Employee Handbook




“As a Muslim woman, there are also a lot of challenges in the workplace. But I personally don’t have to start waking up in the morning and worry. I know that working with a lot of other companies comes with so many conditions and puts so much pressure on [minorities] thinking of what I am going to wear and how people might treat me differently.”

This quote is from Malika, an employee of a DSAA member company. For Malika, things are working well: her workplace feels comfortable and she told us that most of her colleagues understand what building inclusive working cultures is about.


Our mission is to ensure that every employee within the DSAA member company network can feel like Malika, including you. Disregarding your own personal background, your gender, whether you have a disability or not - you deserve a working environment where you feel physically and psychologically safe - so that you can unleash your full potential.

From our interview with Malika as well as many other conversations, we know that while belonging to an underrepresented group in any environment can be tricky, it is possible to design inclusive working environments. In the process of creating such working cultures, the help of every single employee is needed. Everyone can make a difference and everyone is mutually responsible for making this work. Whether in your specific working situation your accounts would be similar to those of Malika, or whether your company is not at all as advanced, there are plenty of practical things you can do to become a driver of change.

On top of the fact that such a working environment makes work more enjoyable for everyone involved, it is good for business too. Research shows that diverse teams achieve better results and produce more creative ideas. This means that your own potential is unlocked differently if you are placed in a diverse team, consisting of individuals with different identities.
The goal of this handbook is to provide you with the information you need to become an agent for change. We want you to feel empowered to push forward gender equity and inclusion, disregarding your position or role. With this handbook, anyone can become a driver for change, initiate more inclusive behaviours and practices and shape a culture that is more fair for everyone.

The handbook consists of three main parts: in the first step you will learn about the current situation regarding gender equity and inclusion. We want to help you to recognize the underlying structures that lead to the inequality of women and people with disabilities. The handbook also offers information about various forms of bias, how they operate and what that has to do with inclusion. You will see various examples of how discrimination can (sometimes very subtly) manifest in the workplace. Lastly, we will guide you to reflect your own beliefs and biases and provide you with some helpful checklists and exercises to learn how to cope with bias and better include women and people with disabilities in the future.

Consider this handbook a toolbox that you can make your own. You might work within the BPO sector in Ghana, you might be situated in software engineering in Rwanda. To quote one member of the DSAA network: “a toolbox is a toolbox. Not everything has to work for everyone - everyone can pick whatever they need.” This handbook is meant to serve as a source of knowledge that you can refer back to again and again. It provides you with concepts and mindful language to talk about your own experiences and address discrimination in the workplace.
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We would like to thank you for your interest in joining us on this journey. We hope it helps you bring this knowledge to your workplace and act as a driver of change. If you have any further questions, please feel free to contact us at any time.

IN-VISIBLE and the DSAA team



In many places, women and – even more so – people with disabilities (PwD) do not have the same access to employment that men or people without disabilities have. While laws are in place that technically guarantee equal rights, including the right to work, these usually do not translate to truly equal opportunities.

For example, in Morocco, the female employment rate was just 16,7% in 2020 (Statista, 2021), and while the employment rates of PwD are not frequently published, older reports suggest that they are similarly below those of people without disabilities – for example, in 2013/14 only around 52% of people with disabilities in Rwanda were employed, compared to 71% of the general population (Development Pathways, 2019). And for women with disabilities, the rates can be even lower. Why is that so?

In the case of women, a lot of the time they are expected to marry at a young age and spend their lives caring for their husband and children, rather than enjoying higher education and a long-term career (Abbott & Malunda 2016). Women that are employed outside the home experience the extra strain of having to continue working for their family after getting home from working for their employer.

Take Ghana, for example: according to a 2020 UN Women report Ghanaian women spend around 14,4% of their time doing household chores, while it’s only 3,5% for men (UN Women, 2022). Even women in leadership positions who are their household’s main income earner report having to do the majority of chores after returning from a stressful workday (Mumporeze & Nduhura, 2019). Coping with this inequality is just one part of the picture that causes a burden for women. Going into other hardships that women are disproportionally affected by, such as sexual harassment, sexual assault and domestic violence, all of  which remain all too common worldwide, would go beyond this handbook.

People with disabilities (PwD), meanwhile, face a lot of prejudice. They may be regarded with suspicion and fear, in some cases even the belief that their disabilities are a punishment from God or other supernatural forces – or they may be pitied and seen as inherently incapable of living a fulfilled life (Mfoafo-M’Carthy et al., 2020). In either case they are often denied the chance to receive the same level of education and training as people without disabilities, in part because of inaccessible facilities and a lack of training for teachers.

