Casting the net wider for a more diverse workforce makes sense as people with disabilities could represent an untapped demographic to fill your skills shortage. As of February, about four in 10 people with a disability are in the US workforce, compared to almost double that figure for people without a disability.
Benefits on offer
The benefits of employing people with a disability are many:
- In the four years to 2018, firms in the top 20% for workplace disability inclusion earned 28% more revenue and 30% higher profits than competitors, says Accenture, and
- A 2020 McKinsey study found the more diverse a company’s leadership is, the greater the chance it financially outperforms its less-diverse competitors. Research shows that a more diverse workplace improves productivity, employee satisfaction/commitment, retention, reliability, punctuality, individual and collective innovation, communication, and company reputation.
And there are spinoff benefits to consider. People with disabilities are the third-largest discrete market segment in the US, with a combined income of $21B-plus annually, according to the US Office of Disability Employment Policy.
A strategic approach
A strategic approach Making diversity ‘happen’ in your business doesn’t springboard from an ad hoc approach. You’ll need a strategy. But if you don’t have one, you’re in good company. Seven out of eight American employers do not have a dedicated strategy to attract, hire and retain people with disabilities. Sourcing and using ‘best practices may seem like a quick fix to jumpstart your efforts. However, ‘best practice’ might not fit your context or the person with disabilities you’re looking to hire.
Let’s look at your processes before you advertise a vacancy.
Check your recruitment strategy
Does your recruitment process create a safe environment for candidates to disclose their disability after you’ve conditionally offered them a job?
Consider that eight in 10 disabilities are invisible. They include chronic pain, dyslexia, traumatic brain injury, diabetes, chronic fatigue syndrome, Crohn’s disease, and mental illness.
Carlos, a building surveyor with a government agency, didn’t feel comfortable mentioning his dyslexia diagnosis during his job interview. He still hasn’t told them, even after five years. This results in him putting in significantly more hours than his peers to read and re-read his emails and reports to ensure they meet acceptable standards. If Carlos’s employer knew about his learning disability, they could invest in assistive technologies – such as voice-to-text or vice versa – to help this committed and enthusiastic worker.
It may not be obvious to your HR team if candidates have disabilities and need accommodation and support. Legally, you can’t ask them disability-related questions or have them undergo medical exams until after you’ve conditionally offered them the job.
For example, if your new hire has told you they have autism, you may incorrectly assume that they need a specific type of accommodation. But they may not be the best fit for the person you’re hiring. All job accommodations your workplace makes must be customized to your recruit with disabilities rather than assuming one-size-fits-all.
Get some ideas from tech giants SAP and Microsoft about being more inclusive and accommodating of people with autism. These IT companies hire such people for computer coding and product development work. Check out Microsoft’s Neurodiversity Career Connector, a job marketplace for US employers seeking applicants with autism, ADHD, dyslexia, or other neurodivergent diagnoses.
Here’s how a business is inclusive in its automotive workshop. Their apprentice, Daniel, who has moderate-to-severe hearing loss and is long-sighted in one eye, is thriving thanks to a supportive workplace and through a group apprentice intermediary, his mentor, Daniel’s co-workers have learned to get his attention first, then speak so he can lip read. An aide takes notes when he’s at college for his technical classes. Daniel says, “People with disabilities can work just as well as people without disabilities. They need to be given a chance.”
Over the past 30 years, there’s been a shift from recognizing and promoting best practices that could be universally applied to all businesses. Instead, it’s about identifying promising practices, doing smart practice analysis, learning from each other, and failure. The focus is now on sharing smart practices, and that’s become something of a mantra for me.
You won’t need to reinvent the wheel to become a more inclusive company. Find out how other companies are approaching disability employment.