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The business case for diversity in recruitment

27th Jan 2015
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The recognition of the business case for diversity in the workplace is by no means a new phenomenon. No longer just a ‘nice to have’, it is now widely accepted that greater diversity really does have a positive impact on core organisational outcomes. The research most often cited as evidence was provided by separate studies by consultants Catalyst and McKinsey, both published in 2007. These studies compared the financial performance of organisations according to the gender diversity at senior levels - and both found that greater diversity had a notable impact on businesses profitability.

Since these landmark reports, a myriad of further studies have supported and expanded upon the benefits of truly representative teams, namely the advantages of having greater access to different perspectives and sources of information. However, where it is increasingly common to see teams of mixed gender, ethnicity, age and sexual orientation, disabled people continue to be one group that is not proportionally represented in the workplace. Disabled people remain significantly less likely to be in employment than others. In fact, according to a recent Labour Force Survey, 46% of working age disabled people are in employment compared to 76% of working age non-disabled people – representing a gap of around two million. So, with these figures in mind, why are we not doing more to encourage an inclusive approach to improving the diversity of abilities?

The paper The Business Case for Equality and Diversity, commissioned by the Department for Business Innovation & Skills (BIS) and the Government Equalities Office (GEO), advises that there is no single approach that all businesses can adopt to ensure equality and diversity are beneficial. To be effective, equality and diversity need to be embedded in the company strategy, not treated as an ad-hoc addition. Indeed, there is no absolute ‘right’ or ‘wrong’ process to improve how your organisation reflects wider society. Many businesses are doing a fantastic job of increasing diversity – through a variety of different approaches. However, we must ask ourselves, why has the inclusion of disabled people, thus yet, failed to make headway like that of other minority groups? Maybe organisations are simply afraid of getting it ‘wrong’.  We’re not just missing out on a talent pool - there is an ocean of talent that we (no-doubt unconsciously) are overlooking. But what is the key to engaging with them?

There is no easy answer but little things can make a big difference. Conscious and unconscious bias can exist at each stage of the recruitment process and small changes can have a huge impact. A job specification, for example, may ask for a full UK Driving Licence, even if it is not necessary for the role – but that may automatically eliminate candidates with epilepsy, or those who are registered blind. A candidate who may be the best person for the role may never make it to the first stage of the recruitment process. Certainly food for thought. 

Now in their second year, the Recruitment Industry Disability Initiative (RIDI) awards were established to celebrate progress and recognise the success of organisations and recruitment consultancies that are making changes to increase inclusion. By successfully engaging employers to share their stories, it is hoped that the awards will inspire other organisations to focus on their own strategies to boost diversity of different abilities. After all, by learning from companies that are doing it ‘right’, we can all improve our strategies for the future.   

There is no doubt that employer brand is intrinsically linked to consumer brand, and it’s no secret that in order to better understand - and communicate with – all stakeholders, organisations must reflect the customer base that they serve. With around 11 million people in the UK living with a limiting long term illness, impairment or disability, increasing the representation of disabled people in the workplace can only have positive repercussions for the businesses that take positive steps to increase inclusion. Over the coming months I’ll be sharing some case studies of employers who have made real inroads into addressing this issue. What small changes could you make to help engage with disabled talent?

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By DavidG
29th Jan 2015 14:54

When I was being outsourced by my former employers (more on that in a moment), the very experienced recruiter running the outsourcing process took me aside. 'I need to be certain you understand something,' he told me, 'that with your level of disability, no private sector company will employ you, and you will be very lucky if you find a public sector one who will.' During the next year, every recruiter I spoke to expressed similar views, that no matter 20 years at the cutting edge of engineering, companies would take one look at my disability and my application would find it's way into the reject bin. It seems the bias, no, let's call a spade a shovel, the disability discrimination inside the recruitment sectror isn't so much unconscious as openly acknowledged.

Yet look through all the information the DWP are producing for the Disability Confident initiative and you'll be hard pressed to find a single mention of the word discrimination. The DWP would far rather paint a picture of companies who feel awkward around disability, but that isn't the reality we as disabled people encounter on the ground. As I mentioned, I had a 20 year career in engineering, working for a national champion, a company that proclaimed itself 'an employer of choice' when it came to equality, yet the response to my asking for a minor reasonable adjustment (as provided for by the Equality Act) was for a very senior manager to start a campaign of harassment intended to force me out of the company, a campaign which  ultimately succeeded.  And mine is a story you'll find repeated again and again as you talk to disabled people.

So when I see Disability Confident desperately trying to deny that disability discrimination exists, never mind is an overwhelming problem, when I see an article like this trying to convince itself that bias is unconscious, not the conscious, calculated and overwhelmingly commonplace reality it actually is, then you'll have to forgive me for thinking that the HR sector is still avoiding the real issue, and that's why two million disabled people are being denied the chance to work

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