HandivAirsity: fostering workplace inclusion to the benefit of all

Published on July 13, 2022

7 mins

By bringing together the words ‘handicap’, ‘diversity’, and ‘Air Liquide’ to create something new, the name of the HandivAirsity initiative embodies its aim. An essential part of inclusion and diversity (I&D) at Air Liquide is integrating people with disabilities into work at all levels and to the benefit of all parties. Yes, all parties, because inclusive workplaces are not just good for those living with disabilities, but for all members of staff – and for the Group as a whole.

Aiming for win-wins, not just compliance

Launched in France and then expanded to cover all Air Liquide entities across Europe in 2017, HandivAirsity is an ambitious initiative centered around two key objectives: hiring more candidates with disabilities and helping those with disabilities in the workplace. "Originally," explains Sylvie Lazure, Mission Handicap Manager  at Air Liquide, "HandivAirsity was set up in France in our effort  to increase inclusion as a responsible corporate actor ." Additionally, the French state sets a target of 6% disabled members of staff and Air Liquide has joined many major French companies, in November 2021,  in signing the country’s Manifeste Inclusion, a charter of ten axes. As all European countries have regulations concerning workplace inclusion, and some such as Germany or Italy also set quotas, Air Liquide identified the need for a Europe-wide network to share ideas, new approaches and best practices.

"Yet beyond legal obligations," adds Sylvie Lazure, "HandivAirsity also promotes our ethos: ‘Our differences make our performance’. Integrating disabled people into the workplace can benefit everyone – not those directly concerned." Teams which have to rethink their organization as well as parts of their processes, for instance, benefit from innovation and increased efficiency, as well as a more inclusive, understanding environment for everyone. "When inclusion happens, it often challenges preconceptions and leads to pragmatic solutions - some of which also prove to be more efficient."

The HandivAirsity approach to furthering this aim has three core strands. Firstly, there is recruitment, where teams learn how to mitigate against  bias and overcome reservations about employing candidates with disabilities. Secondly, the Referents network implements and  monitors the integration and progress of workers with disabilities and reports on inclusion – both for internal purposes and to comply with country-level legal obligations. Thirdly, local HandivAirsity ambassadors act both as on-site contacts for disabled workers and as champions for inclusion.

Finding and sharing new approaches to inclusion

"The specific approaches in each country may differ," explains Sylvie Lazure, "but the overall aim is the same everywhere. That’s why the Europe-wide hackathon we held in 2021 to generate and share solutions to issues such as adaptations, access, and awareness was so valuable." Titled TIME TO ACT, the design-thinking workshop focused on two areas: recruitment and adaptations. “The winning adaptation project, ‘Let’s ALL enjoy our meeting’, offered specific guidance on how to hold meetings in such a way that even invisible disabilities are taken account of while respecting the privacy of those affected,” explains Sylvie Lazure, citing one example of an initiative resulting from the event.

This kind of guidance can be shared across Air Liquide entities and with suppliers, too, which the Group supports in their efforts to increase inclusion, too. Overall, it is hard to underestimate the importance of networking and sharing ideas in making progress on inclusion: for instance, in the UK, Air Liquide is pioneering a focus on mental health awareness named Read My Mind to encourage people to speak out and equip managers to be able to help their teams. They’ve trained more than thirty ambassadors in the UK and brought in colleagues from the Nordics to help increase the initiative’s reach.

So internal exchange and Group-wide awareness are the keys to success for HandivAirsity. To support this, all members of staff across Europe have been invited to sign up to the HandivAirsity charta, with over 1,300 having already done so. "Our aim is not just to reach government targets or meet the expectations of our stakeholders, but to exceed them," explains Sylvie Lazure, "and everyone at Air Liquide can play a part."