This is the first of a four-part series examining diversity, equity and inclusion (DE&I) in corporate India. Broadly, diversity allows people gainful employment, inclusion gives them the opportunity to contribute, and equity provides fair access to resources and benefits. Part 1 explores a dip in the representation of persons with disabilities.
Muhammed Aslam P V has a master’s degree and experience working in the accounts department of two private companies. He suffers from a locomotive disability arising out of a birth condition. The 27-year-old has been looking for a job since the beginning of this financial year.
He may not be alone. Persons with disabilities (PwDs) formed a minuscule segment of the workforce in 2021-22 (FY22), shows a Business Standard analysis of company disclosures.
There were 30-32 people with disabilities for every 10,000 employees between FY18 and FY21. This figure declined to 29 for FY22 — the lowest in five years. The analysis is based on numbers collated from the country’s top 100 companies over three years. The data points for the two previous years were collated in a pre-pandemic exercise. The final sample consisted of 51 companies with uniform data across the five years.
The employment situation has worsened in recent years, according to Arman Ali, executive director at the Delhi-based National Centre for Promotion of Employment for Disabled People (NCPEDP). While work from home has become common, technological advances have eliminated many positions that were open to PwDs, such as manual data entry. Many of the jobs that are available are concentrated in metro regions such as Bengaluru, Gurugram, Hyderabad, and Pune. This makes it difficult for those outside these places to be gainfully employed, since they have to leave behind their existing support system, according to Ali. “Migration is a huge problem for disabled people,” he said.
The government does better than the private sector on this parameter because there is a legal mandate requiring PwD employment, according to Ali.
Government companies in the sample had 213 PwD employees per 10,000 individuals in the workforce in FY22. Private companies had only 19.
Representation varies across sectors: Information technology companies had 22 PwD employees per 10,000 as of FY22, against only 17 in FY19. Consumer companies saw their share rise from 38 to 42 during the same period. But in the banking and finance sector, the share of PwD employees dropped from 10 in FY19 to six in FY22, in a sample that had private sector players. It would have improved if one included the public sector, but uniform data was not available for the segment.
The refinery, crude oil and natural gas sector, dominated by public sector companies, has done better on inclusion.
Companies struggled with identifying skilled personnel to hire among persons with disabilities even before the pandemic, said Aman Bhaiya, assistant vice-president of the State Bank of India’s non-profit subsidiary – SBI Foundation. Companies have now scaled back hiring plans, according to him. “Many existing employees with disabilities had trouble accessing the support systems that they relied heavily on in the office before the pandemic. The pandemic has aggravated their pre-existing challenges. Inclusion has unfortunately taken a back seat,” he said.
Nirmita Narasimhan, programme director at the non-profit Saksham Trust, said the software that offices use to do their work may not currently be fully accessible to all. This can make it difficult for employers to address accessibility issues despite the best of intentions.
The government has recently moved to create a standard (IS 17802), which will require software design to incorporate accessibility in a way that ensures that PwDs are not at a disadvantage. It can go a long way towards removing barriers for employers to create an equal workplace environment, according to Narasimhan.
“If things are anyway accessible, the employer needs to do less,” she said.
Muhammed Aslam PV is working with the SBI Foundation on a short-term course to pick up relatively advanced Microsoft Excel and other skills. He hopes to be hired once the course is complete, and the companies come knocking.