Diversity and inclusivity are words that have been around for a while and have fully entered the corporate lexicon, with businesses big and small appreciating society’s demand that offices and boardrooms truly reflect the world outside their four walls. However, though ‘equal opportunities’ has become a staple tab for every corporate website, there’s a danger that these words have simply become a PR tagline and that the real, structural change needed is nowhere to be seen.
This perception gap is no more evident than when it comes to employment for people with disabilities. The disability employment gap is a stunning 30%: this means that of the 13.9 million people with disabilities in the UK, barely half are able to secure employment, as opposed to over 80% of people without disabilities. The most concerning fact, however, is that this gap hasn’t decreased over the past decade, despite however much we think we’ve progressed the conversation in the media and our messaging. It’s clear that our current concept of diversity and inclusivity is not taking us where we need to go - what we need in 2019 is authentic inclusivity if we’re to address this mass problem and reap the rewards of a truly diverse workplace.
So, how can employers achieve an authentically inclusive workplace in terms of disability? There are three main areas which need to be addressed if we’re to see progress: perception, accessibility and flexibility.
There’s an essential shift we need to make as a whole society, and it’s businesses which must lead the charge. Recent research from Scope showed that 1 in 3 people believe that people with disabilities are less productive than non-disabled people, an incredibly damaging stereotype which goes into sustaining the disability employment gap. When written out like this, this discriminatory view stands out as starkly false - but how often has this prejudice that disabled people are somehow more ‘work’ to deal with subtly played into our perception and our hiring practices? We need to stop seeing people with disabilities as somehow a drain and instead recognise them - as we do with non-disabled people - as assets, focusing on what they can bring to the table, not obsessing how they get there. In fact, people with disabilities are often incredibly resourceful, proactive and practical, having had to hone these skills and qualities to the highest level in order to daily navigate a society which isn’t set up in their favour: skills and qualities which are a vital resource for any company. That’s why at my recruitment company The Ability People (TAP) our staff are solely consultants with disabilities, as I know their daily life experiences have equipped them with great tenacity and resourcefulness, as well as crucially positioning them to look beyond society’s damaging, imposed limitations.
However, it’s equally important that companies don’t see hiring as a hero exercise. There’s ultimately no long-term value in approaching diversity and inclusion like a tick-box exercise as this will do nothing to truly change our culture. But this doesn’t mean businesses can wash their hands of responsibility when it come to disability employment - in fact, they are the perfect place to instigate this disability perception shift, able to clearly and practically demonstrate the corporate reward, not risk, of employees with disabilities.
Preach progressive values about diversity and inclusion all you like; your company is only as accessible as your structures are. Being wheelchair accessible is a good place to start, but it’s damaging to assume there’s only one type of disability and also that the only barrier is walking in the door.
A key issue when it comes to accessibility is able-bodied people making assumptions on behalf of disabled people. Often the adjustments needed to attend an interview or begin work are much less difficult, or costly, than one just automatically assumes. The key here is communication - just ask your potential employee what they need to get the job done. You’ll often end up surprised at how simple the adjustments can be.
Accessibility is more than just wheelchair ramps or height-adjustable desks, however, and technology goes a long way in promoting diversity and authentic inclusivity. From speech-to-text software to video-led communication that enables home working, there are a myriad of different apps and accessible technologies already developed and easily available to allow people with disabilities to deliver what they know they can do. As we push towards an ever digital future we should remember what this can mean in terms of accessibility and embrace this too.
Finally, accessibility and inclusivity doesn’t just start at interview but from the minute you post your job advert. One of TAP’s consultants, Adil Ghani, talks about how simply writing ‘we welcome candidates with disabilities’ instantly works to override implicit bias in society and actively encourage prospective employees with disabilities to apply.
Flexibility is such an important element of what makes a company great these days, and as modern working practices change there’s an increasing demand for flexible working. Adapting to this working revolution is important to all employers, but is particularly pertinent for people looking for ways to be more welcoming to people with disabilities.
Don’t force employees to choose between rush hour transport or a pricey Uber to get to work if it’s not absolutely necessary - let people work from home or implement a flexible hours policy. Everybody is different; enable them to work on their own terms and you’ll probably find they’re far more productive for it.
Adopting a flexible interview format is a great way to ensure that you can properly evaluate whether a particular person is a suitable candidate for a specific role. When inviting someone for an interview, ask if there is anything you can do to better accommodate them. Not only will this make you a more desirable company to work for, because you’ve displayed that you are considerate and understand that disabilities come with their problems, but it will also ensure you can properly evaluate their candidacy.
Liz Johnson - The Ability People (TAP)
The Ability People (TAP) is the first credible, for profit, social enterprise dedicated to empowering the skilled global disability population. We do that via our specialist teams in ‘talent sourcing’ who recruit for household name companies and SME’s. All of our consultants have overcome barriers to do incredible things in the worlds of sport, industry, community and education.
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