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interview

Making the case for people with disabilities


Quality of Life Observer

- Global

- Dec 3 2014


Stefan Tromel, Senior Disability Specialist at the International Labour Organization (ILO) and Yann Gontard, Sodexo Central Europe CEO of On-Site Services, share their thoughts on why it is critical to include people with disabilities into the workplace as well as the associated benefits of this inclusion.

How would you sum up the mission of the ILO Global Business and Disability Network?

Stefan Tromel: We promote the employment of people with disabilities by facilitating the exchange of information and knowledge between multinational companies and national employers’ federations. The main reason that led the ILO to create a network was the realization that the best ambassador to convince a company that is not yet employing people with disabilities is another company that already does. Together, companies realize that disabled employees represent a group that is very present in society and should therefore also be present in the workforce. Because companies want to attract the right people based on talents and skills, it is only natural that they include disabled people.

Sodexo has always been a leading force in the inclusion of people with disabilities. As you have worked with Sodexo towards this goal for many years, in your opinion, why is it so important for companies to communicate with each other?

Yann Gontard: Let me first say that Sodexo in Poland was one of the first companies in the country to sign the diversity charter in June 2012. And while the law does not yet require it in Poland, as in other countries such as in France, we are committed to hiring, recruiting and developing people with disabilities. As such, they now represent 5 percent of our staff and 30 percent of the staff in our subsidiary that provides food and cleaning services to hospitals.

That said, finding a job for someone with a disability still remains a real challenge in Poland. Seventy-two percent of this population of approximately 4.7 million is currently inactive in the labor market. Until more companies focus on inclusion, this group of talented, ambitions and engaged individuals will remain excluded.

Once a company implements a plan to include disabled employees, how does the ILO support management in successfully integrating them into their workforce?

S.T.: We share an assessment tool that allows companies to take a hard look at their own inclusion practices and identify where there is room for improvement. This tool is particularly useful for multinational companies. Often, a very good policy is established at headquarter level but it is not always implemented in the subsidiaries. This assessment tool allows companies like Sodexo to make a comparative assessment among all its offices around the globe to find out which ones are doing well, which ones could do better and to define best practices to share across the company.

In order for people with disabilities to truly be a part of the workforce, are there common misconceptions that need to be addressed?

Y.G.: In my opinion, the most significant barrier for people with disabilities is that many employers sill have stereotypes regarding what these individuals can and cannot do. I am convinced there is absolutely no reason to perpetuate these stereotypes. Disabled employees have a lower rate of absenteeism, they are more engaged and rarely change jobs. At Sodexo, we have also found that they are able to maintain a high level of focus in certain types of repetitive jobs.

In fact, based on our internal studies, our managers have not observed differences in performance and productivity between workers with disabilities and those without. With this in mind, we focus on the talent, skills and experience individuals can bring to our team.

S.T.: People with disabilities, like everybody else, don’t just want a job, they want to have a career; they want to develop and have the possibility to progress to the highest level their hard work and skills will take them. There are no limits – they can become the CEO of a company or they can remain in their current position. It is their decision. Too often, the focus is just on getting them a job, and less on providing strong career development.
 

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