Disability in Italian Companies. An Uphill Struggle Due to Lack of a Proper Culture

Disability in Italian Companies. An Uphill Struggle Due to Lack of a Proper Culture


The management of disability within Italian companies is mostly about reluctant compliance with legal requirements which is experienced as a factor of organizational fatigue. This is the main finding emerging from a research study of the Diversity Management Lab of SDA Bocconi School of Management, financed by the province of Monza-Brianza, and carried out in collaboration with CESVIP Lombardia, the Besta Neurological Institute of Milan, and other local institutional actors. The study, which investigated companies managing people with disabilities, was conducted through 30 interviews with directors of personnel in medium and large companies operating within Lombardy, chosen for their attention to issues of diversity and disability.

The positive experiences aimed at managing the issue in terms of paying attention to people’s differences, beyond what’s required by the regulatory framework, are not lacking. They concern both the introduction of good practices of disability management, especially in the personnel recruitment and selection phase, and the launch of projects aimed at making the organizational culture more sensitive to the issue, and strongly improving accessibility of the workplace.

In general, however, what emerges is the absence of a strategic approach to the issue involving the overall organizational structure of the whole of human resources (not just recruiting, but also inclusion and career development). The first step in this direction is a cultural shift that finally considers disability as a normal issue in the life of a company, but also as an opportunity to improve its organizational climate and internal processes.

The results of the research study show instead that companies address the issue only near the legislative deadline, and intervene only tactically to solve the contingency at hand, relying on the sensitivity of the particular manager put in charge of it, without a dedicated office which would conversely accumulate experience and knowledge that can be transmitted over time. And so companies strive to build innovative projects, but do not equip themselves to constructively incorporate and manage the issue in the long run.

Obviously, the effort put in place by companies must be supported by overall systemic action which helps the integration and circulation of information among the actors that deal with the medical, legal and occupational aspects of people with disabilities: allocation of resources, creation of integrated information systems, project-building, training and communication activities are some of the policies that can be put in place to assist companies. Many of these actions are already present at the regional level in Italy. However what emerges is the somewhat fragmented nature of the actions undertaken by the various players often clashing with each other, and the net result is a loss of effectiveness in integrating people with disabilities into the labor market.

by Zenia Simonella and Simona Cuomo, Dept. of Management and Technology, Bocconi
Translated by Alex Foti

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