How to build an accessible culture in your workplace

Attracting and retaining the best talent for your company means thinking carefully about your workplace culture. A strategic and long-term commitment to inclusion will create a business where everyone can thrive.

A wooden sign hanging on a wall, designed like a lifebuoy ring, with the words "Welcome on board".

More employers are now proactively looking to recruit a more diverse workforce. It’s a good starting point, but inclusion doesn’t stop there. If your diverse employees are to be successful in their careers, you need to build an accessible, inclusive workplace.

Valuing diversity

Our own research – the Access 2020 survey – shows that a welcoming culture is the top enabler of accessibility. And that is as true in the workplace as other areas of life. The most important step is to shift your culture: not just an attitude where disability is not seen as a problem but an environment where people with access needs are welcomed and valued.

The first step in making people welcome is an onboarding process that asks all employees what they need to be successful in their roles. A common myth is that employing people with access needs will be costly, but in fact 75% of people with access needs need no additional support in the workplace.

Of the 25% who do require support, this is most likely to be simple and to incur low or no cost. For example, someone might ask for flexibility around start time. They will be fully engaged when they are in the workplace, and can do work from home beforehand, so it should be easy to say yes to this type of accommodation.

As Be. Lab Leadership and Culture Lead Lesley Slade says: “Covid has shone a light on how easy it is to be flexible around working time and place. When there was no choice about where and when to work, we discovered the workforce responding really positively. We have seen how Covid-19 has driven accessibility innovations in employment, so all we have to do is to see the long-term value of this approach.”

While most access employees don’t need any special adjustments, if an employee does need alterations to equipment you can get financial support for this.

Designing accessibility in

Think, too, about who you are designing your workplace for. As Be. Lab founder Minnie Baragwanath says: “If you’re not designing access in, you’re actively designing it out.” Are you engaging with access talent to expand your understanding of what’s possible?

In the past, products and processes have typically been designed “for the average” but – as Todd Rose’s TEDx talk “The myth of the average” compellingly explains – when you design for the average you design for nobody. Conversely, if you design to the edges, you dramatically expand your talent pool.

Lesley Slade explains: “At Be. Lab, we say that good design benefits everyone. You will discover things you hadn’t considered before, that will benefit a broad range of employees, such as working parents or older people.”

Building an accessible culture

Beyond these practical activities is the broader question of organisational culture.

Diversity Works New Zealand produced a research review in 2019 demonstrating the business benefit of inclusion. The report points out: “The one big lesson to be learned in reading the vast amount of diversity studies is that diversity and inclusion do not grow spontaneously in organisations. Doing diversity and inclusion well and reaping the benefits requires thorough, purposeful and constant efforts.” It’s clear that any changes must be intentional and ongoing.

Be. Lab Leadership and Culture Expert Lesley Slade explains that when culture change efforts are aligned with strategic intent, everyone understands why shifts in attitude, behaviour and action are required.

It is important to communicate the advantage that accessibility, and diversity, gives your business: “Be clear about your why. Understanding the strategic reasons for employing access talent and being clear about the value that you’re adding to your organisation is at the core of culture change. By providing strategic clarity about why you are focusing on this, it will gain credibility and momentum within your organisation.”

Helping you build an accessible culture

Be. Lab can work with your business to develop a strategy for attracting and retaining diverse talent.

We have a team of leadership and culture experts who can work with you to understand your why, and to co-design a strategy to build the accessibility of your culture.

And if you or your organisation are keen to discover the benefits of employing diverse talent, we have 10 years of experience matching employers with talented candidates through our internship and permanent employment programmes.

Contact our Talent team or our Leadership and Culture team to find out how we can help.


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