How can US businesses tap into the value of the talent pool of workers with disabilities?

07 January 2020

While the US labor market continues to perform well, the reality is that not everyone is sharing in the spoils. Just 29 per cent of people with disabilities at working age are currently employed in the US, according to research by Accenture. By comparison, the employment rate for those at working age without disabilities sits at 75 per cent.

As the global skills shortage worsens it stands to reason that businesses will want to access this previously untapped talent pool. In the UK, a 2017 pledge by government to transform work prospects for disabled people has seen the employment rate steadily increase. Currently 52.6 per cent of working age people with disabilities are employed, up from 50.7 per cent in 2018. Though still some way off its target of having 4.5 million disabled people in work by 2027, the UK is at least moving in the right direction. But why does the US lag so far behind and what can organizations do to access the wealth of skills that disabled people offer?

Are misconceptions about costs to blame?

The recruitment of people with disabilities is often hindered by a perception that its expensive to recruit a person with a disability. However, a study by the Job Accommodation Network found that 58 per cent of workplace accommodations cost an employer nothing to make, while 37 per cent required a one-time cost. Just 4 per cent of employers cited ongoing costs. Even where costs are incurred, the typical amount is $500. This is relatively little compared to the financial rewards that await an inclusive employer. Research shows that companies that are disability-inclusive outperform those that don’t by 28 per cent while they are twice as likely to have higher shareholder returns.

Getting it right

Organizations that understand the business case are helping to buck the national trend for disability employment. In Fortune’s The 100 Best Workplaces for Diversity index, financial services giant Synchrony came out on top for people with disabilities; 16 per cent of its entire workforce identify as having a disability. Meanwhile Microsoft continues to make strides with its ‘ability hiring events’ including its specialized autism hiring programme that recognizes the value of neurodiversity in the tech sector. While Synchrony consulted with experts in disability employment and Microsoft appointed a Chief Accessibility Officer to lead the charge, there are other practical steps that all organizations can take to boost the inclusion of people with disabilities.

1. Audit your recruitment practices:

Make it clear that you are happy to make adjustments where required. Organizations should also ensure that their websites are fully accessible and that it’s easy for candidates to apply online. If you use software that sifts CVs, consider whether this might enable bias. Similarly, it’s worth bearing in mind that a person with a disability might have more gaps in their employment history. You can further demonstrate your organization’s commitment to inclusion by advertising on disability-specific job sites or holding accessible recruitment events. If you’re partnering with a search firm, ensure they share your values and are disability-confident.

 2. Build a supportive working environment:

Employee networks have an important role to play in creating communities, but they also give a voice to workers with disabilities and allow an organization to benefit in a positive way from their lived experiences. Support can also be in the form of flexible or remote working for employees who are less mobile, while training for the wider workforce will help to remove any unconscious bias and educate employees on the prevalence of hidden disabilities.

3. Visibility:

Ensure you have people with disabilities represented at all levels of seniority within your organization. Encourage leaders to speak about their own experiences with disability or illness and remove the stigma surrounding it. Incorporating images of people with disabilities on your website and recruitment materials will also show that you are inclusive and that you want them to work for you.

There’s little doubt that the disability employment rate in the UK has been positively affected by efforts at government level, increasing 7.4 per cent since 2013. Without the same impetus in the US, the onus clearly falls on businesses to lead the way with disability inclusion – the ones that do so, stand to reap the rewards.

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