For example, according to a 2021 report only 40% of PwD in Senegal even attend primary school, significantly less than average (United States Department of State, 2021). PwD’s access to the workforce is further limited by spaces and technology being inaccessible to them, for example when information is only available in print format, excluding blind people and those with visual impairments. Some countries in theory require public transport and buildings to be accessible, but that isn’t always executed in practice (Ocran, 2019) and does not necessarily apply to private properties, such as offices.

Efforts have been made to address these inequalities. Each of the countries that DSAA member companies reside in has some form of law addressing equal rights, as well as programs such as Egypt’s recent “Gender Gap Accelerator”, aimed at supporting women in the workplace. In many countries, PwD are legally entitled to certain support measures, for example financial assistance. NGOs and other organisations are working to improve the living situations and employment chances of women and PwD. And yet, things are changing slowly: laws are not always applied, people are left out because of a lack of knowledge or resources (e.g. in rural areas), and, perhaps most importantly, people may not understand why change is needed at all.

Everyone has certain ideas of what women and PwD are capable of and should be doing both in private and in the world of employment. And these ideas are ones we absorb from an early age: from our family, but also from the media, popular culture and advertising. No matter if you’re a man or a woman, if you have a disability or not, we all “know” who can do which job or who needs what at work, and we rarely stop to consider where this knowledge comes from or if it’s really accurate. And this is a problem, because these beliefs shape both how we perceive ourselves and how we perceive and interact with others. For women and PwD this means that from a very young age, they are taught that they are somehow less capable, should be less confident, don’t have a place in the working world. There are strong narratives about pitying PwD because their abilities are framed as dysfunctional within our system instead of considering the system that we have built as flawed. For men and people without disabilities, that means that they learn to see them this way, too – and eventually, change may seem not only impossible, but unnecessary. After all, this is the way things ought to be, right?
Narratives of pity are very commonly used to execute power over various societal groups, not just PwD. Oftentimes, the narrative of pity remains the only and single story about a group of people, leading to a very limited understanding of the lived experience of the individuals of this group and perpetuating stereotypes. To learn more about the danger of the single story, check out Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie’s Ted Talk where she explains this mechanism by giving examples of her own experiences as a Nigerian woman moving to the US. In the following chapter we will get into why and how these attitudes can become a problem in the workplace.


In recent years, the interest in gender and inclusion has grown in the corporate realm, as more and more studies (Hansra et al., 2019) have put forward the economic benefits of diverse teams that manage to unlock everyone’s potential. Gender and inclusion (often also referred to as G&I) are essentially two aspects of diversity. But what exactly does diversity even mean? Following, we will shed light on some of the basic terminology that is important to use the handbook and to engage in conversations about it.

First things first: Diversity essentially means variety. A diverse team ensures the presence or representation of all kinds of different identities, regarding traits such as gender, race, migration experience, age, disability, social class or many others. This doesn’t mean simply checking off a list of superficial traits, but to create a space for a variety of experiences and needs, and to make use of their points of view. For example: if we talk about gender diversity, this then means ensuring that people of all genders, and not just men, are represented and get their voice heard. This is in contrast to the status quo all over the world, where most positions of power are held by men and thus women are significantly less represented and taken less seriously.
Diversity can be applied to all different kinds of other identity categories, for example pushing for the representation of people with disability. It is important to note that disability is often defined as a mental or physical condition that makes it difficult for the person with the disability to engage in a broad range of activities in life. However, disability activists have emphasised that disability is less about the condition or state of the body, and more about restrictions and hurdles that society imposes upon people with disabilities. This is the result of society having certain ideas about what everyone is supposed to be able to do: to walk, hear, talk, work, learn and think in certain ways, etc. Infrastructure, media and much more are created with people in mind who are able to do all of these things, creating the aforementioned hurdles for people with disabilities. In this extended definition, structures that are restricting are referred to as ableist, meaning that they are based on able-bodied people (those without disabilities). When talking about disabilities, it’s important to note that not all disabilities are visible from the outside and building a diverse company is less about gathering people that look diverse and instead more about diverse perspectives that naturally come with different lived experiences.
Diversity is only one side of the coin. Think back to your first day with your current employer. How did you feel? What was the environment like and in which way did this impact your experience? Depending on your team, the company, but probably also your identity, your experience might be very different from the experience of your colleague - that has to do with inclusion. It goes beyond representation (who is present?) and asks the question of what’s needed to create a (working) environment in which everyone feels accepted, taken seriously and valued. That means that it’s not enough to provide a seat at the table, it also requires that everyone at the table is given the space in which their voice is heard.
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Summarising, what we have covered so far. Enhancing gender diversity and inclusion are at the forefront of DSAA’s member and partner companies, but also within the wider business community. Some main take-aways regarding the terminology


G&I stands for Gender and Inclusion.
At the workplace, G&I has the aim to represent women and PwD at all levels as well as to assure they can participate and get their perspectives in.


The structural and historically engrained discrimination of women is referred to as sexism.


