Dis-clusion: Advocating Disabled Talent In The Workplace, A Summary

Did you know that between April and June 2020, the difference in employment between people with disabilities and without disabilities was 27.3%? This is quite a shocking statistic that really highlights the lack of disabled talent in the workplace. Events Together and Diversity in Conferences and Events (DiCE), brought together key voices to shed light on the lived experience of people with disabilities and to help you understand the challenges faced gaining employment. The result was Dis-clusion, a panel webinar discussing these issues, and more! The panel was hosted by Meena Chander, founder and CEO of Events Together and DiCE. And, the wider panel was made up of Priya Smith, a creative producer and founder of LoveDIS, a platform to celebrate disability and diversity; Jane Hatton, the director of Even Break, a job board run by and for disabled people; and Quinn Roache, LGBTQ+ and Disabled Policy Officer at TUC. Keep on reading to find out more about what was discussed and the findings from the webinar!

Education is key

What do you think of when you hear the term ‘disabled?’ The stereotypical idea of a disabled person is often incorrect. In fact, only around 8% of disabled people use a wheelchair, for example, and around 80% don’t ‘look disabled’. Essentially, a disabled person is someone with impairments or long term conditions that mean that they face additional barriers in life that others don’t face. Priya, Jane, and Quinn all face their own disabilities, so they were talking from their lived experience as well as their professional experience in this space throughout the panel. For example, Priya, who has a degenerative hearing impairment, said that her school, university, and first employer after graduating were all ignorant to her needs and unwilling to make reasonable adjustments for her. While it’s true that universities and schools have come a long way since then, there is still plenty more to be done to make sure that everyone has the same opportunities. And, these adjustments can also make things easier for non-disabled people, so really everyone can benefit and it’s not just exclusive to disabled people! It’s also important to start educating children about disabilities and inclusion from an early age. Having a basic awareness of it is really useful for going into the workplace, as most people will be affected by a disability at some point in their lives, either themselves or someone they know. 

Work also needs to be done to prepare employers to better support disabled people, and recognise them for the valuable source of talent that they are. 83% of disabled people became disabled in their adult life, so it really can happen to anyone. There’s the false perception that disabled employees may become a burden and take more time off sick. In reality, they tend to take less time off sick than the average employee, are just as productive, and also bring intelligence about how to tap into disabled markets. Furthermore, disabled people tend to be resilient as they are used to overcoming barriers and finding new solutions to problems- surely these are skills that employers want? Covid has shown us all new ways of working that can benefit everyone, especially disabled people. Working from home and flexible working gives employers more opportunities to bring disabled people in and benefit them in the workplace. As Meena mentioned, the stress of commuting every day and being in an office environment can be stressful for many people, both disabled and non disabled. So, flexible working initiatives really can benefit everyone! However, it’s important to bear in mind that not every disabled employee wants to work from home- it just should be an option open to everyone, with office working also adjusted for disabled people if they would prefer that. 


Education is key to advancing any form of diversity and inclusion

Barriers to work

Meena then invited the panel to share their insight into what barriers employers feel there are to employing disabled people, as well as what disabled people themselves think. From this discussion, it became apparent that most of the barriers that employers perceive are not actually a real issue. For example, many adjustments are free or cheap, and the government’s Access To Work scheme will provide funding to pay for them. But, it is definitely also an issue of education. Employers may shy away from hiring disabled candidates because they’re worried about saying or doing the wrong thing, or being patronising. So, there needs to be an open conversation about what employers can do to help everyone thrive in the workplace! It’s important for employers to look at their employees as individuals, and work out what they can do to help each individual work at their best, disabled or non disabled. On the whole, seeing disability as an opportunity to help the whole organisation grow and learn is key. 

In terms of what disabled people think about this topic, Even Break commissioned some research which is very telling. By far the biggest barrier to employment that disabled people find, mentioned by 80% of participants, is not knowing which employers they can trust. Everyone tends to say that they are a disability confident employer. So, working out who is just saying this as a tick-box exercise and who really does make the effort can be an exhausting minefield. To help remove this barrier for disabled people, organisations need to work hard on how they word job adverts, where they place them, and their reputation as an employer. All of these steps will show disabled people that the employer wants their talent and will not discriminate towards them because of their disability. 

