Is disability inclusion relevant for recruiters?


Diversity is no longer seen as an optional extra. Employers are increasingly looking to attract a diverse range of talent for very sound commercial reasons. In the past, employing disabled people was often seen as a ‘nice thing to do’ – almost an act of charity – but now it is understood that inclusive employment can add tremendous value to any organisation.

Skills shortages are affecting businesses in all sectors, so appealing to a wider audience makes perfect sense. Around 18% of people of working age consider themselves to be disabled or have long term health issues – actively including such a large group of potential candidates significantly opens up the pool of talent available. Research shows that disabled employees are, on average, just as productive as our non-disabled colleagues, and also have substantially less time off sick, have fewer workplace accidents and stay in our jobs longer. Having disabled people working in your organisation can also offer internal intelligence on how to attract more of the estimated £249 billion, disabled people and our families spend in the UK every year.

Furthermore, disabled workers often bring additional skills to the workplace. Having to navigate around the many barriers we face daily means developing skills such as determination, creativity, problem-solving, tenacity and innovation — all desirable traits in the ideal employee. People with different ways of thinking and viewing the world (for example, people on the autism spectrum, people with dyslexia, dyspraxia, ADHD etc.) can bring specific skills such as attention to detail, creativity, and new ideas.

Given all of this, it’s perhaps no wonder that clients are now expecting recruiters to attract this largely-untapped pool of talent.

Disability Inclusion – Attracting Disabled Applicants

However, attracting disabled applicants – who have vast experience of being rejected the very minute they declare their disabilities – can be easier said than done. Recruiters have to work hard to give disabled applicants the confidence that they will be taken seriously, that the recruiter is enlightened enough to look beyond the disabilities and find the skills and talents on offer.

This can include advertising in media, which specifically targets disabled people. Specialist disability job boards such as Evenbreak (disclaimer – this is the job board I founded and run along with a great team of other disabled people) and specialist journals such as PosAbility (no connection other than I write a regular column for them).

It’s also around using more effective assessment methods for evaluating the suitability of a candidate to a particular role. Recruiters have, for decades, relied on CVs and interviews to evaluate candidates. This is fine if other methods are included in the mix as well, but on their own, they are pretty poor indicators of future performance, for any candidate, let alone disabled candidates.

CVs only tell you about past performance, not about potential. They tell you about the employment opportunities that the candidate has been able to access. If they have (as is almost a certainty for disabled candidates) been overlooked in the past, their work history almost certainly won’t reflect the talents they have to offer. And, as we know, interviews only test the candidate’s ability to blag at interviews. This skill, or lack of it, bears no relation to their ability to do the job (unless the job solely involves blagging at interviews).

It’s more effective to genuinely gauge someone’s capability, perhaps through tests or tasks relevant to the role itself. Do you test someone’s ability to, say, code by asking them how good they are at coding, or giving them some coding to do? Clearly, the latter will be a more accurate assessment. And the same principle applies to other skills.

The current conversation is very much around skills shortages. I would contend that there are no skills shortages – we’re just looking in the wrong places. Employers such as Lloyds Banking Group, John Lewis Partnership, Channel 4, Unilever, Heathrow and many others have already discovered that employing disabled people has everything to do with talent, and nothing at all to do with charity. They look for recruiters who understand this too!

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