The structural and historically engrained discrimination of people with disabilities is called ableism.


We have now defined some of the terminology around G&I. As you realised, when we talk about G&I, we talk a lot about structural issues - situations and attitudes that affect many aspects of our societies and cultures, rather than just being individual problems. But how are these issues reflected not just in the working world in general, but your workplaces specifically? To find out, we conducted a survey as well as personal interviews with employees of DSAA member companies, asking about their feelings regarding inclusion and ways that women and PwD are or are not included in their workplace. <
We found that women are present and visible in the companies surveyed, and often hold leadership positions as well. This is an encouraging trend, because both locally and globally, women are still vastly underrepresented in leadership roles. However, it also became clear that another trend is also reflected in DSAA member companies: the presence of women in leadership positions does not necessarily mean a truly inclusive workplace. For example, our survey showed that equal pay is not always given for equal work, there’s insecurity around topics such as support with childcare, or women exercising their right to parental leave without worrying about a negative impact on their career, or companies offering specific mentoring for women, and often there are no clear procedures for dealing with discrimination and (sexual) harassment. We also found that a lot of employees don’t know how to identify harassment or intervene when they see it. For instance, an employee shared their wish to implement measures to deal with this topic in the following words:

“Provide training on sexual [harassment] and define clear cut policies on [how] to report it alongside [aid] provided to victims.”
People with disabilities are somewhat less represented in DSAA member companies, especially in leadership positions. Most respondents to the survey identified accessibility as a major problem for PwD in their workplaces: many are unable to fully meet the needs of employees with disabilities, especially when it comes to physical access to buildings or making accommodations for the needs of PwD, as the following quotes regarding from our survey indicate:

“Hire more people with disabilities and get infrastructure that would allow them to feel free”

“It would be great when [company name] moves to a completely Inclusive facility. Although, it is trying really hard to make our current office spaces disability friendly as we do not own the properties we occupy.”
Many employees also wish for the everyday work culture to be more inclusive towards PwD and for employees to be properly trained to deal with PwD. To mention some examples:

“People with disabilities should be given the opportunity to participate in overall aspect.”

“There has been attempts in the past to educate members about living with people with disability. I feel more such educational programs can be of great help to all employees”
The survey also showed that PwD are somewhat less represented in DSAA member companies, especially in leadership positions. Most respondents to the survey identified accessibility as a major problem for PwD in their workplaces: many are unable to fully meet the needs of employees with disabilities, especially when it comes to physical access to buildings or making accommodations for the needs of PwD, as the following quotes regarding from our survey indicate:

“Special facilities should be made available for them to ease their activities”

“Hire more people with disabilities and get infrastructure that would allow them to feel free”
Most importantly, our survey found that employees of DSAA member companies care about inclusion and equity. Most of our respondents reported positive feelings about the inclusion and awareness trainings they have received and many felt that there is a lot more that their companies could do to foster inclusivity and enhance the employee experience. To give you an even better idea of what that employee experience may look like at the moment, we’d like to share some examples from our interviews. Although most people would agree that they treat everyone the same, there is a large body of research indicating that this is not the reality. Adjo, an employee of a software company, reports that although the management in his company is trying to remove physical barriers for PwD, stigmatisation remains a huge problem: “You need an environment that encourages PwD to be themselves. To do this you need to make sure the other people in the organisation also see that.”

While the IT industry holds a lot of potential for PwD, providing jobs that don’t necessarily require physical presence, the overall mind-set of the company remains an obstacle. One interviewee put it this way:

“Today, many hurdles are a little bit smaller. To get the right education is easier, to pursue your secondary school courses and exams is an option - online. And you can even be recruited and stay at home.”

Similarly, while the BPO sector already has a large presence of women and would seemingly be one where female careers could be advanced easily, “you have to pass the message that gender equity is necessary to reach gender equality”, an employee says.
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But why is it so difficult for us humans to treat everyone the same? According to cognitive research, our brain – particularly our decision making process – is actually rather easy to manipulate. In 2011, the Nobel Prize winner Daniel Kahnemann published the book “Thinking, Fast and Slow” (Kahnemann, 2011), in which he compiled the main findings of his research. He describes the different ways our brain systems function and how these make us susceptible to cognitive biases. What does that mean?

One of the key learnings from Kahnemann and others’ research is that all of our decisions, opinions, and actions are based on “unconscious rules of thumb.” These unconscious rules are a kind of shortcut that our brains remember based on past decisions, social codes, and cues. They underlie our intuition and are responsible for the fact that making bad decisions is sometimes unavoidable. Results of psychological experiments show that, for example, statistical data and logic are massively neglected in decision making and that our brain cannot be influenced by rational arguments when a “feeling” has already set in (Benedetto et al., 2006).

