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Disabled job applicants still discriminated against

A report into the experience of disabled candidates seeking employment through recruitment agencies has produced some alarming findings, exposing a gulf between recruiter intentions and the experiences of disabled candidates.

The report from The Clear Company found that despite evidence of recruitment industry commitment, it’s the attitude and knowledge of recruiters that cause the greatest frustration for disabled job seekers. Headline findings show that: A whopping 89.5 percent of recruiters believe they offer support to disabled candidates through the recruitment cycle, as compared to only 13.2 percent of candidates saying they receive such support when applying for positions. Only 51.9 percent of disabled candidates will declare their disability when dealing with a recruitment agency and 74.1 percent of disabled candidates are reluctant to tell recruiters about their disability because they fear this would prejudice their chance of being offered work.

A quarter of all disabled candidates won’t apply for a job through a recruitment agency because of a poor past experience. Disabled candidates ranked recruitment agencies sixth as the route they choose to finding employment; behind internet job boards; company websites; newspaper advertisements; word of mouth; and Jobcentre Plus, and 75.3 percent of disabled workers said they had encountered a lack of disability awareness among recruitment agency staff, while 70.6 percent said they had encountered immediate negative assumptions when declaring a disability.

Kate Headley, Development Director at The Clear Company, says: “It’s encouraging to see leaders from the UK recruitment industry are stating their intent to include disabled people. But these findings tell us these good intentions are simply not good enough. The reality is that disabled people are experiencing unacceptable levels of poor treatment and discrimination resulting from a lack of recruiter knowledge, confidence and capability. There are many myths about disability that lead to the subject becoming the ‘elephant in the room’. Unfortunately, this is leading to avoidance of the issue rather than support for the individual.

But let’s not point the finger too readily at those people at the front line of recruitment. Many recruiters simply don’t know how to deal with disabled candidates because they have never been told. They lack knowledge and confidence, and they fear getting it wrong and causing offence and, sadly, many are just not aware what disability means”. Kate Headley continues: “Knowledge and skills are relatively easy to acquire and to implement. It is up to the leadership of the industry to do more than tick a box that says you’re doing it right. They have to provide support for the people dealing with disabled candidates to improve this appalling situation. We want agencies to start working more closely with their employer clients to give disabled candidates the same opportunities as other people. Recruiters and employers need to understand the potential impact on the employer’s brand of getting this wrong.

They also need education and support, along with access to expertise on disability matters like assistive technology, specific conditions and how to deal appropriately with people who are affected by them. Above all, they need the practical tools to bring about change. It’s not quantum physics, the tools are readily available. All that’s needed is a genuine shift in attitude away from the tick the box approach we are seeing toward a genuinely inclusive one”.

Emma Harvey, Employment Partner and Head of the Recruitment Group at DWF LLP adds: “It frustrates me when people say there isn’t a business case for accommodating inclusive practices into the recruitment process. There are ten million people in the UK with a disability. Together they are a voice with the power to positively influence the perceptions of some of the biggest global brands. “Although over 50 percent of recruiters believe they have a defined business case for adopting an inclusive approach to disabled candidates, the survey results indicate that sadly, despite good intentions, that isn’t always reflected in practice.

“Emma Harvey continues; “In the longer term, with the number of disabled people in the UK constantly growing, there is no question that recruitment agencies which fail to recognise the size of this challenge will lose out to their more enlightened competitors. We can already see that disabled people do not always think of agencies as their natural choice to find a job, preferring instead to respond directly to employer advertisements to avoid the perceived barriers in the recruitment process. This must change”. Dan Biddle, head of Inclusive services at Contacta Systems, was severely injured in the 7/7 London bombings. His experience echoes the survey findings: “My life changed on that day and it pains me to say my experiences with the recruitment industry changed at the same time. Negative attitudes, lack of knowledge and understanding on the part of recruitment agencies can make the recruitment process extremely uncomfortable for disabled people. Nothing is different about me today than before I was injured. I am the same person and I have the same skills.”

Kate Headley concludes: “There is a legal requirement to be inclusive in recruitment but implementing these practices brings much more to a business than the satisfaction of compliance. It goes way beyond that. Businesses are living entities, and society needs more principled, engaged, enlightened entities to lead the way for others to follow”.

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