7 tips from an HR manager on starting an inclusion program

More and more companies are realizing the importance of workplace disability inclusion programs. Starting an inclusion program can benefit your workplace in many ways, from better employee morale to more effective recruitment.

Even so, many companies have yet to get their programs off the ground. In a study from 2019, only 13 percent of HR professionals said that their organizations had disability inclusion initiatives. So it can be tough to find advice from peers when you’re looking to get started.

To get some helpful tips, we spoke to Catheran Quintero, MEd, CSM. Quintero is a senior human resources representative with Lowe’s Companies, Inc. In her role, she helps to build and shape disability inclusion across the company. 

Here are some tips from her for building inclusion programs in the workplace. 

1. Set expectations right from the start

“Companies should set rules and regulations in the very beginning,” says Quintero. “Let employees know that this is a safe place where they can be heard.” 

For example, you could set clear ground rules to guide discussions about inclusion. That might include guidelines like:

  • Speak from your own personal experience using “I” statements.

  • Don’t share other people’s personal information outside of the discussion.

  • Respect differences.

2. Learn about disability etiquette

“Managers are always unsure of what should and should not be said when speaking to someone with a disability,” says Quintero.

To ease the uncertainty, managers — and all employees — can brush up on disability etiquette. A shared understanding of what’s appropriate will help create a more inclusive environment.

3. Aim high

“I’m surprised that [disability inclusion] is just getting started,” says Quintero. “A lot of companies are just beginning their inclusion work.”

By developing a strong inclusion program now, you can become a best-in-class organization that others look up to. Spend time building your own subject matter expertise to make your program the best that it can be.

4. Consider your interview process

Think through your interview approach to make it more accessible for people with disabilities.

“Interviews are going to give [people] anxiety,” Quintero says. “That’s why it’s helpful to share how the process will play out. This will show your candidates that you care.”

She suggests that organizations should have open conversations with candidates ahead of time to let them know what to expect. Sharing details beforehand will help candidates to feel more at ease.

It will also give you a chance to ask whether there are any specific accommodations you should put in place for the interview, which is an important best-practice approach.

5. Manage change with good communication

Quintero says that change management is key to any new inclusion initiative. That includes having a mission statement to clearly communicate the objectives.

“Companies are trying to make a change, and that needs to be said out loud,” she says. “Make it super clear that counterproductivity to the mission will not be tolerated.”

When employees understand the goals and expectations of the initiative, they’ll be more likely to actively support it. Develop a plan for clear and regular communication to keep employees informed about your inclusion program.

6. Earn employees’ trust by showing a commitment to building inclusion

It’s easy for companies to talk about inclusion. It’s much harder to authentically strive toward a more inclusive workplace.

Employees may have seen past inclusion programs that were under-resourced or put on the back burner. So how can you show your company’s commitment?

“I think it goes back to establishing and growing trust,” says Quintero. Employees want to know that any messages about inclusion will be backed up with action and accountability.

One important way to do that is to set aside dedicated resources and budget for your program. And on an individual level, managers can show their commitment to continual improvement by practicing inclusive leadership.

7. Show progress as you go

Quintero points out that building a successful disability inclusion program takes time. That can surprise people — sometimes, to the point where they call it off.

“At the beginning, it’s a very slow process,” she says. “Many managers and employees think that means it’s going to be counterproductive. And that’s not true.” 

Make sure to build a strong case to leadership so they understand why it should be a priority. And reinforce the program’s importance by reporting on progress along the way. That will help to keep the organization focused on the critical goal of building a more inclusive workplace for everyone.

Looking for more tips to help you get your inclusion program started? Learn more about disability inclusion in the workplace by taking a free online training course.


Read next