Many ask themselves: How can it be that so many people give more credence to a perceived truth than to scientific facts? And this question is also highly relevant for decisions at the workplace, because studies show that women, for example, are often perceived as less competent than men, even if they have the same qualifications. The “facts” – in this case their CV and skillset – speak in their favour, yet the decision is made against them (Begeny et al., 2000 and Moss-Racusin et al., 2012).

Why do people fail to make fair decisions? A simple answer to the question is: Because our brains cannot actively process the huge masses of information that hit us every second. Information overload. So, on the one hand, large parts are filtered out, i.e. not “perceived” at all. On the other hand, in order to make the complexity of our world more easy to process, we tend to think in categories that simplify reality – but because they have developed over such a long time, we often don’t see that they don’t contain the whole truth.

In many situations this filtering process is helpful. We would be unable to navigate in a world in which several million units of information have to be consciously weighed every second. Often, quick perception and unconscious reaction patterns even save our lives: If we are walking to work as pedestrians, half asleep, and suddenly hear a car honking behind us, we immediately jump to the side and are alarmed. We don’t have to sort out arguments in our head to decide what an appropriate reaction would be. Instead, we use a kind of shortcut that the brain has memorised because it has worked well so far.

However, when it comes to the impact of our brain shortcuts on workplace decisions and corporate culture, they may be less helpful. Gender and the expectations and social norms attached to gender roles play a major role here, leading to phenomena such as gender bias.


While denying a person a job on the grounds that she is less suitable “as a woman” is not legally acceptable (anymore), our human brain is not as progressive all the time. As we have seen, all perceptions and decisions we make are far from being “neutral”. Research shows that the long tradition of formal and social inequality of women is still embedded in our thinking today – and it generates various kinds of bias. Among them is the gender bias.

You may have stumbled across the word bias in various contexts: a bias describes effects in data sets, calculations, perception, and thinking. In statistics, a bias is a systematic error that potentially has a distorting effect on the overall data collection. There are also biases that seem to be programmed into the way we think: so-called cognitive biases. For example, when we make a decision, we tend to give more weight to the first piece of information that reaches us rather than to subsequent pieces of information. This so-called anchor effect (Tversky & Kahnemann, 1974) is often used in advertising: A product is labelled with two prices, the supposed original price – now crossed out – and the supposed reduced price. Regardless of how much the product is worth or whether a reduction has occurred, we think we are landing a bargain (HubSpot, n.d.).

Other biases are socialised and grow out of social structures. We are often influenced, usually without realising it, by sexist, ableist or other prejudices; the list goes on. Thus, our perceptions, the choices we make, and judgments we make are skewed. In the case of gender bias (Eichler et al., 2000), as the name implies, it is a bias, a skewed judgement, based on gender (3). Similar to a small error at the beginning of a mathematical calculation, gender bias distorts everything that follows. It’s a kind of learned, sexist thinking error.

The term gender bias originated in relation to conditions in scientific research, but it also affects and shapes our everyday lives. This is also the case at work. Since the 1970s, there has been a steadily growing body of research on bias in work culture that addresses the phenomenon across countries and industries.

Gender biases feed on existing structures, are taught to us and further reinforce inequalities. Unequal division of labour and unpaid reproductive work further burden women. Opportunities in the labour market are also shaped by bias, as evidenced by the so-called gender pay gap and unbalanced gender ratios, especially at the executive level.


Androcentrism places men at the centre and treats their perspectives, needs and problems as a "neutral" norm. For example, medical research may use all-male groups as the base of a study and then apply their findings to everyone, even though the results might have been quite different if the groups had been all-female or mixed. Here, an overgeneralization occurs because male bodies, experiences, and perspectives are precisely not neutral, but: male.


Gender insensitivity as a bias leads to the impact of gender on a situation being ignored. This phenomenon is also referred to as gender ignorance. This bias obscures the fact that the same circumstances have different effects on the realities of people's lives, for example regarding different needs at work for mothers in contrast to employees without children. Socialised role models, societal expectations, and structural conditions in the workplace all play a role.


The same situations, behaviours or characteristics are evaluated differently depending on gender. Such double standards exist frequently and in all areas of life. For example, if female CEOs speak for the same length of time or use the same rhetoric as their male colleagues, they are judged as too brash or incompetent. Equal (speaking) behaviour here is considered appropriate for the male boss, but is judged "bossy" for the female CEO.
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Gender bias is relevant in any workplace, also within the DSAA member companies. Here are some examples of employees about gender bias.


“In BPO in general, it is relatively female, in some countries we have 70% women. But it is a pyramid and while “we start out with a lot of women, on the C1 level, -1 and -2 there are rarely any women represented.”


“In my observation, the guys are more outspoken in the first weeks. Often, they are then assigned roles in the training, such as moderators. This leads to a skewed gender dynamic and if you want to level this out, you need to proactively steer against it. Otherwise you generate a very male communication climate that further manifests gender dynamics.”


