Jane wins the “Diversity Champion for the Private Sector” award at the Excellence in Diversity awards in May 2015
A common theme when talking with employers and recruiters is the challenge of finding good quality talented candidates. Most job adverts attract many applications, but oftentimes the quality isn’t reflected in the quantity. Receiving three hundred CVs is of no use unless they contain at least a handful of candidates with the qualities the role requires.
One pool of talent which is often overlooked is that of disabled people. Overlooked because stereotypes around disabled people, particularly in the workplace, are almost always negative. Employers perceive that employing disabled people is a risk. They understandably focus on issues of concern. How productive can a disabled person be? What about sickness absence? Will there be health and safety problems to overcome? If we get things wrong, will they sue us? Customers, shareholders, other employees may feel uncomfortable around disabled people – perhaps out of embarrassment and unfamiliarity rather than any malignant intention – but uncomfortable still.
In the world of work disability is most definitely seen as a problem rather than an asset. In many ways this shouldn’t come as a surprise. For most businesses the salary bill is the largest, and employing people is without doubt fraught with uncertainty and risk. Any responsible organisation takes their role as an employer very seriously indeed.
There is, of course, a legal imperative not to unfairly discriminate against people in employment who have protected characteristics (these include race, gender, disability, sexual orientation, age, religion and belief, marital status, and so on, under the UK’s Equality Act 2010). And there is, one would hope, a desire to recruit in a way which is fair and which identifies the best talent.
Thankfully, and perhaps surprisingly, the reality around employing disabled people is a long way from the widely-held myths described above. A variety of research (available on request) illustrates that, contrary to popular belief, disabled employees are, on average, at least as productive as their non-disabled colleagues. And they have on average less time off sick. And stay in their jobs longer, increasing retention and saving money on staff turnover. And they have fewer workplace accidents. So an organisation seeking to attract productive, safe, loyal staff with low sickness absence levels would do well to focus on this particular demographic.
Additional commercial benefits should not be overlooked either. There are over 11 million disabled people in the UK – all consumers – who spend up to £80 billion a year. Inside intelligence of this market will be beneficial to any bottom line, and there is evidence that consumers generally are more favourable towards companies who pay attention to the needs of their disabled employees and customers.
If any further incentive were required, many disabled people have also had to master a range of skills and qualities which are useful to employers – creativity in overcoming everyday obstacles, tenacity, problem-solving, determination, adaptability and so on.
So, despite the myths, employing disabled people turns out to have many real commercial advantages for business quite aside from the more “soft” Corporate Social Responsibility, moral, ethical, reputation management aspects. Being seen as an Employer of Choice is as important as ever, and attracting the very best talent is sometimes the most competitive advantage there is.
Far from being a risk, the evidence suggests that employing disabled people is a wise business move. Do you take advantage of this largely-untapped pool of talent?
(N.B. For the sources of the facts quoted, please email Jane Hatton at firstname.lastname@example.org)
About Jane: Jane Hatton M.Sc. FCIPD FRSA is Founder and Director of Evenbreak, an award-winning not-for-profit specialist job board run by and for disabled people, helping inclusive employers attract more talented disabled people. Jane runs Evenbreak lying flat with a laptop suspended above her due to a degenerative spinal condition which limits sitting, walking and standing.