Often when he was about to reminisce, Terry Wogan, on his long running radio programme, used to preface his recollection with “when I was a boy broadcaster……”
Well, when I was a boy HR Manager in industry, employers of a certain size were required to employ a minimum percentage of disabled people within their workforce. Although this quota system was abandoned in 1995, back then, whenever we recruited, we would breathe a sigh of relief if we managed to find someone with a disability minor enough not to inconvenience the organisation but significant enough to satisfy the definition of a disabled person. Of course, this was to miss the point completely – diversity is good for business and employing disabled people is part of this.
A few years later whilst in this business, I interviewed a woman who was almost completely blind. She arrived at our office door accompanied by Sally, her rather gorgeous Golden Labrador and it was a privilege to have had the opportunity to interview her. This candidate had already been working as a CEO for 4/5 years and it soon became evident that her disability was easily worked around and she was clearly a highly accomplished executive.
Instead of an employer/search consultant asking “What we need is X, if you can’t do that because of a disability, then it is unreasonable for us to employ you…..”, we need to say “OK, I see a talented person in front of me, how can we get this individual on our team?”
In today’s market, more and more recruitment consultants complain about how difficult it is to find good people to fill vacancies. In the UK, there are 11.5m disabled people, 79% of whom do not have a job. Four out of five disabled people have hidden impairments which means that we wouldn’t necessarily know they had a disability until perhaps they were in the interview. 43% of employers expect disabilities to be disclosed on an applicant’s CV even though, of course, there is no legal obligation to do so.
Research has found that one in five managers would be worried about interviewing someone with a disability for fear of saying or doing something wrong. There is concern over terminology, etiquette and not wanting to offend disabled people. Unless we address this stigma, businesses won’t ever see the talent which they are at risk of missing. 83% of disabled people acquire their disability whilst they are employed. The Government Initiative, “Access to Work” funds practical support to help a disabled person remain in employment; it has been called the “Government’s best kept secret”. The 2010 Equality Act requires employers to make reasonable adjustments for a disabled person so that they are not at a disadvantage. More often than not, relatively straightforward changes to the work environment are all that are required. Another Government Initiative is “Diversity Confidence” which offers guidance and awards companies with an accreditation for recruiting and retaining disabled people. The three stages of accreditation can then be publicised by the business as part of its credentials as an employer.
There is also a compelling commercial case for employing disabled people. As a group, disabled individuals and their families are estimated to have a spending power of £212bn and they are believed to be fiercely loyal to disabled friendly organisations. Firms which employ disabled people will be much better placed to market their products or services to this significant group of customers. Therefore, diversity really is good for business.