“Women have childcare duties and their social environment is going to be sceptical of their job. This is an extra burden and they need advocates at companies that put in a word for their needs.”

As described, gender biases are a structural problem that cannot be combated only on a personal, interpersonal level. It is also up to companies to critically examine their own work culture and initiate change. Changes can thus run through the institutional level to the confrontation with personal beliefs. Behind every organisation are people. And their decisions have an impact, whether it’s evaluating employees, setting up new structures, or driving specific changes. People who are sensitive to gender bias and corresponding impacts can work proactively to address it. Remind each other, anticipate, question. After all, if you don’t see the problem, you become part of it. It is important to acknowledge that bias cannot be “trained away.”

All people have biases – so it is important to bring them out of the subconscious and into consciousness. This is where forming diverse teams can help; after all, people learn different codes and correspondingly different biases depending on culture and context. Encouraging different perspectives in the team and giving everyone enough space to ask critical questions is therefore an important first step in making the invisible visible. It can help to get support “from the outside.” In a workshop on the topic of gender bias, participants learn the necessary tools to uncover invisible biases and to work together on the work culture.

To build gender inclusive work cultures, we must thus first understand our gender bias. Or, put differently, we can ask ourselves: how does gender matter to me when I meet a new person or collaborate with my colleague? From there on, we can begin to explore what gender exclusion mechanisms look like.


These are some typical examples of gender inequality or gender-based discrimination.
You can either read the cases by yourself and self-reflect. Alternatively, you may ask one or two colleagues or your team to join you on a little discussion round about these cases. Proceed as follows:





One person reads out the case.

Everyone writes down immediate reactions and feelings.

Everyone shares their notes in a row.

Open discussion.

“In meetings with male colleagues I’m always expected to be the one who takes notes, makes sure that the presentation works and that coffee is available – even though I wasn’t the one who invited them to the meeting or the one responsible for it.”

This case is one example of the ways that women are expected to be responsible for care work, not just in their families, but also in the workplace: even though the woman who reported this is a participant of the meetings just the same as her male colleagues, they assume that she will do all the small tasks that are necessary for a meeting to go smoothly. This is a very common occurrence in the workplace: women are often made responsible for things such as preparing team lunches, organising work events, arranging rooms, making bookings, and much more. That means that they have less time to concentrate on their work tasks, while their male colleagues reap the benefits – often without realising that this unseen work makes their days go much more smoothly. This in turn may make female employees feel frustrated and underappreciated, leading to lower job satisfaction.
“I, one of three females in my training cohort, was giving a talk in front of a group. Afterwards a participant (older man) came up to me and said that I shouldn’t lean on a table or cross my legs when talking in front of a group, because it looks insecure. He claimed it’s something that only women do. I told him I would do better next time, because I didn’t feel like he would leave me alone otherwise.”

We mentioned double standards before, and this is a great example. Men certainly lean on tables and cross their legs while speaking, too – but when they do it, it’s at worst considered relaxed or informal, but certainly not insecure. But this case also shows two more issues: women being judged by their appearance and men offering unasked-for and often unneeded advice. We can ask ourselves: is the position of her body really relevant to what she was saying? If her presentation is insightful, why does it matter how her legs are aligned? The same is true for men, of course, but women in particular are often expected to not just be competent, but also, to put it bluntly, decorative. This ties in with the unneeded advice: men often believe women to be less educated, aware and competent, therefore feeling the need to explain things that the woman might very well already know.

“During a meeting (I’m the only woman) I was asked for my opinion on the topic. Before I could say anything, a colleague said “Before you say your nice closing words, Mrs. ABC, I’ve got another contribution to the topic.”

Many studies have been conducted on speaking times and interruptions in meetings, and the overwhelming majority of them show: women get less time to speak and are interrupted much more often than men. And not just that, men also tend to believe that speaking times were equal when in reality women spoke much less, and that women were speaking more often than men when in reality speaking times were equal. So for a man to take the word after a woman was asked for her opinion is unfortunately quite common. In this case, we also need to pay attention to how the interruption is phrased: even though the woman was asked for her opinion on the topic, her male colleague calls it her “nice closing words”, implying that they’re inconsequential in comparison to his “contribution to the topic”. Just as in case number 2, even though the woman is his equal colleague, she is taken less seriously and reduced to the supporting role of making the meeting “nice”.


