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There is an untapped pool of skilled and dedicated workers in people with disability, who are too often overlooked for jobs across all industry sectors around the world.

Employers that are struggling to find talented, loyal employees may be unintentionally missing out on an untapped pool of skilled workers. Globally, people with disability are routinely overlooked for jobs across all industry sectors.

The World Bank reports one billion people, or about 15 percent of the world’s population, live with some form of disability. They represent the world’s largest minority.

According to the United Nations’ Department of Economic and Social Affairs (UN DESA), 80–90 percent of people with a disability of working age in developing countries are unemployed, and in industrialized countries, the figure is between 50–70 percent.

“Persons with disabilities are frequently not considered potential members of the workforce,” the UN DESA stated on its website. “Myths abound, including that persons with disabilities are unable to work and that accommodating a person with a disability in the workplace is expensive.

“Contrary to these notions, many companies have found that persons with disabilities are more than capable.”

A Vast Potential

Organizations that are prepared to employ people with disability reap the business benefits of a skilled, diverse and adaptable workplace and an improved workplace culture.

By recruiting people with disability, employers will:

• Widen their talent pool
• Better represent their customers
• Expand their customer base
• Better retain workers
• Improve brand reputation

So why are employers reluctant to recruit people with disability?

• Employers incorrectly assume hiring people with disability will be costly, ‘burdensome’, less productive and risky, which may result in overlooking a person’s unique skills
• Discriminatory attitudes and behaviors during recruitment and in the workplace
• Employers lacking knowledge, skills, leadership and resources to support people with disability

One proven way to broaden your talent pool and increase your employment of people with disability is to introduce disability employment targets.

“What you don’t count, doesn’t count… The only way to get people with disabilities into employment is to set targets and then develop strategies to achieve those targets,” former Australian Disability Discrimination Commissioner Graeme Innes has said previously.

In 2017, the Government of the United Kingdom announced its target to see a million more people with disability in employment by 2027. The latest figures from the United Kingdom’s Office for National Statistics for 2022 revealed the number of disabled people in employment had increased by 1.3 million since 2017, beating the target by five years.

Organizations that are prepared to employ people with disability reap the business benefits of a skilled, diverse and adaptable workplace.

“This is an important milestone showing our commitment to supporting disabled people to lead independent lives and reach their full potential,” said Chloe Smith, the United Kingdom’s Minister for Disabled People, Health and Work.

“Ensuring everyone has the same opportunity for a fulfilling working life is a key part of leveling up the country.”

But setting targets is not a one-size-fits-all process. Collecting the relevant information to track and measure the impact of targets can be challenging if employees are reluctant to share disability-related information with their employers for fear of being discriminated against.

Make a Difference

Organizations must first develop an inclusive culture and processes to support employees to feel comfortable to share that they have disability. Here are five helpful steps companies can take toward establishing disability employment targets.

1. Decide who will set the target

Depending on the size of your organization, this may be a dedicated team or an individual with responsibilities for recruitment, diversity and inclusion. In addition, you need to determine who in your organization will champion the target and encourage the broader organization to support the implementation of targets. Ideally, this champion will be a senior leader who is passionate about inclusion.

2. Define the cohort that the target will apply to

Determine whether you are aiming to increase disability representation among existing employees, across the management and senior leadership, among new recruits or the whole organization. Also, decide whether the targets will apply to the entire business or to specific business units depending on the outlook and workforce requirements of different parts of the organization.

3. Undertake a review of the organization’s current employment practices

Start by asking some key questions, including:

• Does your organization already have a framework for affirmative measures that can be replicated for employees with disability, such as for the employment of women or First Nations employees?
• Does your organization already capture data on the number of employees with disability?
• How is that data being captured?
• How many employees with disability do you currently employ?
• Are most employees with a disability in entry level jobs? Are there career advancement opportunities?

If disability data is not currently captured, you need to implement a process to collect this data ethically and safely. Identify any barriers to disability employment in the organization, which may include systems, technology, lack of recruitment processes or a lack of flexible workplace practices.

4. Establish a realistic time frame to achieve the target

Targets are not a quick fix. The careful introduction of targets opens the door to equitable employment, an inclusive workplace culture and long-term business benefits, but this takes time. Many organizations set a target for a three-to-five-year period, to be reviewed annually.

5. Decide who will be responsible for meeting the targets

Clarify who in your organization will be responsible for the initiatives that will drive the achievement of the target and who is accountable for achieving the target. Ensure systems are in place to measure, monitor and report on progress toward achieving the target and share lessons learned along the way.

Estimates suggest that nations forego up to seven percent of their gross domestic product due to the exclusion of people with disability.

The increased employment of people with disability will provide great economic benefits to individuals and employers, and it’s in everyone’s interest to ensure our workplaces are truly inclusive.

Corene Strauss

Contributor Collective Member

Corene Strauss joined the Australian Disability Network (ADN) as CEO in July 2021. ADN is Australia's peak body for disability inclusion in the workforce and works with its 450 member companies to improve employment diversity and inclusion. Passionate about improving the lives of others and building communities for good, Corene has led the transformation of multiple organizations. In consultation with its members, ADN created a Business Case for Disability Employment Targets and a series of how-to guides. For more information visit https://australiandisabilitynetwork.org.au/

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