Musicals shown in the big screen have become a hit these days. From La La Land to Bohemian Rhapsody, there had been a frenzy of social media posts—memes, quotes, and music—by netizens on their timelines. It is not a surprise that a song in one of these musicals will hit the airwaves and become a favorite by all.
One of my favorites is a song from The Greatest Showman: “This is Me.” Allow me to borrow the title of the song, which does not only refer to a biopic of PT Barnum and his traveling circus; but also speaks volumes about how “freaks,” strange humans and people afflicted with abnormalities were seen in the 1800s. Luckily, today, nations all over the world are united to ensure that people like them are given dignity, and that they are given a day in the calendar to celebrate their condition.
Last December 3, 2018, the whole celebrated the International Day for People with Disabilities, which carried the theme “Empowering persons with disabilities and ensuring inclusiveness and equality.” This supports the United Nation’s Sustainable Development Goal (SDG) Goal 10, which is to reduce inequality. However, despite efforts of the United Nations crafting a 30 article Universal Declaration of Human Rights and having a dedicated International Day celebration for the People with Disabilities (PWDs), I was surprised that PWDs are still marginalized when it comes to achieving gainful employment.
Managing Diversity in the Workplace is a research discipline that has been around for the past 40 years and yet, it focuses mainly on equal opportunity for women, gender preferences, race and religion. Not much research on PWDs is as robust as those mentioned.
I am currently involved in a study dealing with the inclusion of persons with intellectual disability (PWIDs). I have also looked into the different HR practices that create a climate of inclusion in the workplace. I discovered that simply hiring one is not enough for a company’s Human Resources Department to say that it is managing diversity, one that leads to inclusion. There’s a distinction between the two. Inclusion is the by-product of managing diversity.
It is claimed that HR practices of firms with PWDs are usually bound by four stakeholders, namely the employer, the HR manager, the co-worker and the PWDs. Studies show that a lot of employers do not hire PWDs in the first place because of the cost of accommodation involved, and because of the risks this entails. Other employers do not hire PWDs because of their lack of knowledge about the disability and because of their ignorance as to what other skills and competencies they can bring to the workplace despite being “dis-abled.”
Studies that involve HR Managers have produced a lot of problematic areas. Studies involving HR managers, for example, show that leadership intention is a vital factor in the creation of HR practices for the firm to achieve inclusion for the PWDs. If the leader is not fully sold in hiring PWDs, efforts to create an inclusive climate through their HR practices will not be sustained.
Co-workers are an important stakeholder in the hiring of the PWDs. Their perceptions and opinions matter in the shaping of the different HR practices that a firm wishes to create for the PWDs. For some co-workers, the company is not “playing fair” if accommodations on working conditions are made, and if certain benefits and privileges are granted to the PWDs.
Lastly, I would like to cite a study made on PWDs in their application to French companies. Using surveys and statistical analysis, the study presented a very sad truth: PWDs will convey that they are more warm than competent and wish to be hired on their people skills rather than what they can actually do. The same study was given to non-disabled workers with the assumption that they are PWDs, and showed the same result. Thus, it can be concluded that the PWDs will look down on themselves as candidates lacking the competencies to fulfill the job and this is where stronger HR practices such as Training and Development and Performance and Rewards must be customized to fit their kind of mindset.
Going back to The Greatest Showman, PT Barnum’s traveling circus was a gathering of different people with disabilities and conditions, from a woman that grows a beard, to midgets and cannibals, just to name a few. He made a fortune out of these people. It must sound sordid, but because of their condition and PT Barnum’s circus, it was the only way for them to make a living at that time. Because of their uniqueness and appearance, no 8 to 5 jobs were offered to them. But again, this was more than a century ago. We’re now living in the new millennium. And thanks to science, we now understand certain diseases and conditions that make one a PWD. Our colleagues in the natural sciences are infusing technology to treat them making sure that these people will live normal lives.
On the other hand, people in the social sciences must also do the same. We must continuously look at the dynamics of the firm and on how to make inclusion a reality. The government, the private sector, the academe and NGOs must work hand in hand so that PWDs are given dignity, something that people like them a century ago had never experienced.
Alvin Neil Gutierrez is a Doctor of Business Administration student of the Ramon V. Del Rosario College of Business of De La Salle University (DLSU). He took up his Masters in Human Resource Management as an AUSAID scholar from the University of Sydney Business School. He is also an Assistant Professor at the DLSU Management and Organization Department, where he teaches Strategic Human Resources Management. He may be contact at [email protected] The views expressed above are the author’s and do not necessarily reflect the official position of DLSU, its faculty and its administrators.