Inclusion matters: What I learned by getting a sandwich at a fast-food restaurant

It was one of those days when I longed for the crispy fried goodness of the famous KFC and I headed to Dokki for the nearest branch, only to discover that this KFC was not a typical one. When I entered, an employee greeted me with a bright smile and pointed to a sign indicating that he had a hearing impairment. He took my order quickly using a visual menu display. After receiving my food, I could confidently say that this was one of the best experiences at KFC. The food was delicious, and the service was highly efficient. It got me thinking about the connection between inclusive businesses and successful and productive workplaces.

According to a report published by Humanity and Inclusion, an NGO dedicated to assisting special needs and vulnerable populations in conditions of inequality and exclusion, KFC branches that hired people with special needs in Egypt were more successful than other branches. In Egypt, businesses that employ people with special needs have profited from a more efficient, productive, and dedicated staff. Research findings back up these observations, demonstrating that excluding individuals with disabilities from the workplace has a significant macroeconomic burden. Other companies that hire people with special needs include L’Oréal, McDonald’s, and Vodafone, among many others.

Businesses play an important role in fostering the employment of marginalized groups and encouraging inclusive approaches. According to the United Nations 2030 agenda for sustainable development, “Private business activity, investment, and innovation are major drivers of productivity, inclusive economic growth, and job creation. We acknowledge the diversity of the private sector, ranging from micro-enterprises to cooperatives to multinationals.”

But what does an Inclusive Business (IB) even look like?

There are various definitions of IB, but what most of these definitions have in common is the importance of diversity in workplaces. An inclusive culture fosters a sense of community for people of all backgrounds. Here, the representation of minorities becomes extremely important.
An inclusive business is defined by the International Finance Corporation (IFC) as those that “provide livelihood opportunities and close access gaps for people living at the base of the economic pyramid. They do this in ways that are commercially and financially self-sustaining by focusing on poor and underserved individuals across their value chain as supplier, employee, distributor, retailer, or customer.”
In the workplace, bias, which is influenced by social stigmas and conventions, harms inclusion. Non-inclusive workplaces are ones that solely hire individuals who share the same race, culture, status, or even gender. But what can be done about systemic biases and stigmas that often lead to social injustice? Studies have found that recognizing differences is not enough, but change comes from action.

Why should businesses focus on inclusivity in the first place?

A 2020 McKinsey & Company report found that the greater the diversity, the greater the chance of outperforming competitors. It found that companies with many female managers and ethnically diverse staff outperformed those with less or no female or diverse employees. Similarly, according to a report by the Credit Suisse Research Institute, large-cap businesses with at least one woman as a manager have performed better than their rivals, who had no female board members.
Another 2019 study focused on Egyptian businesses found that minimizing structural inequalities and barriers between workers appears critical to guaranteeing sustainability. Research output is also more careful, creative, and ground-breaking in diverse settings. What are the measures to increase inclusivity? Before listing out some recommendations, it is helpful to note that this approach becomes more effective when business leaders and entrepreneurs, government agencies, consumers, and NGOs work together to achieve a level of inclusivity.
Some organizations help organize public awareness campaigns and training that promote inclusiveness. For example, Helm, an Egyptian NGO, helps companies take an inclusive approach by providing various services to businesses, including assisting them in understanding accessibility and creating an inclusive atmosphere. Such organizations can play a massive role in facilitating the integration of policies and strategies for the successful and long-term inclusion of people with disabilities in the workplace. Helm has helped companies and institutions like PepsiCo, CIB, and Vodafone become more inclusive.

Gathered from several business reports and research, here is a list that compiles the most valuable tips necessary for effective inclusion:

1. Guarantee that a varied range of talent is represented
First things first, push all the biases and stereotypes you have aside, especially when looking for new candidates. To incorporate inclusion, you must first recognize the absence of diversity. Make sure to examine every part of your business and observe what (or who) is missing. Additionally, focus on diversity when recruiting and improve and expand the screening process.
If your business values inclusion and diversity, let that be known whether on your website or social media, to make jobseekers and consumers more aware of the importance of diversity and inclusion to your business.

2. Be fair, flexible, and transparent
Combining those three features will ensure that employees receive equal opportunities. Being fair and transparent can be done by being open about the salary procedures and listening to employee feedback through anonymous surveys.
To get rid of any structural bias, you must demolish the restrictive structure of your business, and one way of doing that is by listening to your employees and making sure everyone is treated equally.
Flexibility becomes an important feature when you have a diverse staff. Make sure, for example, to provide a vacation system that is considerate to every culture.

3. Have a zero-tolerance policy for all types of discrimination
Companies should foster an environment where all workers feel comfortable at work without fear of harassment. This is important because employees who don’t feel accepted or safe are more inclined to quit their jobs and find other alternatives.
Thus, make sure you encourage your employees to speak up and feel heard. Training the employees to work with a diverse range of people, becomes essential to incorporate in the work process as well.

4. Provide necessary resources and accessibility
Increasing inclusion extends beyond identifying who is at risk: it examines the factors contributing to that vulnerability and enables others to access resources. During the digitization of the workforce during and post-COVID, individuals living in poverty were not all able to utilize online platform even if it satisfies all of the digital accessibility needs. Hence, employers must provide the needs and resources for all their employees, including work laptops and internet connections if needed.
Additionally, the pandemic provided unique opportunities to transform work into becoming more inclusive, thanks to the remote and flexible new norm. This is useful for people with disabilities, severe health conditions, and those living far from the workplace. However, there is more to be done for complete inclusion, and digital accessibility is only one step forward. According to a 2021 article by Cnet, apps like Zoom and Slack improved their accessibility features by implementing automated closed captioning and other assistive technology. Businesses can ensure such accessibility features are included in the software they use.
Now, let the talent be unleashed by welcoming these practices in your journey to an inclusive business!


Ingie Gohar ’22 is a senior political science student at the American University in Cairo.

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