Disability Inclusion in the Retail Sector

Within the context of the South African Labour legislation, and it’s attempts to encourage a more diverse working population, there is no doubt that Disability inclusion in the workplace has become rather a hot topic amongst Human Resource Practitioners tasked to drive this process.

However the principal motivating factor seems to be driven by compliance rather than by a belief that incorporating disability in all diversity and inclusion practices impacts positively the company’s bottom line. Within the retail sector, this is particularly true, as not only does it allow for a greater understanding of the needs of this part of our population as customers, and create positive brand recognition, but it makes good business sense if one considers the cost benefits of recruiting and retaining the best talent regardless of disability.

A common concern amongst retail sector employers is the conditions and nature of work common to the environment. Whilst there are undoubtedly some challenges presented when implementing inclusion strategies, it is possible to overcome these hurdles with greater awareness and the application of creative practices. Common denominators to success include Leadership commitment, Management accountability, and employee empowerment.

Leadership commitment, like any transformation process, involves a commitment to a well-considered inclusion strategy. It also includes ensuring that the necessary resources are available to promote a disability inclusive culture, including training, reasonable accommodation measures, facilities planning, empowerment programs and communication strategies which promote the normalization of disability as just another form of diversity. Full inclusion of employees with a disability is only sustainable achieved through a multi-dimensional approach to endure equal treatment in all aspects of employment.

Management accountability involves creating an empowered management team who understand disability integration from both a legal and a business value-add perspective, and who are supported in terms of ensuring that performance standards are maintained through empowerment, development and affective reasonable accommodation measures. These include increasing the number of individuals with a disability employed in all positions – professional, administrative, technical, clerical, and other categories, and providing opportunities for promotion of employees with a disability through training, career development, and leadership programs. Bringing employees with a disability into the organization at entry level positions is one avenue for achieving demographic representation (important for BBBEE Scorecards and reporting), however it is not the only avenue, nor is it sustainable from a retention perspective. Management also have the important role of applying flexibility to processes and procedures on an individual basis for each employee with a disability – as there exists no ‘one size fits all’ model for disability integration.

Leadership commitment, like any transformation process, involves a commitment to a well-considered inclusion strategy …

Employee empowerment programs become key to retention when employing people with a disability within the retail sector. Supporting employees with a disability, where necessary, in terms of training on how to manage their disability within the workplace should form part of the company’s induction process. This is particularly relevant to new entrants to work, or to those employees who have acquired a disability and are returning to the workplace. Managing one’s disability in a typical retail environment may include managing customer ignorance, colleague inquisitiveness, supervisor inflexibility, shift work logistics, work function barriers and so forth which can be handled professionally and efficiently when one knows how.

Case Study
Putting all the above theory into practice, I would like to cite a case which I encountered which illustrates the impact that an effective disability integration process can have on a business. Working with a particular retail company, I had been called in to sensitize the management and team around disability as part of a placement of an employee with epilepsy which we had made. A patron of the particular store in which this training had taken place was a lady who herself had epilepsy. On one of her shopping trips to the store, she had an epileptic seizure. The shop floor staff, having been trained on how to manage such a situation which may have occurred with their colleague, moved in to assist the lady in a calm and competent manner. Little fuss was made, she was placed in a suitable recovery position, and she was well cared for until the seizure had subsided. The employees then called a family member on her behalf, escorted her to their car, and reassured her with their obvious understanding of epilepsy. A few days later, the customer wrote a letter of commendation in the local newspaper on the professionalism of the store and its employees. She and her family and circle of friends, which together form a fairly impressive network of influence, remain loyal to the store and have become quite the brand ambassadors. When one considers that approximately 20% of the consumer population are directly influenced by disability inclusive culture from an employee perspective translates into a disability inclusive culture from a customer service perspective. And in retails – this could just give you the competitive edge!

Lesa Bradshaw. Owner Bradshaw LeRoux Consulting