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Exchange over job fair post highlights gaps in awareness regarding Equal Opportunity Policy

A job fair post by an employee of food start up Swiggy on a social media group for people with disabilities has triggered an important conversation about the need for greater sensitisation. Companies in India are increasingly hiring people with disabilities, which is welcome, but the exchange is a reminder of the awareness gaps that need to be overcome.

What does the Equal Opportunity Policy mean in the full sense? And do companies that claim to practice it even know what it entails?

Questions triggered by an exchange that has broken out over a job fair post on Facebook. The post was put up by an employee of prominent food start up Swiggy on the group EnAble India Volunteers, which is meant for people with disabilities.

One of the members Raghavendra Satish Peri, a Hyderabad-based digital accessibility evangelist, who is visually impaired, responded - "Is this job fair disabled-friendly? Is Swiggy willing to hire people with disabilities, if yes, in what roles?"

To this, the Swiggy employee said there was a junior executive's position open. Peri then went on to ask for details regarding the sensitisation process at Swiggy towards disabled employees and questioned whether the workplace was truly accessible, as in his experience people with disabilities are "subject to bullying".

Angry words

The exchange went on to acquire sharp overtones with the Swiggy employee saying "First of all we didn't invite you. So, please keep silent. Please go through the ad carefully. We did not invite them".

This has provoked a strong reaction from other group members who have criticised Swiggy firstly, for posting on a forum meant for disabled people and then for lack of empathy.

Vaani Shiva Soni, a former journalist commented: "This group enables job opportunities for people with disabilities. So when you put up a job advert.. it means there holds some opportunity for these people right? Now, if this is not the case, why will you post about this job fair here? ....When you say you haven't invited them then don't post the job advert here. You are the Head HR right? You must be aware of these things?"

Another member Vishali Naren, Founder, Special Needs Moms of India added, "Please understand. Visually impaired cannot read text inside the pictures, just like how we cannot copy text from an uneditable PDF, contrary to how we can copy text from a Word document. Not only this, please understand that it's you and me who must make the world a better place for special needs".

Claiming the employee who posted the advert is a volunteer, Swiggy made this statement - "Swiggy is an equal opportunity organisation and we hire solely on the basis of merit. We maintain a zero-tolerance policy towards any behavior which is contrary to this value". The statement goes on to say that the company is conducting an internal inquiry and would take "corrective steps".

Speaking to NewzHook Peri said he was disappointed at the lack of an apology. "This shows the culture of the company. I tried educating this guy and he did not understand. You come into my space and insult my community and that's not on. Swiggy claims to be an equal opportunity employer. What does that even mean?"

The episode underlines the large gaps that still persist when it comes to accessibility and inclusion, believes Peri. Gaps that apply even to big corporates that claim to practice diversity and inclusion. Shanti Raghavan, Founder, EnAble India urges the community to regard the incident as an opportunity.

This will be the thousandth example of lack of respect and awareness about how persons with disability are tax payers who contribute to their family, company and nation. The question for reflection: Is there an opportunity to make Swiggy aware of the Equal Opportunity Policy mandated by the RPWD Act and hence they become an equal opportunity employer through this encounter? Is there an opportunity to make this employee and others increase their knowledge about disability? We should use this opportunity to spread awareness - Shanti Raghavan, Founder, EnAble India

The incident highlights the need for companies to actively work towards offering equal opportunities in the complete sense, says P Rajashekharan, Co-founder, v-shesh. "All organisations must progress towards understanding what being an Equal Opportunity Employer mandates. This means various departments, be it recruitment, HR, etc., are sensitive towards people with disabilities, in demeanour and actions".

At the same time, he says, recruiters are under tremendous pressure and have many responsibilities and should be cut some slack. "I do believe the Swiggy employee's apology should have been more genuine and he should have expressed remorse for the words used but it is also the organisation's responsibility to train the recruiters. The onus is on the management to check if their infrastructure and manpower is sensitised".

Read more about the Equal Opportunity Policy

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