Disrupting Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion in our Workplaces
As someone who has been on quite a few in-person dates after meeting in a virtual environment, I can recognize the familiar look of disappointment and confusion when I enter a restaurant.
Not because I look different than in my photograph, but because you can’t tell from a photograph that I have a physical disability. A Zoom frame or an Instagram photo doesn’t show you that I walk with a limp and can’t open my left hand.
As a workplace culture consultant, I spend a significant portion of my day discussing the experience of remote employees, the future of office operations, and the approach to vaccine policies. While there is no question that these components will have an impact on employee experience, a critical piece of this conversation is missing — my experience. And the experience that individuals with disabilities will have as they transition back to a physical workplace.
I didn’t realize how much of my identity was tied up in people physically meeting me until my consulting business went 100% virtual a year ago. The conversations I had with colleagues about my childhood brain injury were no longer prompted as they had been when someone observed me walking into a room or typing with one hand.
As I think back to the self-blame I cast on myself, when I sensed a date wasn’t interested in me after seeing my disability, I can’t help but wonder — how does this dynamic play out as colleagues meet for the first time in-person?
I’ve never been onboarded as an employee in a completely virtual setting, but I do know what it’s like to have the largest piece of my identity made invisible by remote technology. And I’m confident that the questions that haunted me in the online dating world would be similar to those I’d ask myself upon meeting a colleague, who historically had only known a piece of my identity.
Will they think differently of me after they watch me walk down the stairs? Will they think less of me when I struggle to open a door? Will they question if I have what it takes?
The truth is I’m not the only one looking ahead with these shadow thoughts. 1 in 4 adults in the United States have some form of disability.
Some of us have accommodations or technology we are more easily able to access at home. Some of us take more working breaks and have yet to bring those needs up to our supervisors. What if we do and those things are suddenly considered an undue hardship in offices? How do we keep our jobs? What about those of us who are in wheelchairs and don’t know if our offices have accessible bathrooms and elevators?
Or, what if, like me, you don’t need a physical or structural accommodation, but you have anxiety around how others will respond to you. How will that affect my performance and experience?
As leaders and culture professionals plan the return to offices, we need to disrupt our thinking around diversity, equity, and inclusion. And we need to bring disability into the conversation — those disabilities visible, invisible, and those we assume don’t exist because we can’t see them in a Zoom frame.