Thom Dennis and Jane Hatton offer 12 ways to stop tokenism and break the stigma of disability in the workforce
Diversity to be effective goes beyond creating racial and gender balance. It is about fostering diverse thinking and varied perspectives in the corporate culture. Despite the strong business case, let alone the moral case, for diversity, the McKinsey study shows that overall progress towards widespread inclusivity is slow.
Nowhere is this more evident than in the recruitment and promotion of disabled and neurodiverse people. Approximately 15% of the world’s population live with some form of disability but only 2-4% have disabilities which cause significant difficulties functioning, yet disabled people are over a third less likely to be employed than non-disabled people. The business case for diversity is a case for inclusion of the disabled too.
Thom Dennis, CEO of Serenity in Leadership, argues that exclusion of the disabled is due to fear and misunderstanding. “Businesses are missing opportunities to be ethical, open and inclusive and have access to some serious talent. The additional life experiences disabled people bring often means they are extremely resilient, good at looking at different ways of doing things, good communicators, and problem solvers. They are also more likely to be loyal to a business that appreciates their talent…. Disabled people are more often than not an incredible asset.”
From FDR to Stephen Hawking, individuals living with disabilities tend to have extraordinary resilience built out of working through adversity and taking difficult decisions. Jane Hatton, CEO of Evenbreak, adds that “Neurodiverse people―e.g., people with autism, dyslexia or Tourette’s―are sometimes seen as ‘different’ or ‘aloof’, but actually a diversity of thinking styles means that better, and more creative and innovative decisions are made.” At a time of transformative change in the business world, when resilience and innovation are key to sustainable success, these skills that disable people bring can be uniquely beneficial to organizations.
“What the disabled want is to be seen and recognised for their skills and abilities, all the positive things they bring,” asserts Dennis. “Management need to ask themselves; are they really recognising the strengths of disabled candidates and employees, some of which have been gained as a result of their disability? What positive effects could promoting that disabled person bring? Are you actually seeing beyond disability?”
Hatton reports that at Evenbreak, “We find that many of our candidates are experienced managers. Some may have been born with their impairments, and others may have acquired a long-term health condition during their working lives. Both can find it difficult to move up the career ladder sometimes because of misguided preconceptions by their employers about what they can achieve.”
“We worry we might get it wrong and offend someone when we try to be inclusive," she adds. "The onus then falls on the disabled person to make it easier for the non-disabled person and we spend a lot of time reassuring rather than relaxing into work relationships.”
“The way we see disability is complex and the questions that need addressing are endless,” declares Dennis. “Are we disabled because we are different? Are we disabled by the steps that block the wheelchair for example, if a ramp would in fact enable us to reach the same place? Does that therefore mean we are impaired rather than disabled and actually just need to be empowered or enabled….. In fact we are disabled by society and people’s lack of education and experience, and their fear, and the only way to fix that is through education towards inclusion.”
Thom Dennis and Jane Hatton, suggest 12 ways to reduce the stigma around disability at work:
Thom Dennis, CEO of Serenity in Leadership, and Jane Hatton, CEO of Evenbreak