It’s just over a year since we waved goodbye to the London Paralympic Games so we thought it particularly pertinent to reflect upon some of the changes we’ve experienced from an employment perspective over the last 12 months. Working with our networking group, the Diversity Think Tank, we’ve tapped into the thoughts of senior Diversity and Inclusion (D&I) leaders from a range of national and international businesses.
Contrary to much of the research that’s emerged regarding the legacy of the Paralympics, our research is mainly positive and points in the direction of changed perceptions, heightened awareness and the ‘dis’ in disability being eroded (Andrew Young, Diversity Manager – Access and Inclusion at the BBC). For Yasir Mirza, Head of Diversity and Inclusion at the Guardian, he reports great strides with raising the profile of a talented workforce, specifically those with disabilities and the positive impact it has had on awareness. What’s more he reminds us of the largely ‘untapped market’ that is now becoming more accessible based on this heightened visibility.
Similarly to the London Games, when assessing talent, the focus now seems to be more centred around achievements and what people can do rather than what they can’t – sentiments echoed by Deborah Dalgleish (Head of Diversity and Inclusion at Ashurst LLP) who reports that she has seen evidence of this over the past year.
Whilst on the whole D&I professionals are suggesting that they have seen improvements following the Paralympics, many are still up against it when it comes to battling false perceptions that exist when employing disabled talent. It generally seems to come down to four key areas: cost, time, fear and quality. Here’s a couple of incorrect statements that frustratingly many people believe:
- Introducing reasonable adjustments to the recruitment process costs a lot of money.
Wrong – small changes such as providing literature in large print, allowing a guide dog into the work place or including a disabled parking space in the car park do not cost a lot of money but go a long way to ensuring the process is as accessible and fair as possible. Mary FitzPatrick (International Diversity Leader at GE Capital) stresses the importance of asking all candidates how their application process could be improved and ‘listening to their particular needs, recognising any adjustments and managing this accordingly’.
- The recruitment process is going to take much longer.
Wrong – if you ensure your recruitment process is equally accessible to everybody in the first instance then there’s absolutely no reason why it should take any longer.
- The quality of the candidate will be reduced.
Wrong – everybody is different and has their unique strengths and weaknesses. It’s the employer’s responsibility to understand where an individual’s skills will be best deployed. For example SAP recognised that people with autism are often very intelligent, innovative and exhibit great attention to detail – fantastic traits for a software company!
- People don’t like their disabilities being acknowledged and would rather employers didn’t ask questions.
Neither wrong or right – this is obviously down to the individual preference of your employees. The point is you should at least find out how they want to be supported and attempt to understand what will make their working life easier. Do not ignore a mental or physical disability in the hope it will go away!
More often than not, fear of the unknown is one of the biggest barriers to employing disabled talent and at the very least it’s great to see that the Paralympics has raised awareness on the matter. However, as Deborah Dalgleish highlights, that whilst ‘people have more of a positive view of disability in general, the challenge is getting them to practise what they preach when it comes to their specific business needs’.