Banking on Progression - FNB to become an employer of choice for people with disabilities

16 September 2011 - Although the Department of Labour has set out clear legislation around the inclusion of people with disabilities in the workplace, many organisations have found the need to employ further strategies to help create a more equitable work environment which not only ensures the successful inclusion of employees with disabilities, but helps to challenge stereotypes and misconceptions which other employees may have.

Since 2002, Progression has successfully consulted to both private and public sector companies; rolling out Disability Equity solutions that are aligned to best practices and have a positive impact on overall business operations.

Recently, it helped one of South Africa’s top financial institutions ramp up its efforts to become an employer of choice for people with disabilities and create a more inclusive environment.

In May 2011, Progression rolled out a National Disability Awareness Project for First National Bank (FNB). With a customised campaign which was implemented at a national level, Progression has helped FNB to identify a progressive equity model to manage and promote the inclusion of people with disabilities in its workplace.

“The campaign was developed to highlight the challenges faced by people with disabilities in the workplace,” says Beth Cook, CEO of Progression. “We worked with the client to create focused workshops to promote greater awareness, communication and education.”

As part of FNB’s vision to become an employer of choice, the bank wanted to be seen as an organisation that embraced diversity and welcomed people with disabilities. “This was so much more than simply achieving compliance,” says Lynette Bowes, EE Manager for FNB. “Rather it focused on creating a disability-friendly environment and reinforcing our vision,” she added.

The bank initiated the process by engaging with people with disabilities who were already in the workplace. “From these discussions, it was found that there was a perception that the needs of people with disabilities were under-represented,” says Bowes. “We were also able to learn more about the challenges that these employees face on a daily basis at work.”

For FNB, Progression was seen as the best supplier for this project because it was able to design a programme to match the bank’s unique requirements. With years of experience in the Disability Equity field, Progression has a proven track record; having developed a successful business model aligned with the relevant codes of best practice and legislation.

Bowes goes on to say: “Not only could Progression meet our criteria and deliver within tight deadlines, but it was able to customise the product for us. From a marketing, support and accessibility point of view, Progression ticked all the boxes.”

When rolling out the campaign within FNB, Bowes explains that the focus was on quality rather than quantity. “With 300 delegates carefully chosen to attend 41 workshops, we selected those who had the most reach and influence over large numbers of people,” she says. “It was important for us to choose delegates, who would carry the impactful message of the workshop forward into the organisation, build capacity and encourage diversity and transformation.”

Cook believes that the National Disability Awareness Project has improved the capacity of FNB’s Human Resources departments to manage disability according to best practice. Not only did the campaign highlight some of the barriers people with disabilities face in the work environment, but it also showed ways to overcome these with optimism and foresight.

“Awareness always opens up conversation around the issue and that is what we strive for,” adds Cook. “There were already a number of delegates living with disabilities present at the workshops and their perspective was helpful in forging a way forward.”

As a consultancy, Progression believes that any campaign must have achievable results that directly benefit the client. In this regard, FNB reports an increase in disclosure after the workshops, with a greater awareness around the issues of disability in the workplace.

“By far the most encouraging feedback from delegates was a change in their mindset,” Bowes points out. “We saw that personal preconceptions were challenged as our employees gained more knowledge around people with disabilities in the workplace. The workshops really created a platform for inclusivity and integration.”

Bowes affirms that the campaign will go a long way in setting a standard within FNB to assist HR managers, line managers and those heading up employment equity forums.

All in all, Cook believes the success of the FNB workshops underscores the company’s central philosophy, called the Progression Butterfly Effect. “As we saw within FNB, small but strategic changes implemented within an organisation can have a positive effect throughout the rest of the organisation.”

In fact, the initial phase of this project was so well received by the client that FNB are already discussing the next phase of the campaign.

“We really look forward to working with FNB again and are finalising a plan for early next year,” says Cook. “This will include consulting through a tapestry of different types of communication to help us further seamlessly integrate people with disabilities into this client’s working environment,” she concluded.

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