Lynn Houmdi is the Programme Manager of The Challenges Group women returners programme, Making Work Work. In this blog Lynn reflects on rethinking services to embed accessibility for equity and inclusion.
After a career break, the world of work doesn’t always seem so welcoming. And in many ways, it isn’t inclusive of women who have had career breaks. The reasons the women we work with take career breaks often don’t disappear just because they need to or want to return to work. Their children, their elderly relatives, their ill health or disabilities can’t just be ignored or brushed under the corporate carpet. Because of this, most of the 140 women we have worked with are looking for part-time and/or flexible work, and hope that an openness to alternative working patterns is an indication of a more inclusive culture where they can contribute their best work and where they don’t have to pretend to be unencumbered, footloose and fancy free.
As Emma Parry (Head of the Changing World of Work Group at Cranfield School of Management) said at a recent Chartered Management Institute Scotland Board event on the Gender Pay Gap, we need to move away from the idea that the ideal worker is someone who is constantly available; moving away from a focus on availability/visibility and towards a focus on outcomes and the contribution people can make.
In this context, as a team, we feel we understand quite a lot about Diversity, Equity and Inclusion. However, there is always more to learn.
Our innovative and award-winning women returners programme, Making Work Work is designed to help women make empowered transitions back into work, and we hope to help make workplaces more diverse and inclusive in the process.
Many of the women on our programme face an intersection of barriers to re-entering the workplace. Specifically, 10% of the women on our programme are non-neurotypical. 16% have a disability or mental health issue that impacts their ability to work. These factors also present challenges for the delivery of the peer-led training which forms a key element of the Making Work Work programme.
We recently supported a woman through the programme (we’ll call her R), who had a recent adult diagnosis of ADHD. We were really fortunate in that she had spent a considerable time reflecting on her needs and the adjustments she required and was very capable in articulating her needs and explaining how we could best help her get the most out of the programme.
It was during the time we were working with this woman that I read Siobhan Mercer’s blog post about Equity and Inclusion. It reminded me that any of the adjustments we made for R would definitely not be detrimental and might actually be beneficial for other participants. Prior to working with R, we would always upload presentations to the cohort Teams channel in advance of a training session, so women could prepare ahead of time, but we didn’t necessarily signpost women to them until the session itself. To support R, we went further and highlighted the breakout room activities for the forthcoming session in advance, so that she could prepare and ensure that she was well-equipped and had gathered her thoughts and could get the most out of the discussion with her peers, rather than her sitting quietly processing the discussion, unable to make a meaningful contribution to it.
This was a good reminder for us that everyone learns in different ways, and everyone processes information differently. And to make a reasonable adjustment for one person may also be beneficial for others.
It was a pleasure for my team and me to watch R grow and blossom. She gained the confidence not only to identify the skills she could offer to an employer, but to call one in advance to check they could accommodate her needs before she applied. I’m pleased to report that the charity in question, an SCVO member, were not only willing, but enthusiastic. R starts work with them in November!
Sadly, the women who complete our programme won’t always find inclusive employers who value diversity and strive for equity, but I encourage them to research and seek out the employers whose values align with their own, and where they will find the working patterns, culture and accommodations they need. Often, Making Work Work alumni find these employers in the third sector.
Later this month, we start training with a new cohort, including a woman who is partially sighted. This will present new learning opportunities for my team which we will embrace in our efforts to be more inclusive and to live our values of equity and inclusion. I am sure any adjustments we make for her will also help other participants – both in their journey through the programme, but also in their understanding of the value of a diverse workforce.