The pay gap

Here is another shocking statistic: even when disabled people are in the workplace, there is a pay gap of an average of 20%, which works out to the equivalent of £3800 per year, or a year and two months’ worth of food for a family. The pay gap exists for a number of reasons such as disabled people being more likely to work part-time, or in lower-paid jobs. But, even when comparing two candidates with the same qualifications, there is a pay gap between disabled and non disabled people. And, it is higher for disabled women and disabled people of colour. Robust policies are needed to stop conscious discrimination against disabled people. However, employers need to look at what they can do to combat this even before legislation is put in place- there’s no need to wait for the legislation to take action! 

How can employers attract disabled candidates?

The conversation then led onto, what can employers do to employ disabled people in the first place? Recruiting is all about looking at the individual needs of candidates and the job role. Roles need people with specific skills, not necessarily specific experience. In this way, CVs are possibly not the best way of recruiting, as disabled people may not have had the same opportunities as non disabled people. So, their CVs may not be as full, even if, in reality, they have the right skills for the job. All recruiters really need to know is a candidate’s specific strengths, and a set of questions tailored to the role can be used to discover these. Recruiting in this way saves time and effort for everyone, as there will be fewer, but better quality applicants for the roles.

Language and the way questions are asked on application forms can also help employers attract more disabled candidates and ensure they are not discriminating against them. For example, instead of asking ‘are you disabled and do you need any adjustments?,’ the same question can be worded as ‘we want all of our candidates to shine in the recruitment process, what can we do to make that happen for you?’. This doesn’t mention disability, but opens the door for disabled and non-disabled people alike to ask for the reasonable adjustments they need to make the recruitment process suitable for them. On this topic, Meena added that in the registration form for Dis-clusion, she asked if any adjustments were needed to make the event accessible. From this, she received positive feedback on how refreshing it was to see the event being made inclusive from the outset. While this is not necessarily to do with recruitment, it does show how much more work needs to be done in this space, so that questions like these are seen as the norm and not a surprisingly positive addition.  

Back on the subject of recruitment, even if time and effort is put into the process to help hire more disabled candidates, disabled people often find themselves doubting their abilities because of internalised negative narratives around disabilities. Disabled people need to overcome this, as they are premium candidates with the skills and strengths that employers need! It’s important for there to be role models in the workplace, for example, people in higher-level positions who are open about their disabilities and any hidden differences. This shows applicants that there are people like them out there. In turn, this can help disabled people with self-belief, they can do it too, and they have the talent to achieve in the workplace. 


Simply adjustments to the recruitment process can make disabled people feel more comfortable and be more likely to be hired

Final tips and advice

To close the panel, Meena invited the panellists to share the number one thing that they would encourage an employer to do surrounding hiring disabled people, as well as one piece of advice for disabled employees. With this prompt, Quinn urged employers to talk to disabled people, and eliminate barriers to help them reach their potential. He suggested that employees should be open to employers about what they need, and have conversations with a roadmap detailing what they want out of the conversations and where they want to go afterwards to get the most from them. Then, Priya’s advice was that disabled people should remember that their disability is a part of who they are, but not their whole identity. In fact, it can be a real benefit to them and help equip them with valuable skills!  For employers, she suggested that they listen to the person in front of them and the skills they have to offer first, and not just look at their disability. Finally, Jane spoke about how we should change the narrative around disabled talent. As a part of this, disabled people should see themselves as a valuable source of talent that hasn’t been tapped into properly yet, and everything else can flow from here. 

Overall, Dis-clusion certainly gave the audience a valuable look into employment for disabled people. The overall feeling is that more must be done to attract disabled candidates and show them that their talents are needed and wanted in the workplace. However, making simple adjustments to accommodate disabled people can benefit everyone, including non disabled people. So, it should be something that everyone does their part to work towards to create a more inclusive working environment for everyone! After all, considering different needs and how we can make adjustments for them will lead to happier employees across the board.