May 1, 2019
The employment rate for workers with disabilities was only about 19% in February 2019 and researchers think bias is partly to blame. A recent survey shows that only 30% of respondents agree that “a deaf person could ‘absolutely’ perform their job equally well or better” than them. The survey also shows that bias against deaf people exists even when they’re in a position of authority: “Among hearing people…[only] half said a deaf person is ‘absolutely’ capable of being CEO or president of Fortune 500 company.” During a recent corporate conference, business leaders pointed to three areas they need to focus on to improve disability inclusion: “accessibility, flexibility, and representation.”
We can confirm that building disability inclusion in the workplace will reduce the employment gap for workers with disabilities, and that building inclusion can happen at the leadership level.
Consider your own conscious or unconscious biases and read up on guidelines for interacting with colleagues with disabilities. In addition, think about how to improve accessibility on campus or at work, adding flexibility in terms of policy and expectations, and hiring to grow disability representation.
Coast Guard veteran and ship design engineer Tenley Lozano calls freediving “a sport of contradictions,” partly because of its extreme yet meditative nature. Diving statistics show another contradiction: Although military diving “has been open to women under the same physical standards as men for decades,” only one percent of military divers are actually women. Lozano first took up freediving in an effort to gain an advantage over her classmates before she attended Navy Dive School, where she would need to carry 84-pound twin steel tanks and be able to swim to twenty-meter depths, despite weighing only 120 pounds herself. Reflecting on her experiences, Lozano says, “I just never believed people when they told me I couldn’t do it...If I could freedive at a level no one thought possible, then surely the men in my Coast Guard dive unit, who frequently questioned my authority, were wrong about other things too.”
As more women gain visibility for breaking glass ceilings, rejecting gender stereotypes, and defying sexist assumptions, it’s simultaneously inspiring and disappointing to hear of all the lines of work in which women like Lozano are fighting to succeed. We applaud their strength and determination, but we wish that sexism and misogyny didn’t seep into even the most niche of careers.
While Lozano doesn’t discuss why the percentage of women in military diving is so low, it’s important to examine the reasons for such staggering statistics and whether there are any structural barriers in place that prevent more women from following their chosen career paths. How well are women and other marginalized groups represented in your line of work? Are there any barriers you can break down to increase representation?
A recent audit at Princeton Theological Seminary showed that “no less than 15 percent and possibly as much as 40 percent of the seminary’s revenue and current endowment derived from the enterprise of slavery.” In response, the Association of Black Seminarians (ABS) is calling for 15 percent of the school’s $1 billion endowment, equaling about $150 million, to go to initiatives both on and off campus that forward opportunities for African American students, as an “act of restorative justice.” Initiatives would range from full-tuition grants and student loan forgiveness, to new academic programs, to various fellowships, partnerships, and scholar residencies. The initiatives would benefit both African American students and students from Liberia and other West African countries.
The proposed funding of initiatives to benefit African Americans is an example of the concept of reparations made concrete. Organizations and institutions should take a look at how funding is allocated and consider what portion of that should go to diversity and inclusion programming and initiatives.
With or without an audit like the one at Princeton Seminary, think of ways you can forward opportunities for African American students and professionals at your organization or institution. As Dr. Tukufu Zuberi writes, you’ll be “hard-pressed to find any institution in America” that doesn’t carry with it the “taint of slavery or the subjugation of indigenous people.”