Head of Diversity and Inclusion at Orange Business Services (OBS), Sandra Siméon supports 290 employees with disabilities. She shares her experience and advice to strengthen how these employees are welcomed into the business and change the way people look at disability.
The importance of integrating people with disabilities into the workplace is a well-known fact. How does this translate for Orange Business Services?
Our employees with disabilities are working in all business units, functions and entities, and fully contribute to our strength as a company. Their experience and expertise enable us to create pioneering services such as Signs@Work, the first digital dictionary that translates business terms into French sign language, or OCARA, a tool to help audit the accessibility of business premises.
In fact, offers initially designed for people with disabilities are often useful for anyone who is possibly less independent such as the elderly, so the commercial stakes are high as the target is broad. That’s why Orange is creating autonomy offers for customers. Care homes, senior residences, hospitals and event organizers such as the Paris 2024 Olympic Organizing Committee are all using our communication and accessibility solutions. As you can see, everyone benefits from including people with disabilities!
How do you adapt the workplace for disabled employees?
In 8 out of 10 cases, no adjustment is required. For the remaining 20%, a special team including occupational health, the manager and disability representatives liaise with the employee and define any changes needed. This could be extra professional support (coaching or employee awareness), specific equipment (ergonomic seat, software or hearing aids) or an adapted working day (flexible hours or teleworking). Beyond the means, it’s a question of changing the way people look at disability by focusing on skills. We raise awareness during events and through testimonials. Staff can also access dedicated training. Successful inclusion is everyone’s responsibility
Have you met any obstacles to setting up your diversity initiatives? If so, what were they and how did you overcome come them?
We’re all steeped in biases and stereotypes. When a manager is recruiting someone with a disability there may be fears about performance, integration or the type of working environment they will need. However, everyone has unique needs so we mustn’t generalize.
We organize a lot of events to overcome these obstacles. For example, we recently hosted a culinary workshop for 480 employees, and chef Grégory Cuilleron, who has no left forearm, was by far the fastest and most agile.
You can only judge someone on their skills and achievements rather than your own prejudice.
Tech companies are showing more interest in neuroatypical people. Are there specific initiatives deployed at Orange Business Services to support them?
The Orange Group has launched a program dedicated to recruiting and supporting people with autism. It aims to address our talent shortage among IT professions while applying our Diversity and Inclusion strategy. OBS takes part because we recognize that our specific business lines (cybersecurity, AI, cloud, etc.) require the exceptional capacities of neuroatypical profiles. We recently recruited a data translator on a work-study basis and their manager is already seeing extraordinary results in terms of machine learning, data science and data analysis. This experience has also enabled us to identify areas for improvement, particularly in terms of raising awareness and supporting managers and colleagues.
During the course of your career, have you been struck by someone in particular?
Every encounter is unique. Young work-study students who go over and above in achieving their ambitions, managers who, year after year, take on the challenge of working with these young people, employees who speak open-hearted about their disability… Thanks to them, our perspective on disability is changing.