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Disabled workers: a level playing field? Far from it

Jodie Bowles

As a recruiter, placing a disabled worker can be challenging. Not because we have any problem with a diverse workforce – quite the contrary – but because, after seven years of recruiting for the professional services sector, I can count on one hand the number of people I’ve helped to find a job with a registered disability. And my experience isn’t an unusual one.  Article by Jodie Bowles, Senior Manager – Financial Services at Badenoch & Clark.

Recruitment professionals are solely focused on finding the best person for the job – regardless of race, gender, age, or disability. They don’t see any of those factors as barriers to entry. And there have been huge steps forward in many areas of diversity. But too few organisations get diversity ‘right’ when it comes to disabled candidates. This is particularly worrying considering just how many people are affected by a disability, and how their opportunities are capped as a result:

  • 16 percent of working age adults have a disability in the UK (8.48mil)
  • 14.9 percent of working age adults with a disability have a degree (1.26mil)
  • 47 percent of disabled graduates went into the professional services industry after University, compared to 68 percent of graduates without a disability

Disability seems to be the last taboo of diversity. It is an area that requires education, training, and a shift in mind-set. It requires recruitment professionals to view these candidates as an area of untapped talent, rather than as a cost or a problem. Each year, over 40,000 people with a disability graduate from university, and do not go into highly skilled roles. Not-for-profit organisation, Purple, found that almost half of UK businesses (45 percent) are apprehensive about hiring someone with a disability because of fears they will not be able to do the job and concerns around accidentally making inappropriate comments. With over 1,900 graduate jobs unfilled by the Times’ Top 100 Companies last year, there is simply no need for this. The disabled graduates we regularly work with are capable, hard-working, and shamefully under-represented in the jobs market.

Companies should strive to have more inclusive recruitment practices, levelling the playing field for anyone with a disability who’s looking to start a career. Work should also be done in universities and schools to advise disabled students on how to interview confidently and to not be afraid to disclose a disability on their CV.

Tips on hiring disabled workers
Do the people who are shortlisting and interviewing have a good understanding of disability issues? If not, develop good quality disability awareness training and tailor it to your organisation’s approach to recruitment. This will help build confidence and improve awareness during the recruitment process

Provide candidates with the opportunity to disclose a disability easily

Ensure that the recruitment timeline is flexible, allowing for any changes to interview dates if requested by a candidate due to a disability related issue and that the building where the interview will be held is fully accessible

Make application forms and other documentation available in alternative formats

Offer an alternative to a standard interview, for example allowing extra time

Specifically target specialist disability recruiters or job boards, which will demonstrate your genuine commitment to attracting disabled applicants

Take action to attract disabled people to more senior positions. This will provide role models for disabled applicants going into graduate positions

These tips aren’t a quick fix, but a long-term project that will hopefully make a fundamental difference to hiring processes within professional services.