Just like gender based discrimination, discriminating against people with disabilities does not require a bad intention. Most people act discriminatory accidently, because they are not aware of the patterns and narratives that they were told about people with disabilities, let alone their implications. As put forward in the definition of disability, the norm that our society operates on is one that assumes individuals are able-bodied. Hence we all learn, growing up, that a standard human is not disabled but instead in a condition that allows them to do anything they want to. Of course this is not true, and not only for people with disabilities but also for many other groups based on their individual physical or mental condition. However, the social narrative is so strong that it persists despite the examples that would counteract this (e.g. elderly who cannot use their bodies in any desired way anymore). Similarly to gender, where the norm is rather male than female, and the female is always the “other”, the derivation of this norm, ability is also portrayed as the “right” way.

As a result, we discriminate. Not because we want to but because we have internalised this perspective as “normal”. “Normal” is a tricky word. What is normal? Who is normal? In our societies, this word is characterised by a male person who has no impairment whatsoever. Conversely, this means that everyone else falls at least somewhat outside of this norm. This is evident not only in our schools, businesses, institutions, but even in our technologies.

Discrimination against people with disabilities can take many forms. On a bigger scale, there is often a lack of accessibility, meaning that spaces or information are not designed in such a way that PwD can use them. For example, if a company uses software that does not allow the use of screen readers, blind employees might not be able to use it. If someone is deaf, they may need information in a written format instead of in a phone call. On a societal level, many people still hold a lot of prejudice about people with disabilities, maybe even believing that disabilities are a punishment by god or caused by supernatural forces, and treat PwD with suspicion and fear (Mfoafo-M’Carthy et al., 2020). Children with disabilities may be kept away from the public out of shame or forced to beg, depriving them of education and career prospects (UN Committee on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, 2019). And when it comes to personal interactions, PwD often experience being looked down upon and not taken seriously, people talking to their caregiver instead of them as well as the use of degrading language.



These are some typical examples of discrimination that people with disabilities experience.

You can either read the cases by yourself and self-reflect. Alternatively, you may ask one or two colleagues or your team to join you on a little discussion round about these cases. Proceed as follows:





One person reads out the case.

Everyone writes down immediate reactions and feelings.

Everyone shares their notes in a row.

Open discussion.

“I am hard of hearing and whenever I applied for a job, people would tell me “your credentials are great, but we just wouldn’t know how to communicate with you” or something like that. Even when it’s a job where I would mostly work on my own, they’re not even trying to accommodate me.”

Physical access can be a big problem for people with some disabilities. This includes things such as buildings without elevators (which can be an issue for people using wheelchairs, amongst others) and software that is not usable by blind people, but also companies and colleagues being unwilling to even try to accommodate the needs of the PwD. Some of this depends on factors outside of the control of a company, such as accessible public transport to the workplace. But many other accommodations can be made if everyone is willing, including making an effort to learn how to communicate with deaf employees or providing assisting tools such as screen readers for blind employees. Simply refusing to hire people with disabilities out of an unwillingness to learn can be a barrier that is quite unnecessary and you can easily contribute to the inclusion of people with disabilities simply by making an effort to engage with them.

“People seem to think that just because I can’t read well, I’m stupid. This one colleague always complains that my emails to him have too many mistakes and he has such a hard time understanding what I’m trying to say. Sometimes I wonder if I’m really good at my job or if everyone secretly thinks I’m a burden.”

People with cognitive disabilities, such as lower reading and writing abilities, often find that their intelligence is judged by certain skills that are not really an indication of how much they know or what they can do. Someone with a cognitive disability might be an expert in their field, while someone else may have excellent writing or speaking skills but little else. Including people with disabilities better can be as simple as recognising where certain skills are needed and where not. In this case, an internal email to a co-worker doesn’t need to be perfectly phrased, and if the co-worker doesn’t understand something, he can easily ask for clarification. If it was an email to a client, a simple solution would be to have a co-worker proofread it. Unfortunately, it’s common to expect PwD to accommodate people without disabilities instead of the other way around – such as a co-worker, who is concentrating on how someone else’s disability is inconveniencing him, rather than acknowledging how social expectations exclude people with disabilities.

“All the time my co-workers tell me “XYZ, why do you take so many breaks? Can’t you work faster? Why are you always running around?” I always get my work done on time, but I’ve got a chronic pain condition and sitting for a long time can be hard sometimes. But I don’t want to say anything, because I’m afraid they’ll think I can’t do my job.”

This case shows the common assumption that all disabilities are immediately visible, which can cause a lot of problems for people with invisible disabilities – even though they are very common and may include a wide range of cognitive disabilities, chronic illnesses, mental health conditions and so on. By focusing on visible disabilities and assuming that everyone else has the same physical and mental capabilities, the needs of people with invisible disabilities are often ignored, even more so if they’re young and look “fit”.

When asking for accommodations, people with invisible disabilities are frequently not taken seriously or even accused of lying about their condition, causing shame and leading to many hiding their disabilities at work. When they do accommodate their needs, others might accuse them of laziness or slowness. This causes psychological stress and may affect their work performance in the long run, as they continuously ignore their own boundaries in order not to stand out from their non-disabled colleagues. It can be helpful to focus more on the results – i.e. is the job getting done and done well? – rather than someone’s working style.


