A New Epoch for Canadians with Disabilities

Beth: When we were talking earlier, James, you had mentioned accommodations and how Covid-19 is transforming some of these relationships in the workplace between employer and employee. More of Life After Covid-19 with James MacKenzie interview continues.

So, my first question for you and is…In what ways has the experience of Covid-19 transformed our approach to business and workplace relations between employer-employee. And how has it impacted even how we conceive of the start-up business model? So, it’s more inclusive and accessible to people with disabilities as well as other underrepresented minorities like LGBTQ, people of color, women, etcetera.

Making Inclusive Workspaces

James: There’s a lot of different topics there to kind of peel away at, but it’s interesting when you kind of take a step back and you think how things have been happening already?

Organizations, the people that created the jobs, the people that were the employers, whether a federal or private industry typically were the ones that dictated the method, the location of employment.

They provided the structure to the employees and told them; this is how you’re going to work. Thank you very much. If you don’t like it, find someone else.

What has happened with Covid, it is almost like a good dose of Buckley’s cough medicine where it may taste really, really bad. But you have to do something about this. So, people have been forced to work in ways that they may not have typically worked before.

They have been forced to work far more remotely and organizations have been forced to allow their employees to do that. Or they get a huge fine, they get a massive trouble. More of Life After Covid-19 with James MacKenzie interview continues.

Measuring Remote Workers Productivity

And I think that being forced into that that structure being forced into letting your employees work remotely has caused a lot of employers to really look at what their employees are actually doing. What productivity is. What accountability is and realize that they can get the same in many cases, they can get the same work done remotely with zero impact.

So, you know, fascinating conversation there when you think about that structure of something that had been for a very long time, looked down upon even. The employer is the one that defines exactly all the circumstances and conditions of employment.

And now we’ve moved into what is becoming for some companies aim or permanent state of the employees having a very strong voice in dictating those accommodations. And that, I think, makes it much easier to make the kinds of accommodations to Alfred’s point that people have been asking about for a long time.

Working Hard or Remotely Working?

You have savings of time driving to and from work that you no longer have to drive to. You have the anxiety. I don’t know about you, but I hate that traveling in downtown traffic. It scares the bejesus out of me.

Being able to avoid that stress and anxiety and still get my productivity met still make my employer happy. Still feel like I’m a positive contributing member, is a massive shift looking at you.

Look at some of the changes of making this temporary Covid structure more permanent. You have companies like Shopify saying this is pretty much how things are going to be going forward. Even the government of Canada, which is not known for being the quickest to adapt, has said that they want to let somewhere around 40% of their workers work remotely. More of Life After Covid-19 with James MacKenzie interview continues.

Benefit to Make Accommodations Easier

And I think the opportunity that that opens up to make accommodations easier and easier to expect for everybody, regardless of their abilities is, I think, a huge ironically, a huge benefit of having to go through this Pandemic.

You talked a little bit about diversity as well. This a big cause of mine personally. Start-ups have a typical flaw, which is getting an idea and then trying to get a group of people to work with you on that idea. And typically, as a start up, you reach very short strokes to find people to work with you on your idea. You gather the people closest to you and start going, that tends to open up a lot of bias and not looking far enough to find people to include in the business.

I think that the opportunity here is since you’re no longer trying to meet that potential employee at the local coffee shop, the opportunity is a little less boundary ridden, and you can reach a lot more remotely.

A project I’m working on right now has people in Hong Kong and Malaysia with geographical boundaries being in material. Other things that I consider closely in looking at diversity is how important diversity is to getting an accurate voice at the business table, at the boardroom table.

Diversity Good for Profit Margins

Statistically proven that companies with greater diversity are more likely to be profitable. And there are impacts on how the ideas air generated around a group. If you have, you know, for example, a group of baseball players and ask them how they were designed a baseball stadium, you’re going to get a lot of baseball kind of sorted ideas.

