People with disabilities are the world’s most populous minority group. According to the Center for Disease Control, one in four (61 million) adults in the U.S. are disabled, and about one billion people around the world have a disability, according to the United Nations. Worldwide labor shortages remind us that this is an immense talent pool that we can not afford to overlook.
In the U.S., the Job Accommodation Network (JAN) of the Department of Labor’s Office of Disability Employment reported a high percentage (56%) of accommodations cost absolutely nothing. However, only 21% of Americans with disabilities over age 16 are working or seeking work. This can be due to actual or anticipated barriers to employment.
Disability:IN cites that, globally, the demand for baseline tools that help organizations test and monitor inclusive progress is increasing. There are various ways to address and mitigate false perceptions regarding this community, especially in management, professional or related jobs. Partnering with in-country, local leaders who have lived experiences as people with disabilities or as allies is critical to getting started.
what is a disability?
As a society, we are developing a greater understanding of how we define disabilities. From sensitivity to smells to anxiety, a disability could potentially be any trait impacting the level at which one can function. There is also growing awareness around the capabilities of people with disabilities and the neurodiverse community, in particular.
As a result, there is a broader range of accessibility needs. Employers — who not only have an obligation to provide reasonable accommodations, but also benefit from improved access to skilled talent — must improve their disability awareness and create inclusive processes along the talent life cycle to become an employer of choice for individuals with disabilities. Such practices must go well beyond the application process, extending to the employee's first day of work, through to career development and more.
Universal inclusion begins with cultivating environments that feel safe and equitable to anyone and everyone. In this culture, all employees feel comfortable requesting accommodations even if they chose not to disclose their disability. They must also ensure changes don’t cause undue hardship or conflict with the essential functions of the role.
COVID-19 changed disability awareness
At the height of the COVID-19 pandemic, there was greater empathy for and awareness of the disabled community with exposed inequalities. Although some individuals experienced mild illness or no symptoms at all, people with disabilities were more susceptible to severe illness, hospitalization or death. It became essential for leaders to be aware of this group’s concerns.
Changes and adjustments that were once considered unrealistic were being implemented in a way that felt equitable. Organizations became more agile and allowed for accommodations, such as earlier store openings for specific groups or letting staff work remotely.
Businesses are now removing these concessions as we approach a period of COVID-19 stabilization in many markets. Mandatory in-office presence has increased, and flex-time allowances have decreased. As we continue on the path of increased health and accessibility, we must carry lessons learned from the pandemic into our work processes long term.
Businesses can implement crucial prevention practices in advance. We can adjust systems thoughtfully and with agility. These initiatives impact equity and belonging and support a greater sense of inclusion for people with disabilities. Continued awareness followed by implementing simple, fundamental, relevant actions are morally and fiscally necessary.
These same practices can be easily inserted into ongoing processes as we move beyond the pandemic-era idea of operating on a case-by-case basis. But remote work is just one accommodation that can improve workplace accessibility, and your access to great talent.
Here are 6 more tangible ways to boost the number of people with disabilities in your workforce.
6 ways to attract and retain people with disabilities
1. Foster digital accessibility.
Digital accessibility is a broad term, defined as the act of removing barriers that prevent some people from using digital tools and technologies. It can look different depending on the situation.
For example, digital accessibility can include closed captioning in a video or a notice on the career page with an email or link for support during the application process. There is no silver bullet, as applicants vary and don’t have the same accessibility needs. Once applicants transition to the hiring stage, closed captioning might reflect inclusion but does little to support someone who needs larger monitors. It's crucial applicants are aware of all available options to foster a greater sense of equity in the application and selection process.
The “A” in accessibility must go beyond the idea of digital accessibility to programmatic actions and policies. These intentional practices that reflect awareness can encourage quality applicants.
2. Audit and assess for universally inclusive processes.
First, it is important to avoid using language that discourages people with disabilities. For example, do your job advertisements list standing as a requirement for roles that can be performed while sitting? Ensure that job descriptions focus on functional requirements of the role only.
Your website should also include information that highlights the ways in which your company provides an equitable, diverse, inclusive and accessible workplace for everyone. In addition, the World Economic Forum suggests that the recruitment and selection process should focus on a “selection mindset” versus “elimination mindset.” Take a non-traditional approach to resume review by considering how fully leveraging a candidate's skills can help you achieve desired results. This will also help you broaden the pool of available talent.
At Randstad North America, our compliance analysts conduct spot-check audits on positions posted by our recruiters for our recruitment process outsourcing (RPO) clients. The goal is to ensure that job postings and processes mitigate risk and make diverse talent feel welcome and eligible. Most of these postings have OFCCP contract requirements and non-compliance poses a legal risk.