Every employee of every company has their part in co-creating the working culture. While you’ll depend on management to implement some larger measures, an inclusive workplace also needs employees who are willing to learn and grow together.


So what can you, personally, do in order to help women and people with disabilities feel more included and comfortable in your workplace? Here are some suggestions:

If you hear someone making a sexist or ableist remark or joke, don’t look away: tell them that what they just said or did is not okay. That will help them reflect on their actions and show women and PwD that they can count on you to support them. Be consistent about it and do it even if women or PwD are not present.
Before you touch someone or someone’s belongings, always ask for consent. For example, don’t just push someone’s wheelchair because they look like they need help. By asking permission, you can be secure that you’re not discriminating and they will feel respected.
If you find yourself making an immediate judgement about someone, try to stop for a moment and consider why you feel that way. You can do that by separating what you see from what that makes you assume, and then checking if your assumption is based on reality. For example, instead of saying “She seems incompetent” you could stop and think “This is a young woman. (Observation) I have been taught that women are not good at this job and someone young must not have a lot of experience. (Assumption) Objectively, being a woman has nothing to do with skill, and while she may not have a lot of experience, she might still be competent. (Checking your assumption.)” This way, you will not only avoid saying something hurtful, but you will teach yourself to generalise less.
Make an effort to talk to your female co-workers or co-workers with disabilities and get to know them as people. This will not only make your workday more enjoyable, but you will learn more about how they experience life, what they need and how you can support them.


Here are some things you should avoid doing or saying:

For example making coffee for everyone, cleaning up after a meeting, organising company events are all tasks that often fall to women by default, even though they benefit everyone and thus everyone should be equally responsible for them. By having to do these tasks, women may have less time and energy left for their real work.
On average, women are interrupted significantly more often (even by other women), get less time to speak in meetings than men, and more often have their ideas appropriated. So make sure you don’t interrupt and if you notice that a woman isn’t getting to say anything or that her ideas are only taken seriously after a man repeats them, say something.
Women and people with disabilities know what they’re capable of – so trust that they are able to decide for themselves whether or not they can fulfil a task, don’t just assume. If you feel like they may need help, ask instead of just doing it.
PwD experience this particularly often: they are told how inspirational they are, that others can’t imagine having to live with such a disability, etc. You might mean well, but to a PwD it can feel like they’re being reduced to their disability and not taken seriously as a skilled employee.
Even if you mean it as a compliment, a lot of women are tired of their appearance being commented on all the time.


Now, you may agree that this check-list sounds fair, but you are wondering how to do this. Indeed, many of the don’ts from our list are common practice and thus effectively not easy to avoid doing. Similarly, the do’s are not always aligned with how we learn to behave or act towards others – as we have internalised somewhat sexist and ableist attitudes. Following, we thus present to you things that will help you to reflect your attitude, become more self-reflective and communicate about your observations in a constructive manner:


Do mindfulness exercises to test yourself.

Next time you board a bus, listen to a presentation, are impressed by someone: take a minute and ask yourself why. Why do I sit next to this person on the bus, why does this other person make me uncomfortable? How would I perceive this presentation if it was executed by someone who had a different age, gender, physical appearance? Why do I feel impressed? Which cue about this person leads to this emotion and what does this say about me?

Be patient with yourself.

Changing thought processes is not something that is done easily, nor quickly. Take your time to unlearn and use tools that make progress visible. Journaling about this topic once a week would be a great way to start. Alternatively, you could also find a few colleagues and agree on regular check-in meetings. These don’t have to be very frequent, regularity is key here.

Advance your communication.

Once you challenge your own assumptions and advance in your unlearning journey, you will see things you didn't see before. Communicating about these observations can be tricky, because you don’t want to offend anyone. It can help to split the observation and the interpretation into two separate parts. The observation is objective, that’s something you could also see if you had filmed the interaction (e.g. I observed that you interrupted Malika for the third time; I observed that you were 10 minutes late the last three meetings). The interpretation part is where your personal interpretation and your needs come into the conversation (e.g. I would like to foster a speaking culture where everyone can contribute; I would like to assure that our meetings can start on time). You can also add a wish and ask a specific request from your colleague, without being rude. The key here is empathy: By splitting the interpretation from the observation, you assure that all parties involved have a shared understanding of what happened. The why and how and whether that’s a problem can then be discussed from this place of mutual understanding.

We have almost reached the end of this handbook. To manifest your learnings, we encourage you to go back to the contents of this handbook whenever you feel insecure or want to deepen your understanding. Moreover, to give you the chance to revise and to test yourself, we would like to close this handbook with some final exercises.


