for diversity and inclusion in all areas of society, including employment…As a mixed-race person I may have a different perspective to offer, I felt it was important to bring up the subject of intersectionality and structural issues such as the profit motive vs for the public good.”

Another member of this year’s cohort was Theo Scofield. Theo told us how he wanted to be a panellist being because “usually I have far fewer opportunities to talk about disability than to think about being disabled”. This is particularly true in terms of discussing how inclusion for disabled people can be improved.

The entire event was live scribed by illustrator Jenny Leonard. She captured the changes that have, and need to take place in terms of inclusive workplaces for disabled people. Specialising in collaborative works and public art, Leonard makes work with a purpose.  She described her live scribing as “being my passport for adventure and access into rooms (even virtual ones!) that I wouldn’t usually be attending.”

Thought-provoking insights

I found the panellists’ answers, particularly thought-provoking. In particular when answering what there is still left to achieve for disability rights.  Shahana raised the importance of intersectionality. Intersectionality is when a person is affected by discrimination against more than one part of their identity.  It must be considered when fighting discrimination.

Morghan also mentioned the recent increase in a public backlash in response to progress in inclusion and human rights. He suggested we should humanise intersectionality as something we all experience. All our identities are made up of many different parts. This could help people understand that intersectionality is necessary rather than a symptom of an overly sensitive young generation. This is important considering we know discrimination is so deeply ingrained within society. People who are perceived as different can be negatively affected in ways that are often unintentional.

Theo mentioned how disability awareness is usually focused on what a disabled person can’t do, rather than considering what they can do. This can lead to disabled traits being viewed as ‘wrong’ and something that needs to be fixed, rather than just different. This view can seep into the workplace during recruitment assessments like psychometric testing. Employers could unintentionally see neurodiverse traits as undesirable. This can result in disabled applicants being rejected.

Increased awareness

One positive change the panel noticed is that the public is gaining more awareness of disabilities and mental health. Victoria explained that people applying to Change 100 are now more informed about their rights in the workplace. They’re also more aware of what constitutes discrimination. She also highlighted how many employers are starting to understand the benefits of an inclusive workplace.

I found that taking part in the Change 100 programme increased my confidence. Particularly in disclosing my disability to employers and requesting workplace adjustments. Other participants also reported feeling more confident about their disability They also said they were more informed about their rights as a disabled person.

I would really encourage businesses to consider the benefits of bringing inclusivity in all its forms into their workplace.  Not only will a workforce with a variety of life experiences be able to offer new skills, but it can also bring about more innovative company culture. In a rapidly changing world with an uncertain future, the workplace needs to change with it. If not, it fears getting left behind.

This blog was edited with support from Leonard Cheshire.