The Value of Diversity and Inclusion

Published in the October 2013 issue of Public Relations Tactics 

Diversity. Disabilities. Inclusion.

You often hear and see these terms used in discussions, in articles and on corporate websites, but what do they really mean and why are they important? Communications professionals thrive on words and digging into the deeper meaning and relevance.

To get to the definition of inclusion, you have to start with diversity.

Merriam-Webster defines diversity as: “the condition of having or being composed of differing elements: variety; especially: the inclusion of different types of people (as people of different races or cultures) in a group or organization.”

Sound reasonable? Yes, of course, but it hasn’t always been that way.

Changing the Law

Less than 60 years ago in the United States, it was legal to discriminate against an employee or job applicant because of race, color, gender, religion, country of origin, age, pregnancy or disabilities. Recruiting, hiring, job assignments and promotions didn’t have to include or go to the most qualified applicants or employees.

Signed into law by President Lyndon B. Johnson and enacted on July 2, 1964, Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 made it illegal to discriminate against someone on the basis of race, color, religion, national origin or sex.

Title VII was landmark legislation, but it didn’t go far enough, so several laws were amended to protect the rights of additional groups of people being discriminated against. These included:
  • The Pregnancy Discrimination Act
  • The Equal Pay Act of 1963 (EPA)
  • The Age Discrimination in Employment Act of 1967 (ADEA)
  • Title I of the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990 (ADA)

Eliminating Barriers

Title I of the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990 prohibits private employers, state and local governments, employment agencies and labor unions from discriminating against qualified individuals with disabilities in job application procedures, hiring, firing, advancement, compensation and job training, as well as other terms, conditions and privileges of employment.

By eliminating barriers to their participation in many aspects of living and working, the passage of the ADA in 1990 was a huge step forward in enabling PwDs (People with Disabilities) to join the workforce with reasonable accommodations and to share their valuable talents and skills.

According to the U.S. Office of Disability Employment Policy (ODEP), accommodations in this context are intended to ensure that qualified individuals with disabilities have employment rights that are equal to — not superior to — those of individuals without disabilities. A reasonable accommodation is a modification to a job, a work environment or the way someone works that allows an individual with a disability to apply for a job, perform essential job functions and enjoy equal access to benefits available to other individuals in the workplace.

Being Aware and Open

When people think about diversity in the workplace, they often focus on creating work environments with ethnic, racial and gender balance that reflects the society we live in today. However, they often overlook PwDs. Considering that about 56.7 million people — 19 percent of the population — have disabilities, according to the U.S. Census Bureau, that is a large group of employees and clients to overlook.

In the Diversity Dimensions article I wrote for the June issue of PR Tactics, “Ability Beyond Disability: Understanding Accessibility,” I discussed disability and accessibility, and mentioned inclusive communications. But inclusion goes deeper into the DNA of our society and of an organization.

There isn’t a legal definition of inclusion, and while it’s a fairly common term in our education system, defining it with a general lens is difficult. Inclusion Network does a good job explaining with this list:
  • Inclusion is about all of us.
  • Inclusion is about learning to live together.
  • Inclusion treasures diversity and builds community.
  • Inclusion is about our abilities and gifts, and how to share them.
  • Inclusion is not just a disability issue.
“People with disabilities represent a critical talent pool that is underserved and underutilized,” said Shirley Davis, director of global diversity and inclusion at the Society for Human Resource Management.

As a communications professional, you can practice and promote inclusion by your awareness of the issues surrounding diversity and by making your communications accessible to PwDs.

In today’s global, social and hyper-connected world, organizations routinely interact with clients, employees and vendors who speak different languages, come from different cultures, have different levels of technological literacy and have widely varying physical and cognitive processing abilities. So, excluding any individual means missing out on important ideas, insight and opportunities.

Quick and Accessible Communication Tips

This is not a comprehensive list, but incorporating all of these actions into your communications can help your messages reach a broader audience:
  • Use plain language.
  • Use respectful language.
  • Include images of people with disabilities in everyday situations.
  • Create accessible PDFs.
  • Caption videos.