Of course, you can do all of these exercises either by yourself, or in your team. Get creative and play around with the prompts and make them work for your specific environment.


What does “ableism” mean?

What are three ways to support women in the workplace?

Which of the following are challenges that people with disabilities face in the workplace?



After reading this handbook, please take a moment to reflect on what you learned and how you would like to move forwardcases. Proceed as follows:


Take a piece of paper and draw a traffic light with red, yellow and green lights. Think about how you approach women and PwD in your workplace.


Next to the red light, write down everything you’d like to stop doing in the future - things that make your workspace less hostile to women and PwD. Next to the yellow light, write down what you’re already doing well that you want to continue on with. Finally, next to the green light, write down new things that you want to start doing from now on to include women and PwD in your workplace. Try not to just copy the dos and don’ts, but also come up with your own ideas.


If you’d like, compare your traffic light with those of your co-workers. Where do you agree or disagree? Which idea from a co-worker do you want to add to your list? What can you do to support each other in improving inclusion at your workplace? If you want to go the extra mile, you could even create a shared traffic light for your team together and put it on a wall as a reminder of your inclusion goals.
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Stay in Touch

We hope the toolkit has helped you to get acquainted with G&I and perhaps also empowered you to carry what you‘ve learned into your organisation. We are looking forward to hearing from you with any remaining questions or remarks. You can reach out via our social media accounts on Instagram and LinkedIn and we will be happy to get in touch with you.

For now, we would like to thank you for taking the time to learn and to unlearn, to self-reflect and to become a driver for change within the DSAA community.




That sexism is not just relevant in the job but actually an ideology that is prevalent in all spheres of life?

Media plays a very important role in reproducing the same stereotypes about men and women in sometimes very problematic ways. One typical example is the “abduction as romance” narrative in which the abduction and mistreatment of women is presented as inevitable and somewhat legitimate in many Hollywood movies.

To learn more about this media trope, check out this video:


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There is a difference between equality and equity?

Equality means: everyone has the same rights. Equity means: everyone gets what they need to actually make use of these rights and balance out existing inequalities. For example, women and men might have the same legal right to work, i.e. equality is given. But, in reality, studies show that men are more likely to be hired, even if female competitors have the same or better qualifications. Addressing this issue with specific measures to assure that in the end, there are not just male but also female hires would be a measure toward equity.


Reproductive work refers to the kind of work that is often, but not limited to domestic work or other caring work. This work is most often done by women and is usually performed without pay or the expectation of pay. In contrast to gainful employment (also called productive work), reproductive work is not calculated as part of the gross domestic product. Although productive labour depends on the reproductive work to maintain social and family structures, it is mostly not monetarily compensated but rather taken for granted, causing an extra burden for women.


Disabilities can be physical or mental. Physical disabilities may include, for example, blindness and low vision, deafness or hearing impairments, issues with walking or moving parts of the body, but also chronic illnesses such as asthma or HIV. Mental disabilities may cover a wide variety of conditions, including so-called intellectual disabilities, and can also include things such as PTSD, depression or anxiety if they’re so severe that the person feels significantly impaired in their daily life. Disabilities are complex and can range from visible to invisible and from easily manageable to severely impacting someone’s life.


Let us look at an example that highlights the biassed way most of us think. Think about designing an office space in an accessible way. Many would think of ways to install wheelchair ramps or assure that someone with a visual impairment can find guidance through physical markers on the floor. However, some would argue that we should instead think of ways in which stairs can be overcome completely, for example with technology. Or, thinking of visual impairment, considering visual impairment in the space design. Changing the perspective would entail that we design the work-place in an accessible way to begin with. This logic that most of us go by fails to recognise the potential of rethinking many of the structures around us that are “normal” and working for able-bodied people. We are not seeing the hurdles caused by these structures and thus fail to adopt a holistic approach to building inclusive working cultures. Now, you are not an architect. So, what can be derived from this example? To get to a truly inclusive mind-set, we need to start rethinking places to the person (and not the other way around). In this process, it is important to take seriously the expertise of people with disabilities as consultants to learn from their experiences. This is relevant for both, physical as well as mental disabilities. And in that aspect, it is important to keep re-evaluating our work structures and keep a feedback loop open between employees with disabilities and their colleagues and managers, “to ask individuals for feedback on inclusiveness to know their opinion on what can be done better”, as one employee puts it. Another employee from the DSAA network puts it more precisely: “More effort could be put into the professional development of individuals with disabilities. I feel after hiring, the support provided to individuals with disabilities is somewhat lacking. There is so much focus on being inclusive during recruitment that what happens after recruitment is sketchy. What’s the point of hiring individuals with unique challenges if there are no extensive plans to get them involved in what happens in the actual work environment?”


Côte D’ivoire





Did you know?
The time zone of Africa is the same or very similar to the CET / European time.

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