In a recent interview, Lisa Whited, an advocate for workplace equality and inclusion, sat down with Sibani Sarma to discuss her experiences and insights. Lisa, a self-proclaimed feminist and environmentalist, shared her perspective on the historical roots of workplace design, the importance of diversity, and the barriers faced by individuals with disabilities. The conversation shed light on the need for organizations to listen to their employees and take meaningful action towards creating an inclusive environment.
This is from a series of conversations titled ‘Reframe’, presented by Bristol Furniture, that explores various facets of a shift in organisations thinking towards becoming employee centric from decades of being employer centricity. There are various facets of being employee centric and Reframe, through each episode, captures some of these. Reframe is about looking at employees as the fulcrum of an organisation’s growth.
The Historical Perspective
Lisa Whited began by reflecting on the history of workplace design, which she believes has primarily been shaped from a male point of view. She discussed how the workplace was originally structured during the Industrial Revolution, with men being the primary workforce and children often involved in labor. As offices and knowledge-based work emerged, they continued to be influenced by this male-centric design. Lisa emphasized the need to recognize this historical bias and work towards inclusive environments that accommodate diverse perspectives.
The Feminist Perspective
Lisa proudly identified herself as a feminist, expressing her passion for empowering women. She mentioned the significant progress made in the 1970s towards empowering women in the United States, particularly in the workplace. However, she also noted the challenges women continue to face and the need for true gender diversity in leadership positions. Lisa highlighted the importance of understanding and embracing different communication styles between men and women, emphasizing that diversity in the workplace is not just about tokenism but about creating an environment that values different perspectives.
Barriers Faced by Individuals with Disabilities
The conversation shifted to discussing the barriers faced by individuals with disabilities, both visible and invisible. Lisa emphasized that the biggest obstacle to inclusivity is the misconceptions and assumptions held by managers and leaders regarding what people with disabilities can and cannot do. She highlighted the untapped potential of individuals with disabilities and emphasized the importance of giving them flexibility and opportunities in the workforce. Lisa advocated for remote work options, which can be particularly beneficial for those with invisible disabilities who may feel overwhelmed in traditional office settings.
The Shift in Thinking
Lisa mentioned that the COVID-19 pandemic has provided an opportunity for organizations to shift their thinking and embrace inclusivity. The crisis has highlighted the importance of accommodating diverse needs and has opened up conversations about creating more inclusive work environments. Lisa emphasized that true diversity goes beyond gender alone and encompasses individuals from various backgrounds who have been historically sidelined.
The Rapid Fire Section
During the rapid-fire section of the interview, Lisa shared personal insights about her first job (scooping ice cream), her preference for waking up early and starting work, and her passion for spending money on education. She described fairness as the trait that most defines her and provided advice for organizations aiming to become more inclusive—listen to their employees, take action, and be transparent about the steps taken.
Lisa Whited’s interview with Sibani Sarma provided valuable insights into workplace equality and inclusion. Lisa’s emphasis on historical biases in workplace design, the importance of embracing diversity, and the need to accommodate individuals with disabilities shed light on the steps organizations should take to create inclusive environments. By actively listening to employees and implementing meaningful changes, organizations can foster a culture of belonging and empowerment for all.
Watch the video of the conversation here