There are currently 3.7 million people of working age with disabilities with jobs, representing an employment rate of 50.7%. For people without disabilities, this number sits at 81.1%. While some conditions truly prevent people from working, this gap suggests that millions of talented disabled people are missing out on employment. So, what are the barriers excluding this huge pool of talent from entering the workforce, and how can we overcome them?
The benefits of engaging with disabled talent
While hiring disabled people is no doubt seen as ‘the right thing to do’, something that is often overlooked in debates on the topic is the numerous business benefits that come with hiring disabled staff. Companies that fail to engage with the 13.3 million disabled people in the UK are missing out on a huge, highly skilled pool of talent. This is not just conjecture: there are numerous studies that back this up. Research from B&Q showed that employing disabled talent resulted in better retention and productivity rates, while one study found that companies that championed people with disabilities had 28% higher revenues and 30% higher profit margins than those that didn’t. Organisations that improved internal practices for disability inclusion were also four times more likely to see greater total shareholder returns.
The challenges that disabled people face
Despite the clear benefits to hiring disabled people, the challenges these individuals face to gaining and succeeding in employment are vast. In addition to the physical or emotional barriers presented by a disability – which, according to research from disability charity Leonard Cheshire, has made almost three-quarters (73%) of disabled workers stop working at some point – the recruitment process is a huge factor leaving individuals frozen out of employment. Job adverts often contain descriptions that are exclusionary, and traditional interviews formats can be unsettling for disabled individuals, causing them to fall at the first hurdle. In one survey, 66% of managers said that the cost of workplace adjustments are a barrier to employing a person with disabilities – up from 60% in 2017. On top of this, there is the stigma towards disabled people in the workplace. Figures show that almost a quarter (24%) of UK employers said they would be less likely to hire someone with a disability, and 17% of disabled individuals that had applied for a job in the past five years said the employer withdrew the job offer as a result of their disability. Despite much progress being made, there are still misconceptions that people with disabilities will be less competent or cost more to employ.
How can businesses support disabled talent
There are many ways of supporting disabled talent and removing the barriers to employment:
Partnering with relevant organisations is essential. Doing so allows employers to not only receive insight from experts in the field, but also shows a real commitment to working with disabled candidates. This effect on employer brand cannot be understated when it comes to tapping into the disabled talent pool. For instance, through our partnerships with Recruitment Industry Disability Initiative (RIDI) and Business Disability Forum (BDF), we’ve learnt from others who are leading the way in disability confidence.
Accessibility is an essential area that needs attention if companies want to attract disabled talent. Legally, businesses are required to make workplaces accessible under the Equality Act 2010. However, being legally compliant is the bare minimum that companies should be doing. Hiring processes must be evaluated to ensure they are both accessible and attractive for individuals with disabilities or long-term conditions. For example, we undertook a major review of our website in 2018. By working closely with disabled internal colleagues, we have been able to implement changes which have greatly improved accessibility to the site, both visually and through better navigation. We do recognise that there is always more that we can do.
Non-traditional recruitment methods
Non-traditional recruitment methods such as extended interviews or work trials can be far better suited to disabled candidates. CVs have been shown to be ineffective predictors of job success, with research stating that as many as 80% of CVs contain misleading statements. Some disabled people may not be able to demonstrate a long career history, due not being facilitated in enough workplaces, despite their skills. Furthermore, interviews may also be open to discrimination and unconscious biases. Certain neurodiverse individuals with conditions such as autism can also struggle in these settings.
Finally, providing disability-specific training to all employees on their legal obligations and biases, is an important step. If recruiters don’t have experience of working with people with disabilities, fear and preconceived notions may have an influence. This unconscious bias can lead to them avoiding even the most talented people with disabilities. Working in partnership with BDF, everyone at Sopra Steria Recruitment has undertaken specialist training to ensure that barrier-free recruitment is embedded in our whole approach. The team is also freely able to access fact sheets and other training modules through the SSR Academy, our internal training platform, whenever they need.
An ongoing process
Ultimately, breaking down the barriers preventing disabled people from gaining employment is a journey, and cannot be achieved overnight. There has been fantastic progress in many sectors, with more companies than ever becoming Disability Confident. However, there is still more work to do, with millions of potential candidates being frozen out of the workforce. Therefore, both at Sopra Steria Recruitment, and in the wider business world, decision makers must be made aware of the benefits of hiring people with disabilities and the steps needed to do so. It is only by working together, that real change can be made.
About Sara Wright
Sopra Steria Recruitment delivers recruitment services that help organisations in the public and private sectors attract people, knowledge and skills to enable business performance and accelerate change. We provide solutions tailored to our clients’ specific needs, in permanent, contract, interim and managed recruitment across all technical and business disciplines.