Is fear overpowering your positive intent and effort to get more people with disabilities into work? Alice Weightman, founder of Hanson Search and The Work Crowd, reports.
Employers, by and large, recognise that diversity is critical to ensuring they have the best and right mix of talent to deliver their business objectives. I’ve worked in recruitment a long time. I definitely get more employers now who recognise that particular parts of their workforce are skewed towards one gender, or are falling short on ethnic diversity, for example, and they know it’s not good for business.
We get asked to make sure that particular groups are represented on shortlists to help tackle the kind of unconscious bias – recruiting in one’s own image – that can perpetuate such skews.
There’s one group, I’ve noticed, that I’m never asked to help balance up: people with disabilities.
It’s known that one in six of us suffers from some kind of mental illness at some point in our lives. And there are many other physical and learning disabilities beyond that. This means a large proportion of the workforce risks being excluded from the opportunity to make a difference at work.
What is being done to raise awareness and help employers?
It’s not that there isn’t the will. I’m a supporter of the government’s Disability Confident initiative, and I hosted an event last week for other employers who are keen to support this agenda, with the Minister for Disabled People as the keynote speaker. The initiative does what it says on the tin – it works to help employers become more confident about employing people with disabilities, and making the right adjustments in the workplace to ensure those people can make the critical contributions to the business that they want to make, and are perfectly capable of making if given the chance. Now, more and more employers are signing up.
What’s holding you back from recruiting employees with disabilities?
This is about confidence. And if we’re honest, as senior recruiters we know that recruiting managers and junior recruiters can lack it in spades when it comes to disability. What if I ask the wrong question, and wind up in a tribunal for disability discrimination? Can I even ask that question at all?
And so, with no intended hypocrisy or desire of outcome, employers can say all the right things about recruiting people with disabilities, but down on the front line where the decisions that really matter take place, people are avoiding asking the questions that would enable them to make the appropriate accommodations to be really disability confident.
Moving forward: what’s the next step?
There aren’t always simple answers. I don’t think things will change overnight. But I do think we in recruitment and HR need to be honest about what’s going on, help more people own up to their fears and lack of confidence, and encourage more open conversations, like the ones we had at the event last week.
It is only by opening up and confronting our fears that we can build the kind of real and enduring confidence that is needed to make the difference.