By Laura Kyrke-Smith – Executive Director International Rescue Committee -UK
With the Global Disability Summit around the corner, I thought I’d start the year reflecting on my organisation, the International Rescue Committee (IRC)-UK’s journey towards inclusion of persons with disabilities and what we have achieved and learnt along the way.
In February 2020, the IRC-UK committed to delivering a Diversity & Inclusion plan. Consultations with staff highlighted the importance of tackling unconscious bias and the lack of diversity in the organization. This was not necessarily a new agenda for the IRC-UK who previously ran successful unconscious bias trainings (with a focus on gender and race) in 2018 and 2019. But historically the approach had been partial and therefore ensuring a diverse and inclusive workforce and workplace had not been prioritized enough. The Black Lives Matters movement and killing of George Floyd in the US, led us to further recognize the existence of structural discrimination, barriers to entry/accessing opportunities and cognitive bias caused by and resulting in the overrepresentation of certain groups and a lack of proportional representation at all levels of others such persons with disabilities.
One of our first priorities was to improve our data collection and reporting mechanisms. Until we have the data, it is difficult to know if our organization is inclusive. Although data on disability was collected as part of the onboarding process, it was patchy and not regularly reported on. IRC-UK has now committed to review how we are collecting disability data as well as analyze and publish the data on an annual basis for greater accountability. This will provide valuable information to ensure accurate representation, and explore turnover rates, grievances, grade and pay gap.
Another issue identified as part of this process was the lack of accessibility of the IRC-UK workplace and ways of working. IRC-UK therefore decided to embarked on the journey to become a disability inclusive employer by joining the Disability Confident employer scheme, an initiative that encourages employers to improve how they recruit, retain and develop staff with disabilities. Upon receiving the level 1 accreditation, we have made several changes to become more disability inclusive in our recruitment process.
We now advertise our jobs with organizations that work directly with candidates with disabilities, such as SCOPE. Through this we receive more diverse applications, but we know that’s not enough. To make the recruitment process more accessible, we also accept applications in any format, such as a video or paper application. Reasonable accommodations are provided throughout the recruitment process; for instance, we have been providing candidates with extra time to complete a test.
We are also working to provide an environment that is inclusive and accessible for all staff. We support employees with disabilities by listening to their needs and adjusting accordingly. We do this by meeting with staff with disabilities, as early and frequently as possible, to understand what support is needed for them to fulfil their job and what equipment or changes may be required. This includes providing staff with assistive technology to perform their job and/or offering occupational health services.
We are proud of the progress we have made towards a more inclusive culture; however, we know there is more to be done and our commitments at the upcoming Global Disability Summit will reflect that. In the UK, we will be working towards level 2 accreditation of the Disability Confident employer scheme by developing relationships with inclusive recruitment agencies and Organizations of Persons with Disabilities (OPD). The European Disability Forum (EDF) delivered two sessions for all IRC-UK staff on ‘understanding the rights-based approach of disability’ and ‘inclusion of persons with disabilities in the workplace’. A third session is planned for March 2022 on inclusive communication. One of the key themes of the Global Disability Summit is about strengthening engagement of OPD and we, at the IRC-UK, commit to include persons with disabilities in the strategic thinking of IRC-UK to support meaningful change and a truly inclusive culture. We look forward to also speak at the High-Level European Disability Summit on international cooperation, where we will be showcasing our first steps as well as our inclusive work on refugees in Greece and Italy!