Wayne Smithies standing next to his article in People Management magazine

Purple Talks Disability Employment in People Management Magazine

Employers urgently need a mindset shift, says disability recruitment specialist Wayne Smithies

Employers that have worked to foster better recruitment, retention and inclusion of female, BAME and LGBTQ staff probably think they’re doing pretty well on diversity. But what about disabled workers? Just under half (49.5 per cent) of disabled people in the UK are in employment, according to ONS data. And recent research from charity Scope has found that 58 per cent feel at risk of losing their jobs because of their impairments.

People Management spoke to Wayne Smithies, recruitment manager at Purple – a non-profit disability employment services firm that supports disabled jobseekers and employers – about why companies are still worried about hiring disabled candidates, and what HR can do to support workers who acquire a disability.

Why do such a high proportion of disabled people struggle to find work?

There is still prejudice, and a fear of engaging with disabled people. A lot of hiring managers worry about taking on, or even interviewing, disabled candidates. There’s an issue around cost; many firms think reasonable adjustments will be expensive, but the average cost is only £180. There are also perceptions that disabled people will take more time off sick, and that they won’t be able to remain in the role as long as a non-disabled worker. Research has shown these assumptions to be false – disabled workers show a lot of loyalty to good employers.

Is the business argument around employing disabled people becoming stronger than the moral one?

There’s so much research showing that companies that reflect their consumer base generally make more profit: the disabled consumer market is worth £249bn a year in the UK, and that’s probably not being accessed by as many businesses as it could be. Disabled people are aware of and loyal to brands with which they have positive associations. So if they have friends and family who work for an employer that takes a flexible approach to disabled staff, they are far more likely to spend with that brand.

Why do some employers overlook disabled workers when planning their approaches to D&I?

Research from the CIPD published last year revealed that HR professionals felt disabled staff demonstrated two key abilities – personal ambition and innovation – in greater measure than anyone else. But only 11 per cent of employers surveyed had a targeted plan to attract disabled candidates.

Things won’t change until attitudes do. In-house recruitment teams need to push back on their suppliers, agencies and managed service providers, and say: ‘We want a more diverse pool of applications,
for these reasons. Go find them.’

As working lives get longer, how can employers prepare for the increasing likelihood that a worker may acquire a disability?

Only two in 10 people with a disability are born that way; most people acquire their disability, so we’ve found this to be a big worry. Your first port of call should be occupational health, which can assess the employee’s needs and consider whether adjustments can be made to their current role, and, if not, whether an alternative role can be found. Many employers don’t realise that the government’s access to work scheme provides funding for businesses with staff who acquire a disability in work. It shouldn’t mean the end of an employee’s time with your company.

To view the article online and to find out more about People Management, please visit: http://www2.cipd.co.uk/pm/peoplemanagement/b/weblog/archive/2017/03/28/q-amp-a-wayne-smithies.aspx

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