If you were to take a much wider net and say, well let’s get someone who can talk about numbers, math or finances. Let’s get someone who’s focused on marketing and people. Let’s get someone focused on the sports and those kinds of things, the diversity of viewpoints that you can start getting into, doing the same kind of task makes it fascinating to be able to generate better ideas, more profitable ideas to be able to attract more talent because you’re no longer restricted, to use a course analogy, old white men to contribute to a project you’re now thinking, regardless of skin color, gender, accessibility, issues orientation of any kind. You’re trying to get good candidates, talented people. More of Life After Covid-19 with James MacKenzie interview continues.

Disabled Have Been Ignored in Workplace

I’d like to say to take you up on that for a bit. When you’re talking about it’s the start-up model and how people identify individuals who will be an asset to their business. Historically, people with disabilities have often been ignored, overlooked not necessarily because they don’t have the skill. They don’t have the educational background. They don’t have the experience, but because of how they have been identified, the inherent biases around society Does this opportunity have an impact in terms of in terms of employment and hiring what is considered, what is not considered when you’re identifying various different individuals who can contribute to your business?

I think it’s still takes creativity of leadership to get through that. A good example I can take is thinking of something new, like, you know, IoT experience…the Internet of things.

If you go on and try to connect through your normal networking means, you may get stuck in side of a small pool of talent that limits you on the kinds of people that you’ll be able to bring in people are now starting to get a lot more creative and how they’re finding people. At least I think so, in how they’re finding people to be able to bring into that group.

James MacKenzie is interviewed by Beth Robertson of the Conference Board of Canada about Life After Covid-19 for persons with disabilities on Accessibility TV

Looking for Secondary Characteristics

An example could be looking for secondary characteristics. As a leader, I may look for someone with that technical experience to try to augment my team capability, and I may have a struggle trying to find someone. But if I look for someone with a secondary characteristic, for example your communication skills intellect, a certain degree program, something like that. I may cut around, perhaps, an inherent bias on how I was looking for them initially finding a new pool of candidates.

Since I have a wider pool, I now have more competition for that job and as an employer, that’s something that I should inherently be very happy about, because I confined have a better chance of finding the rock star candidate, that candidate that can contribute in a great way. Without having a way to widen that pool, I think people would get stuck in their biases.

James MacKenzie Bio

James Mackenzie is a serial entrepreneur.  Among his work projects, he serves as Chief Operating Officer of PureColo, Ottawa’s largest independent data center.  He has been a recipient of the Ottawa Chamber of Commerce Top 40 Under Forty award, has founded or co-founded six multi-million dollar companies over the last decade, and two of the companies he co-founded have been awarded Best of Ottawa Business awards.

Beth A. Robertson Bio

Beth A. Robertson is the Senior Research Associate for Inclusion; Education and Skills; Future Skills at the Conference Board of Canada in Ottawa. She is a social scientist who specializes in Equity, Diversity and Inclusion, with expertise in the areas of gender, disability, technology and industry. She has served as Director of the $1.1 million small grants program “Gendered Design in STEAM (science, technology, engineering, art and mathematics) for Low and Middle Country,” based out of Carleton University with funding from the International Development Research Centre.

In addition, she was Adjunct Curator of Gender and Globalization for Ingenium: Canada’s Museums of Science and Innovation. Robertson has hosted mini-documentaries for Accessibility TV and was co-primary investigator of Carleton University’s Disability Research Group. She has curated exhibits, published articles, given public presentations, organized symposiums and developed pedagogical materials related to accessibility, human rights and technology.

Accessibility TV

Accessibility TV is a Canadian entity which reaches individuals, companies, organizations and governments related to Accessibility issues, information and ideas. Our audience exceeds the 4.4 million Canadians who live with a disability by including policy makers, corporations, companies and the army of family, friends and organizations who directly support the 1 in 7 Canadians with a disability on a daily basis.

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