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“There has been a conscious paradigm shift in hiring persons with disabilities,” S. M. Gupta

Aegis has emerged as one of the role model companies for enhancing the employment of persons with disabilities in the private sector. What led them to make a paradigm shift in their policies that aim for diversity, which in turn is the key to enhanced customer satisfaction and increased employee retention? How did they get around the roadblocks in employing persons with disabilities? Shilpi Ganguly of D.N.I.S. catches up with S. M. Gupta, Chief Peoples Officer at Aegis to get the answers to these questions.

D.N.I.S.: When was the first time Aegis recruited persons with disabilities in India? What prompted this decision?

S. M. Gupta: Aegis embarked on the journey of including persons with disabilities in its workforce in 2009, as one of the key deliverables of our diversity framework and as an extension of the Aegis Mission of Happy People, Happy Customers and Happy Stakeholders. This initiative was also triggered by the size and sheer presence of Aegis across the world, with a noble feeling of giving back to the society as part of Corporate Social Responsibility (C.S.R.).

However, over a period of time, there has been a conscious paradigm shift in the concept of hiring persons with disabilities under C.S.R. initiative, to being a part of an elaborate diversity framework viewed as a business imperative.

Sustainability Reporting 2010 highlights our explicit commitment about employing persons with disabilities and the same is being further enhanced in our forthcoming Sustainability Report 2011.

D.N.I.S.: What according to you are the roadblocks in the employment of persons with disabilities in the private sector?

S. M. Gupta: Some of the barriers in the employment of persons with disabilities are:

Availability of employable population of persons with disabilities: One of the biggest roadblock organisations face in employing persons with disabilities is finding qualified candidates. Negative attitudes held by the families of people with disabilities, and often the people with disabilities themselves, deter them from taking an active part in the family, community or organisation.

Accessibility: Inaccessible buildings and lack of adequate public transportation systems are some more impediments for hiring persons with disabilities. Accessibility not only means access to physical spaces but also access to information, technology, transport, services, aids and appliances, etc.

Myths: Some of the softer aspects, like certain myths prevailing in the society about persons with disabilities also act as barrier for organisations to hire them. Some of these are:

D.N.I.S.: How did Aegis overcome these barriers?

S. M. Gupta: While we embarked on the diversity journey in the year 2009 and have succeeded in enhancing the momentum over the last two years, the journey has been full of challenges which were systematically addressed through various interventions. Some of the initiatives taken were:

D.N.I.S.: Do you undertake any specific training or sensitisation programmes for employees or persons with disabilities while recruiting them?

S. M. Gupta: Aegis is committed to providing and supporting world class training opportunities to persons with disabilities.

The average number of training hours for persons with disabilities is 300 man hours which is higher than the average number of training hours for other employees i.e. 240 hours.

We have been associated with several N.G.O.s globally who are closely working with people with disabilities, in providing them training and organisational exposure for enhancing their employability.

In developing training opportunities, we ensure that these are also accessible to people with disabilities. Training modules are designed in a way that they can be easily understood and followed.

Apart from formal class room training, there is on-the-job training which enables them to perform their jobs.

We have implemented various sensitisation programmes which increases awareness on hidden but complex barriers that could have an influence on interactions with disabled employees.

D.N.I.S.: Do you see potential for employing persons with high support needs at Aegis? (At present intellectual or developmental disabilities do not feature in the list of different kinds of disabilities in the disability-wise count of employees.)

S. M. Gupta: Aegis employs people with 23 different kinds of disabilities. Once a particular kind of disability is identified during selection process, it is ensured that necessary specific infrastructure is proactively arranged before the person joins.

Currently, hiring is consciously not done for people with some specific kind of disabilities, for which the organisation is not prepared. However, we are in the process of creating more accessibility in terms of skill trainings, technology, other aids and appliances, etc. which will enable us to hire people with other kinds of disabilities.

D.N.I.S.: Do you have any message for other companies in the private sector in order to encourage them to employ persons with disabilities?

S. M. Gupta: Diversity is a business reality, whether or not you recognise it. If you want better business bottom-lines, enhanced customer satisfaction and increased employee retention then diversity is the key.

We firmly believe that hiring persons with disabilities goes much beyond than being merely a C.S.R. activity, and brings in numerous business advantages in terms of improved attitude and discipline, enhanced motivation, better bonding due to increased respect for the organisation, leading to recognition in market place as an employer of choice.

When multiple cultures and categories of people come together as a community it results in unison and resonance and the positive effects of this are realised in no time. After all, the joy of giving back is significantly more delightful than the joy of receiving.