Leadership & People
November 23, 2021

Companies are increasingly willing to take risks

On the International Day of People with Disabilities, we recall the Inclusive Community Forum (ICF), a social inclusion project implemented by NOVA SBE together with institutions and companies, which aims to help people with disabilities to enter the labor market.
The Inclusive Community Forum project, which emerged in 2017, is the result of a personal experience that has become a project that involves the entire society. In an interview with PME Magazine, Isabel Almeida Brito and Margarida Castro Caldas, coordinators of the initiative, talk about the desire of companies to have a greater opening for the admission of people with disabilities.


PME Magazine – What was the starting point for the project?

ICF was born from a personal life experience: eight years ago, Rui and Carmo Diniz adopted a child with 99% disability. Over the years, they found it challenging to find answers to the challenges they face. Some solutions were only available for a specific type of disability or in a particular location. Therefore, they wanted to contribute to the growth and dissemination of structured, innovative solutions that could be replicated in different contexts. That's how Rui and Carmo Diniz challenged Nova SBE to develop and implement a project for the inclusion of people with disabilities.

PME Mag. – What led you to join the ICF?

What led us to join the ICF was the desire to play an active and positive role in the lives of people with disabilities. The inclusion of people with disabilities is an issue that quickly goes unnoticed but needs a lot of attention and work. Being able to do this from Nova SBE and its ecosystem was an immense added value.

PME Mag. – What goals do you intend to achieve with the initiative?

ICF's vision is to be the engine for a more inclusive community where every person with a disability can fulfill their life plan. This is the vision that guides us and the great goal we want to achieve. To achieve our vision, we set three goals. On one hand, to create initiatives within the scope of the ICF that last in time, autonomously, are replicated, and are thriving. But, on the other hand, witnessing a transformed community, a community that is more aware, more committed, more active, and that takes this transformation to others. And, finally, to witness the lives of people with disabilities transformed, taking advantage of the new opportunities created.

PME Mag. – We know that ICF has several partnerships with institutions and companies that understand the importance of inclusion. How have these entities joined the initiative?

This community mobilization and activation is a differentiating factor for ICF. In addition, there has been excellent support from companies and institutions, which contribute, in an important way, to our work, both as project implementation partners and through the validation and advice of the work carried out by the ICF operational team.

We saw an immense willingness to participate in the Council of Institutions and the Council of Families right from the start. These working groups aim to ensure that the proposed solutions are based on concrete needs and actual cases and are constituted by people with disabilities, their families, social organizations, and businesses.

There has also been greater engagement in Commitment to Inclusion and, more recently, Inclusion LABs. Sometimes, we see that the challenge lies in responding to the aspiration to join, overcoming fears, and mobilizing resources. But that’s also what ICF exists for, to help bring that will into action by making clear, structured, and accessible processes available to everyone in the marketplace.

PME Mag. – What results have you obtained with these partnerships?

These partnerships, reflected in the involvement and participation of companies, institutions, and other relevant stakeholders in the lives of people with disabilities, allowed us to create initiatives for greater inclusion. Thus, both the initiatives created in the employability topic and the initiatives being developed in the education topic result from this adhesion and participation.

PME Mag. – The first topic addressed by ICF was employability. How has the project helped people with disabilities to find employment?

Through four different initiatives: one that works with the candidates, enabling them better for the labor market – the “Peer2Peer”; another one that works on the side of companies, through a series of videos that help to understand how it is possible and positive to employ people with different types of disabilities in different kinds of functions in the labor market – “Inclusive Future”; another that aims to join these two realities, people with disabilities who want to work and companies who want to hire, through the mobilization and training of recruitment and selection companies for inclusive recruitment – the “Inclusive Recruitment Process”; and finally, the “Commitment to Inclusion,” which challenges Portuguese companies to be part of a group of companies that are committed to hiring employees with disabilities.

PME Mag. – What are the significant obstacles to the employability of people with disabilities?

When we developed the diagnosis on employability at the end of 2017, we found three main obstacles preventing the employment of people with disabilities. On one hand, the lack of willingness of some people with disabilities to enter the labor market due to lack of opportunity or issues related to the family environment (socioeconomic factors or issues of lack of motivation for employment). On the other hand, the companies’ lack of awareness and willingness.

Most companies still did not employ people with disabilities in Portugal because they did not even consider this hypothesis.

When asked if they would do so, some answered affirmatively despite not knowing how the process should proceed, and others had some reservations that prevented them from moving forward. Thus, finally, if the two previous obstacles did not occur, and if people with disabilities were willing to work and companies were willing to hire, there was still the absence of a mechanism that would make the market work, guaranteeing the match between supply and demand.

PME Mag. – With a typically high unemployment rate for people with disabilities, how do you plan to combat this trend?

Through the four initiatives elaborated above: the "Peer2Peer", the "Inclusive Future," the "Inclusive Recruitment Process," and the "Commitment to Inclusion." We see that the "Commitment to Inclusion" plays a particularly relevant role, providing a path that goes from awareness to action. By signing the "Commitment to Inclusion," companies benefit from ICF's support in the first steps to hiring people with disabilities, benefiting from the Nova SBE context for executive training and consulting projects through student theses, the Consulting Labs.

