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How to build an inclusive workplace for people with disabilities?  

Posted by Cécile Fons |

From visible physical challenges to hidden disabilities, we often hear the words “accessibility” and “disability”. But do we really know what they encompass? In this interview, we met with Cécile Fons, Talent Acquisition Lead and Disability Advocate for France at Criteo, to talk about accessibility-related issues at work. From recruitment and onboarding to day-to-day, we discussed how to make workplaces truly accessible and inclusive for all. 

Can you share a bit about your background and current responsibilities at Criteo? 

I have 14 years of experience as a recruiter, mostly for tech profiles. Here at Criteo, I work as Talent Acquisition Lead for advertising landscape – the team in charge of developing Criteo products - and internal IT, and I am also “Disability Advocate” for France and part of the Critenable Community. 

What first raised your awareness about accessibility and its related challenges? 

We had an accessibility pledge at my last employer; They implemented many initiatives to ease access for people with disabilities and I had the opportunity to work closely with them on these projects. To me, especially as recruiters, being trained on accessibility related issues is a must-have if you claim to be an inclusive employer. It’s a mindset we should adopt! 

Are recruiters, for the most part, currently trained regarding this topic? 

Not always. It’s often due to the lack of information, whether about the legal landscape or about disability itself. Many people think that a disability is something visible, but it’s not. In some companies, people keep seeing disability as an additional challenge. It can be, but in most cases, you can overcome them quite easily with the right preparation and knowledge. We have means within a company. Now all we need to know is how to leverage them to make everyone’s life easier. That is part of the reason why we are launching global training on accessibility for all our recruiters and HR professionals at Criteo.  

That’s great! What made you take the leap? 

Last year, as part of our Accessibility policy, we decided to assess how we include people with disabilities. In France, we asked a public external partner – l'Agefiph - to audit the company. As it appears, we are recognized as a rather caring company where employees mostly feel secure physically and emotionally. We raise awareness a lot about inclusion, but we now want to address the specific challenges of accessibility; from how we recruit people with disabilities to how we accompany them once they’re with us. Awareness is the first step, and now we are switching to action mode.  

What do we put behind “disability” exactly?  

From mental health-related issues or chronic disease to physical disability, we can talk about disability. It doesn’t need to be a heavy motricity disorder. A person suffering from heavy migraines can be unable to perform their job. As an employer, our job is not to put labels on people but to find ways to optimize their working conditions, so they can do their job right in the long run.  

When talking about DEI, do people with a disability tend to be vocal?  

Not really. They may tell it to HR but they’re usually secretive about it as they fear to be discriminated. So even in a company like ours where we talk a lot about inclusion, many people are still reluctant to share their challenges.  

What are the main challenges there? 

It is when we ask people to adapt to a norm or to tick a box, and sometimes they can, but it’s an extra effort that they can’t sustain in the long run. For instance, a person with a severe ADHD (attention deficit hyperactivity disorder) will find it hard to work in a noisy open space. Their life could be way easier with just noise-cancelling headphones, but not everyone knows they can ask for it. At Criteo, we’ve made it possible to book a separate desk for a month even though we’re in open space mode. We call it flex’ office, so we care to be flexible with everyone. 

Is the recruitment process a particularly challenging moment?  

As recruiters, we can adapt easily if we’ve been trained properly. For instance, we had a coding interview with a person suffering from ADHD. Our coding test requires you to code on an app and the recruiter can see, like in a Zoom, what the candidate is coding live. Normally, we ask questions while the person is coding, but for a person with this disorder it’s hard to do two things at once. So, we let them finish the exercise before asking our questions to ensure the best conditions possible. The real challenge lies in if the person shares it with you. It is important to inform them about our policy and ensure they feel free to ask for specific adjustments during recruitment and on the job. If you fail to mention it, you may fail to provide adequate onboarding. Our main challenge is to foster a global policy as every country has its own legal framework. 

What do we mean by “accessibility”? 

It encompasses everything from accessing the building if you’re in a wheelchair to digital accessibility. In a company like Criteo, almost everything is digitalized so it’s crucial to onboard people with disability correctly on these tools. We can always go further. 

How do we deal with accessibility related issues here at Criteo?  

It’s still a work in progress. We are flexible so we adapt to individual needs, but we want our efforts to be supported by a defined strategy. 

What made you sensitive to supporting this cause? Any personal anecdote or life experience you’d like to share? 

In my previous job, the Human Resources Director cared a lot about the challenges people with disabilities face and she made me want to tackle these issues too. As it happens, my son was diagnosed with AHDH, which makes me reflect on how we could work with his teacher to adapt his environment at school to his disability and not the other way around. I believe that an inclusive environment is the key to anyone’s fulfillment at work.  

What does the future of work look like for people with disabilities?  

I believe we’re on the right track! Yet, there is still a great deal to be done to move away from the guilt, the stigma and help everyone to truly feel included and free to be as they are. 

Cécile Fons

Talent Acquisition Lead and “Disability referent” for France

The Future is Yours.

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