Are you one of the one in three Australian businesses currently finding it difficult to recruit skilled staff?
Global professional services company Accenture found that disability-inclusive organisations grew sales 2.9 times faster and profits 4.1 times faster than their peers (Enabling Change. Getting to Equal 2020: Disability Inclusion)
You might personally hold positive attitudes toward people with disability, but when hiring an individual with disability, we are still not hitting the mark. A good test for this is whether least 10% of your employees feel comfortable in stating they have a disability. Remembering, not all disability can be seen, nor do people with disability have to tell you they have disability.
About one in ten (10% or 99,000) working age people with disability who are employed want to work more hours than they do and are available to start work, compared with around one in fourteen without disability (Australian Institute of Health and Welfare). This stat doesn’t take into account people with a disability who want to work but have been repeatedly told they can’t. When you consider that unemployment rates have never been lower and there is continuous rhetoric that organisations are struggling to find good talent, we need to pull apart some of the reasons why.
Starting at a very basic Human level – affinity bias
We are drawn to people that are like us. Think back to your high school cliches. Jocks hung around with jocks, brains were friends with brains, the creatives sat with the creatives. This bias has a two-fold negative effect when it comes to employment of people with disability. Firstly, people hiring are likely to over emphasise the strengths of people they think have similarities to them. People with disability may not choose to explore employment in an organisation where they don’t feel any affinity. No one is like me there. The affinity bias can keep affecting the disability status quo at work too, as it impacts on who we partner with on projects, who we give new responsibilities and opportunities to and who we promote.
The real issue with the affinity bias is we don’t even realise we are doing it. At any given moment, our brains are absorbing about eleven million bits of information, but really it can only manage about fifty bits of information at the conscious level. So, it takes short cuts.
But we can control it. By being aware that it is a natural part of ALL of us. Next time you are deciding who to hire or where to work, consciously take time to question if you think if there are real or perceived similarities. Is your answer possibly clouding your judgement? Are those similarities important? Or should you focus more on potential and performance.
Another suggestion is for both parties to try and find one area of common ground before officially starting the interview process.
Which leads me to the next barrier – processes.
Once again, following process is designed to make life easier and increase the chances of making a good decision. But by their very nature, they are ridged and lack opportunity for innovation.
We want the total package. But let’s be real. Even when hiring people without disabilities, no one is the total package. What skills are critical to doing the job well? How can we tailor our recruitment process?
Here are some simple things for you to consider in your recruitment process to be more inclusive and to get over any affinity bias:
- If it can be learned on the job, consider leaving it out of the description.
- Have you been prescriptive in your means rather than outcome, e.g. type up a report. There are plenty of people who have mastered assistive technology and can use it to get the same result as typing.
- Plan questions and activities aligned to the skills required for the job. If the job doesn’t require great communication skills, is an interview the best way to identify the skills needed to do the job?
- Ask new starters whether they would like to see the workplace in person, before they sign their contract. This provides a signal that the wellbeing of new recruits is important to you as an employer
And finally once we have addressed these barriers we have the last big pink elephant in the room left… Fear.
Fear that someone with a disability can’t do the job, fear of offending your employee, or fear that your team won’t respond well to a new employee with a disability. Fear that it will cost more or fear that you’re about to get into a legal pickle. Like most of our fears the reality isn’t anywhere near as bad as what we imagine.
Studies have shown the top three reasons for not hiring people with disability are all fear related:
- High cost of accommodations
- Lack of awareness as to how to deal with workers with disabilities and their accommodation needs
- This is a simple training program that can be reinforced by the behaviour of your senior leadership team.
- Fear of being stuck with a worker who cannot be disciplined or fired because of the possibility of a lawsuit.
- If you have good disciplinary processes, then this won’t be an issue. There is no more risk in performance managing a person with disability compared to one without, if you do it respectfully and have provided them with the tools and support to succeed.
Matt, who has low vision, talks us through some of the simple things that makes his life easier in the short clip below:
If you are reading this article, you have the power to make change. Strategies that have been proven to create workplaces that are not only inclusive to people with disability, but create an equal playing field for all include:
- More or better training on disability, inclusion and empathy.
- Having an organization-wide source of expertise on accommodation issues, this could be internal or contracted.
- Written guidelines for dealing with disability issues, including reasonable adjustment requests, and finally.
- Testimonies of successful employees with disabilities
For information on the NDIS and many other aspects of the disability sector please reach out Contact – Supporting Potential