PME Mag. – What precisely do these initiatives to support inclusion in the labor market consist of?

The "Peer2Peer" is a preparation program for the labor market that, through a dynamic in pairs between a university student and a person with a disability looking for work, also aims to provide an experience of meeting between two different realities. The "Peer2Peer" arose from the need to combat one of the identified obstacles to employability – the people with disabilities' lack of willingness and preparation for the labor market, whether due to lack of opportunity or issues related to the family environment. Through this program, both participants benefit from the opportunity to experience a different world from their own and learn to deal with it, overcoming the fear of the unknown and being surprised by each other's unexpected capabilities.

Peer2Peer helps raise awareness among younger generations – future leaders – of the need to create a more inclusive community, training for the importance and added value of including people with disabilities in the labor market.

This program also offers university students the opportunity to connect with this reality and break possible prejudices about it. The program runs for eight weekly sessions, consisting of workshops and one-on-one sessions, in which peers work together on topics such as identifying their abilities, personal interests, and goals, knowledge of the labor market, developing tools (i.e., curriculum vitae, or the capability profile), and the preparation and simulation of job interviews with recruitment and selection companies. At the same time, throughout the program, the peers develop friendly relationships, leading to a very positive sense of belonging and group spirit.

"HR4Inclusion" arose from the need to combat another one of the identified obstacles to employability – the absence of a mechanism to make this market work and ensure that supply and demand meet. Thus, "HR4Inclusion" came to test a market mechanism implemented by recruitment and selection companies, which links the profiles of people with disabilities looking for a job and the specific needs of companies that want to hire people with disabilities. Furthermore, the centralization of a process in the recruiting companies, the knowledge (know-how) already acquired by them, and their already established customer network enable greater efficiency and scale opportunities, enhancing the employability of people with disabilities.

There is now a central point of reference to match people with disabilities who want to work and companies seeking to hire these people instead of giving punctual answers to specific cases.

This pilot project resulted in creating the "Inclusive Recruitment Process," which aims to capitalize the know-how of recruitment and selection companies, ensuring a good match between the position available in the company and the skills and preferences of the candidate in question. The "Inclusive Recruitment Process" is currently being applied by Argo Partners, Michael Page, and Randstad, who can be contacted for this purpose.

PME Mag. – Since the beginning of the Inclusive Community Forum in 2017, what have been the main changes observed in the attitude of companies and institutions towards hiring people with disabilities?

We tend to see greater openness and predisposition from companies. The topic of diversity and inclusion and the sustainable development goals are increasingly present on corporate agendas and, with it, the recruitment of people with disabilities. The Law 4/2019, which establishes employment quotas for people with disabilities, also boosted this trend.

Companies are increasingly willing to take risks in what is often an unknown reality.

We also see more companies taking action and making things happen, although we still feel some inertia. This inertia is natural, not only due to the context of the pandemic we are facing, in which the market was not very receptive to new hires, but also due to the underlying fears, the need to adapt jobs, or to allocate resources... we know this is a long-run commitment, it won't be a sprint. However, on the side of social organizations, we see a greater openness to collaborate with other institutions and companies due to the opportunity presented to them to work together.

PME Mag. – With  the Covid-19 pandemic, what were the significant challenges faced to continue with the project?

The challenges were enormous, both for employability – making hirings – and for developing education projects. On the topic of education, we started to implement a new methodology, the Systemic Change, which lives from the engagement and collaboration of the community, from understanding problems to identifying and creating solutions. But, unfortunately, the entire facilitation process of this community group – the Inclusion LABs – under the responsibility of ICF, was heavily conditioned by the pandemic, as it had to be fully adapted to an online format; the projects themselves face numerous difficulties: lack of availability of schools to think of pilot projects within the scope of greater inclusion; lack of availability of companies to welcome students for internships; not to mention the personal demand for each one of the participants that were to remain involved in an online process, with people they didn't know at the beginning and with the natural difficulties arising from remote work and the uncertainty of the current times.

Still, we have managed to continue due to the enormous sense of responsibility and commitment of the participants who work with us.

PME Mag. – Is there already a possible third topic to be embraced by ICF?

The ICF was designed to last for five years. As we enter the last two years, we will focus our activity on consolidating the work done on employability and education topics to ensure that the initiatives created achieve the desired success.

PME Mag. – What about the future? How do you imagine ICF and the impact of your actions a year from now?

We imagine the education initiatives consolidated, and strategic sustainability plans to put into action, a year from now. In employability, we see more companies aware and actively hiring, and new recruiters offering inclusive recruitment services. In the future, we see these solutions continuing to come to life beyond ICF, being more present in the community to, above all, give more people with disabilities the opportunity to fulfill their life projects.

This interview can be find here, in portuguese.

Inclusive Community Forum

Inclusive Community Forum

The Inclusive Community Forum is a Nova SBE initiative, aiming to promote a more inclusive society for people with disabilities through structured initiatives that encourage their active participation in the community.

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Isabel Almeida e Brito e Margarida Castro Caldas shared with PME Magazine the role that the Inclusive Community Forum (ICF) has been playing towards the inclusion of people with disabilities in the labour market.

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