In addition, our experts review client job requirements regularly to ensure they are actually needed for the role. It is vital to communicate that everyone will be considered, regardless of ability.
3. Allow for schedule flexibility.
Just as recruiters should prepare to accommodate needs during hiring and selection, leaders must be able to respond to employee needs to support their performance of essential job functions. It’s necessary to engage HR to ensure they respond properly to accommodation requests, creating a partnership to conduct a careful assessment of the role's needs.
A flexible work schedule is an often-requested accommodation that can take the form of working on specific days, split days or receiving time off to attend appointments while striking the balance of maintaining productivity. It also includes knowing when some employees perform at their best.
For example, people with ADHD may need designated interruption-free time blocks that are honored by colleagues and leaders. At Randstad, employees can block calendars for “focus time,” a period scheduled specifically for focused tasks.
As organizations institute and enforce an emerging new standard with hybrid work, however, they should preface requirements with statements that reflect empathy and align with the dynamics of today’s workforce.
4. Develop diverse partnerships.
Another key to attracting skilled, diverse candidates is plugging into the right networks. Some leaders have great intentions but need additional support to find those candidates.
At Randstad, we have engaged associations like Disability:IN to create opportunities for our clients and thousands of candidates. We also partner with organizations like the National Organization on Disability and The Valuable 500 to promote awareness and support our internal goals to employ more people with disabilities.
Internally, employee resource groups (ERGs) and/or business resource groups (BRGs) are also essential. While professional associations are significant, there are associative BRG/ERG connections leaders can use for tapping into quality talent. The BRGs/ERGs can carry a wealth of knowledge and insights to support and progress your organizational goals. Leveraging internal grassroots partnerships should always be part of the hiring strategy.
5. Focus on upskilling.
Upskilling is a principle that can apply to both your internal talent and externally to candidates. Employers must be open to different skill sets and work towards building adequate pathways to ensure candidates with disabilities access meaningful work. We must also continue to educate staff to properly attract, search, onboard, advocate for and retain them. In some cases, we have to examine our internal biases and change how we have previously defined disability — and roles — to focus on solutions. This requires collaboration.
To support people with disabilities employers should consider the following skilling strategies:
- Ensure every person in the organization has training and understands the initiatives and policies in place to support people with disabilities.
- Provide training to help employees understand what a disability is and is not. Many people may be characterized as disabled but are unaware.
- Create in-house coaching programs for people with disabilities, in addition to internal coaching and mentoring programs.
- Establish career development programs that include items like job rotation programs to support awareness with the entire business, and supporting professional skills training to facilitate promotional readiness, and a process for measuring results using KPIs.
At Randstad, we provide training to support awareness and encourage allyship. We look outside of the typical hiring box to find employees who can be upskilled and are now integral parts of our company. We have processes in place to educate leaders on how to engage when someone's behaviors don’t align with our core values.
At the same time, however, there is always more we can do. It’s important to regularly assess how you can better educate individual contributors and hiring managers to foster greater inclusion.
6. Create a brand based on equity.
It’s important to review your brand to ensure it demonstrates inclusion and awareness. The brand must align with the needs of people with disabilities if it will effectively attract and retain them to the organization. To assess, leaders can ask themselves four questions:
- How does the disability community view our outward marketing as an applicant and/or consumer?
- How do employees with disabilities experience our brand daily?
- Does cross-disability representation exist in our organization?
- Are people with disabilities represented in our leadership?
These questions prompt your organization to examine whether disability inclusion is embedded in the business, rather than just something you say you do. UN Secretary-General António Guterres recently cited the need for more representation at organizational leadership levels as the cornerstone of closing the disability inclusion divide. An organization's brand should showcase solidarity at all stages of the talent life cycle; it doesn’t stop at hiring.
At Randstad, we take the mission of equity, diversity, inclusion and accessibility seriously. We have developed safe spaces for employees entering the organization with our Abilities in Motion (AIM) BRG. AIM partners with our leaders to produce training and guidance for hiring managers to provide support. In addition, we assist clients in providing partner recommendations, advice and delivery to increase the representation of people with disabilities. We recognize this community is a critical part of our clients’ workforce as much as it is crucial to our own.
the bottom line: it is a process
The “fourth industrial revolution” is upon us and demands leaders look at talent, programs and processes differently. Employers can no longer afford to ignore large populations of untapped talent. Leaders must identify sustainable solutions to locate innovative talent to thrive in a world of digital transformation. They should recognize the need for an ongoing evolution in strategies to attract and retain a diverse roster of top talent.
Organizations must go beyond the number and availability of jobs to focus on quality. They must foster an environment where workers feel safe disclosing their disabilities. Remember: ensuring ability diversity is a process of mutual exchange. What will you do to foster it?
Learn more about how to support the needs of people with disabilities at work.
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