Stéphane Louis: The integration of persons with disabilities at Orange Business Services

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Management Summary

Diversity management is on the agenda of most international organisations that are confronted with the variety of nationalities, cultures and religions. The variety of gender is also the most popular topic and benefits from a rather high visibility. Diversity management also encompasses the inclusion of people with disabilities. Not only does an active diversity management shed a favourable light on the organisation as an exemplary social model to copy and to report about, it also translates into improved bottom lines results. Savvy organisations have prospected for some time already in the diversity management, as they have understood the advantages they could get out the creation of an inclusive workplace allowing all their talent to unfold for the benefit of the employer. The inclusive workplace proves to be beneficial for all employees and leads to more attractiveness as an employer for candidates or as a supplier for customers, eager to find the application of social responsibility. The integration of person with disabilities is supported by many western countries that rather recently added to their constitution or in their legal framework articles committing to the equality of chances for disabled people. Across the OECD countries, the states spend on average up to 2% of their GDP on benefits for disability, 2.5 times more than the spending on unemployment benefits. Their utilisation varies from country to country. English speaking countries and liberal markets have adopted an inciting approach based on the respect of equality of chances. Latin countries and less liberal markets have preferred a policy based on quotas and compensating contributions.

Disability appeals most of the time negative images that often relates to incapability. Medical treatments, specialised institutions and sheltered workplaces or workshops were the most practised ways to handle disability for decades. In the early 1970's a new approach defined a social model that considers the individual as a part of the surrounding society that through its lack of adaptability creates hurdles handicapping the persons with disabilities. Whilst the medical model survived and is used to evaluate the degree of invalidity leading to the pay out of compensating benefits, the social model is adopted in the institutions and organisations to create an environment favourable to the integration of people with disability.

Integrating persons with disabilities or creating the climate to make sure the employees with disabilities feel comfortable to stay in an organisation is a social innovation that presents the characteristics of organisation development. To be successful this change management approach implies that the senior management recognises and acknowledges a situation that requires their full attention to perform the organisational and cultural changes towards more inclusivity with the active participation of every employee. The integration of persons with disabilities requires applying a plan following a methodology. The Thom framework seems best appropriate to this end. In this social innovative context, the framework allows exploring:

  • the environmental factors influencing the organisation on the theatres where it operates that will favour the integration of people with disabilities. The analysis of 4 dimensions, politico-legal, economical, socio-cultural and technological permits defining the context surrounding the organisation that favours or hinders the integration of person with disabilities,
  • the corporate factors defining the propensity of an organisation towards the integration of people with disability,
  • the personal factors defining the propensity of organisation's personnel with their experience and culture, their professional qualification and their engagement to contribute building a favouring context for this integration.

These elements contribute to define the human resource and management tools and practices inside an organisation that will be more or less appropriate to support the integration or re-integration of persons with disabilities. The theoretical analysis based on the literature survey leads to the conclusion that the integration of people with disabilities requires some accommodations like the workplace accommodation  in order to build the required inclusive workplace environment. These accommodations turn not to be as costly as most of the employers think. This is one of numerous stereotypes that should be demystified for creating the social and cultural statute leading to consider the person with disabilities for what they can do just like evaluating any other employee.

Orange Business Services is a brand of the France Telecom-Orange group and operates in 166 countries through local legal entities. As many other multinational organisations Orange Business Services is confronted with the diversity notably the cultural variety with more that 40% of the staff members employed outside France. The France Telecom-Orange group was affected between 2008 and 2011 by multiple cases of desperate acts committed by employees in France. The resulting pressure then exercised by numerous stakeholders from the political circles, the media, the unions and the public opinion led to the nomination of a new CEO heading the group who immediately engaged radical changes of approach towards more social responsibility in favour of the employees. He defined the lines of this new approach inside “conquest 2015”, the 2011-2015 group strategic plan that is declined inside the various subsidiaries with more or less dedication, success and resonance.

Interviews performed with several HR representatives and managers in 3 Orange Business Services subsidiaries in France, Germany and Switzerland, identifies the context into which each legal entity operates and the progress each of these made towards the integration or re-integration of persons with disabilities. The answers evaluation drives to the conclusion that the Swiss subsidiary is less advanced than its sister-companies in Germany and France for the integration of people with disabilities. The Swiss legal context does not impose quotas of employees with disabilities to the companies. This is not driving the employers to think systematically to this problematic. In the same time all Orange Business Services’ subsidiaries put at the forefront the necessary adequacy between the candidates’ skills and the job requirements, and they practice a fair recruitment based on objective criteria. The German and French subsidiaries differentiate from the Swiss subsidiary by their governance, leaving more responsibility and influence to the employees through the work council in Germany and the unions’ representatives in France. The Swiss subsidiary, most likely due to the structure of the labour market and its governance model, does not appear ready yet to make the step towards the integration of persons with disabilities or the re-integration of employees coming back from a long sick-leave.

The HR department plays a central role in the elaboration of the integration policy for person with disabilities. To this end it must evolve from an administrator to a strategic role in order to drive the integration program with the necessary visionary orientation.

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