By Sean McEwen, RealEyes Capacity Consultants
Many of us think we know enough about disability to quietly reject this talent pool in our recruitment efforts. Some of us think we don’t know enough about disability to engage or encourage this talent pool in our recruitment efforts. Both of these beliefs – or biases – contribute to employment accessibility barriers faced by job seekers with disabilities and keep this diversity group’s rate of unemployment much higher than the national average. There are a growing number of employers, however, who have opened their workplaces to candidates with disabilities and discovered some remarkable benefits.
If we look objectively at disability, we can quickly see a number of important considerations, the first of which is the size of this (growing) group; currently, one in five Canadians identifies as having some type of disability. It’s also a group that any of us can join at any time due to illness or injury. We can also see that there are several categories of disability including cognitive/learning, mental health, medical, sensory (hearing or vision impairment) and physical/mobility issues. Each one of these categories has a lengthy list of causes, diagnoses and severity. After 40 years of working with people with disabilities, I can say with confidence that I have not become an expert in disabilities. There is simply too great a range of diversity within disability to ‘know it all.’
What I have come to understand is that disability is not the most important part of who a person is – nor does disability negate a person’s talents, passions or qualities that make them an asset to a workplace. Moreover, after designing and overseeing employment inclusion services for 23 years, I’ve experienced a very common theme within the commentary from employers after hiring workers with disabilities. It makes them better.
Employers expect to accommodate a person with a disability and in doing so, flaws in their current onboarding, training, engagement and communication processes are often revealed. They also typically notice that the things that work well for employees with disabilities actually work well for all new employees. In 2019, the Institute for Corporate Productivity released its ‘Inclusive Talent Pool’ report which described the business benefits of hiring workers with disabilities including lower employee turnover and improved market representation, employee engagement, etc. The most notable benefit in this report however was that that inclusion of workers with disabilities improved employers’ diversity and inclusion capacities across the organization. Disability inclusion clearly made workplaces stronger.
Then there’s the workforce sustainability factor; over the next 10-15 years Canada is projected to lose 25% of our workforce as people ‘age out’ and our birth rate declines. The replacement of these workers will happen through immigration and the inclusion of diversity groups and generational groups who statistically care more about workplace diversity and inclusion. The business ‘winners’ in this unfolding scenario will be those who build their diversity and inclusion capacity, something that workers with disabilities and publicly-funded employment inclusion services can help with. In short – disability can help employers ‘hack’ workplace diversity and ensure that they are ‘employers of choice’ in a future of work that reflects a job seeker’s market.
Disability is diversity but it’s unfortunately the most overlooked diversity group. Unfortunate because the benefits this group brings to a business are significant – and unfortunate because there are literally hundreds of free, publicly-funded services across Canada that can help employers source talent in this diversity pool as well as provide ongoing inclusion coaching and support.
The human capital resources that Canadian business needs for tomorrow are right here right now.
Sean is a Workplace Diversity and Inclusion Consultant and a Director at RealEyes Capacity Consultants. RealEyes supports organizations to build cultural agility and workforce sustainability through diverse and inclusive workplaces that effectively leverage human capital and workplace culture. Sean engages with service providers and businesses across Canada to build their capacity in these areas.
Sean’s educational background is in. Youth Services and Mental Health. Over the past 22 years, Sean has been designing and overseeing Employment Inclusion and Entrepreneurship services for people with disabilities while providing leadership and coaching to teams of Career Practitioners serving job-seekers and employers.