Why we need to refocus inclusion efforts on disabled talent

A ‘one size fits all’ approach to diversity and wellbeing risks excluding employees with a range of disabilities, argues Tim Hardy-Lenik

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The war for talent continues to be immense, and the ‘Great Resignation’ trend makes it increasingly challenging for employers to hire and retain the talent that is going to drive their growth and success into the future. In 2021 in the UK alone, only around half of the disabled people aged 16-64 years were employed. This is just one example of how new global realities compound some of the challenges disabled people face and negatively affect wellbeing scores amongst disabled people more than non-disabled people. This number also underlines why the need to re-focus on disabled talent is critical. 

Across diversity characteristics, disclosure of disability to an employer has consistently been low. The absence of robust data on disability and an existing stigma around disability, especially mental health, limits the insight employers have to understand the experiences of disabled people within their organisation. It’s important that employers are data-informed and insight-led, and that they listen to the experiences of disabled people and proactively tailor approaches, processes, and infrastructure to improve the participation and experiences of disabled employees.

Best practices to uphold personal dignity

Imagine a challenge arising when the chair you need costs more than is in the budget and every step that follows to even try to understand whether it will be possible or not. What medical notes do you have to produce? Whose manager needs to get involved? How do you know which people in the company now know about such personal details? 

One place to start is to ask if your business trusts the employee who tells you what they need, in order to do their job. Then, consider the personal impact it would have on you to go through this process. Would you feel motivated to do more, or less for the company that put you in the position to lobby for your mental or physical support?  

Promote policy flexibility and discretion

Having intent to improve something for someone is the first step. The critical ability to translate this intent into meaningful frontline action for line managers and their employees is a different ball game. It's the determining priority for businesses that wish to be an inclusive employer of choice. However, the disconnect between what a policy says and what action is possible for an employee can be a vast chasm. This is one reason organisations must clearly articulate which policies are impossible to flex and which function more as guidelines from which managers can tailor actions to given situations. Consider your organisation's culture of empowerment and discipline. Does your company promote a culture of people or process first?

A disability-inclusive physical and digital estate

Often, organisations focus on physical disability as the accessibility portion of their duties, but accessibility goes beyond automatic doors or ramps. Think about it: how many organisations have you worked for where the person who led the meeting knows whether the meeting room has a hearing loop or if the content they produce aligns with in-build accessibility standards available in products such as Microsoft Office? How has working via video link impacted your colleagues who may have visual or hearing impairments, and what accommodations must be put in place to ensure they are appropriately valued, heard, and supported.?

A disabled-friendly talent acquisition process 

In a time where talent acquisition is challenging for organisations, simplicity, transparency, and empathy are critical aspects of the interview process. Adding an intentional focus on accessibility and inclusivity of the hiring systems, processes, and behaviours can positively impact both the business and the applicants. Equally vital is to ensure that your content meets accessibility standards visually and cognitively and that your application process is compatible with certain software, such as a screen reader; or that your internal development pathways are accessible to your disabled talent.

Proactive wellbeing strategies

While EAPs are vital to filling employers' knowledge action gap and avoiding a ‘one size fits all’ approach from internal employee support initiatives, they cannot solely guide an impactful wellbeing strategy relevant to all disabled employees. Why? Because it would be rooted in the requirements of individuals with the lowest wellbeing scores and not intentionally consider other equally important aspects of individual requirements and company culture. To meaningfully affect all employees, a wellbeing strategy should involve a broad spectrum of approaches affecting everything from working hours through to reward and recognition – this intentional alignment can yield a positive impact on employees broader than those who are disabled.

Benefits that meet the needs of the few and the many 

Often, it's unclear whether a given organisation covers pre-existing and/or long-standing conditions in its benefits package, which can be vital to candidates with disabilities. For many health benefits packages, the disclosure of pre-existing conditions to medical insurance providers may be required in a certain timeframe of the employee starting in their role; employers should therefore consider how they effectively communicate these timescales and implications to all their new starters. Additional incentives range from cycle to work schemes, to full dental coverage and private medical cover. 

There are more unique aspects to an inclusive, impactful, and dynamic wellbeing strategy than for it to be fit for all. Such a strategy is a utopia. To proactively re-focus on disabled talent and respectfully support them to thrive and grow within the organisation this comes down to the culture within the organisation, and any organisation, independent of its size, can develop and change its culture. A starting point would be to explore how the broad spectrum of disabled experiences are integrated elements in the culture.

The World Bank suggests about 15 per cent of the global population is disabled, which by any standard is a considerable number of people or potential employees. In a time when there is a war for talent, it's hard to believe that any business can afford not to maximise the engagement and belonging of such a large group.

Tim Hardy-Lenik is director of inclusion and workforce equity at CSG