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Advancing Inclusion: Empowering People of Determination in the Middle East and Africa

December 12, 2023

The Middle East and Africa region has been making commendable achievements in diversity, equity, and inclusion, with a spotlight on advancing gender equality. While the strides made are undeniably significant, there is one demographic that remains largely unaddressed in the region’s inclusive transformation: people of determination.

The Middle East is home to an estimated 30 million people of disabled people, and studies show that most of them are unemployed. Additionally, UNICEF expects the number of disabled people in the region to increase due to several factors such as population growth and conflict. While there has been progress in the region regarding laws and regulations to facilitate the access of people of determination to resources, there is much work to be done in terms of employment. 

Especially within the workplace, creating inclusive spaces for people of determination can contribute to enhanced innovation and problem-solving. Their unique perspectives on finding solutions can help facilitate creativity and enhance everyone’s sense of belonging. With a projected rise in the number of people of determination, companies have an opportunity to create more inclusive policies and hiring practices to include talent from all backgrounds.

Medical Advancement Increase in Number of Cases

The improved recognition of diverse forms of disabilities, combined with advances in medical diagnostics, has contributed significantly to the apparent rise in the number of individuals with disabilities. Heightened public awareness campaigns and stigmatisation efforts have encouraged more people to seek medical attention and embrace their unique abilities, leading to a more accurate representation of disability prevalence. As societal attitudes evolve, more people feel empowered to disclose their disabilities, shedding light on the previously hidden aspects of this diverse demographic.

That said, the MENA region also faces unique challenges that may contribute to the increasing numbers of people of determination. Socioeconomic factors, including poverty and limited access to quality healthcare, can result in higher instances of preventable disabilities. Additionally, the prevalence of conflict and political instability in certain areas of the region has led to an unfortunate rise in injuries and trauma, contributing to disability rates. Addressing the growing number of disabled individuals in the region requires solutions especially from the private sector, starting with providing opportunities that allow them to live independently.

Challenges for People of Determination in the Workplace

Attitudes and misconceptions surrounding the capabilities of people of determination often lead employers to overlook this valuable talent pool. Addressing this requires a multifaceted approach, starting with the creation of universally accessible workplace environments. Companies could invest in physical infrastructure such as ramps and ergonomic workstations, as well as prioritise digital accessibility, ensuring technologies and communication platforms are inclusive. Simultaneously, implementing training programs that foster awareness and dispel biases is crucial. Sensitivity training for employees and leadership can break down preconceived notions, while inclusive hiring practices should actively seek candidates with disabilities, fostering a culture of diversity.

Moreover, to combat the cycle of exclusion, accommodating policies are paramount. Businesses could explore flexible work arrangements, reasonable accommodations, and mentorship programs tailored to the needs of employees with disabilities. By embracing tactics that specifically accommodate talent with disabilities, companies not only create a more welcoming environment for current employees but also signal to potential candidates that they value and support diversity in all its forms. This holistic approach ensures that companies not only meet legal requirements but actively contribute to creating a workplace culture where talent from all backgrounds is recognised and celebrated.

Creating Space for Innovation

Embracing inclusion for people of determination in the workplace has many benefits that extend far beyond moral imperatives. Companies that prioritise diversity and actively include individuals with disabilities find themselves with a diverse range of perspectives, problem-solving approaches, and innovative ideas. Studies show that people of determination make workplaces more inclusive and allow people to feel safer in sharing their unique ideas, which could result in better solutions. Likewise, companies that have staff with disabilities have a 30% lower turnover rate across all their employees, suggesting that their inclusion contributes to overall job satisfaction. 

The unique life experiences and resilience of employees with disabilities can foster a workplace culture that values adaptability, creativity, and a broader understanding of customer needs. In embracing diversity, businesses gain a competitive edge by tapping into a talent pool that reflects the diversity of their customer base, enhancing the capacity for innovation and market responsiveness.

For example, at Pfizer Middle East, Russia, and Africa, we have our disability internship program aligned with our Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion priorities. The program aims to advance the future of young graduates in starting their careers and to support them in becoming independent – many of whom become full-time Pfizer employees. It was originally launched in South Africa in 2022, but today, we are expanding across the Gulf and North Africa, to hire more talent with disabilities every year.

Such programs not only facilitate the inclusion of individuals with challenges in the workforce but also challenge the misconception that they cannot excel as effective team players. As companies in the Middle East and Africa strive for a more inclusive future, it’s vital to acknowledge and embrace historically overlooked demographics, such as people of determination.

A genuine commitment to equity is paramount in shaping a more inclusive society—one that begins by addressing the diverse needs of all, regardless of background.

Author
Seda Tanem Tamur Ograli

Senior Director People Experience - Pfizer Middle East, Russia, Africa & Turkey

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