Amid a historically tight labor market, employers continue to struggle to find good talent — but maybe they are not looking in the right place.
Companies have gone to great lengths to fill open job positions in the face of workers opting to leave or quit their jobs at record rates this year. Some have even closed vacancies entirely, fearing the daunting challenge of filling them during an economic downturn. Against a tense background of widespread inflation, soaring gas prices and an impending recession, many companies just can’t find talented workers willing to take on a wide range of roles.
July was Disability Pride Month, but federal data still indicates a widening gap between unemployment rates for people with and without disabilities. Learning leaders and human resources (HR) executives, facing severe labor shortages, should consider new strategies to develop and support their existing disabled employees and to attract new talent.
A 2004 survey by the United Nations found that only 35% of Americans with mental or physical disabilities are likely to be employed: a stark contrast from the 78% of able-bodied people who have jobs. By hiring more disabled workers, companies can fill the gap left by The Great Resignation.
We are in a difficult labor market — and disabled workers need jobs. Two out of three disabled people wish to work, but are unemployed. This trend continues even when accounting for education: College graduates with disabilities are almost 50% less likely to be employed than their able-bodied peers. It’s clear that disabled workers have not been given the chance to demonstrate their skills, assets or competence.
Studies show that increasing staff diversity also increases positive outcomes, and disabled workers can bring that diversity with unique perspectives on current issues. Hiring disabled workers can also lead current staff with “invisible’ disabilities” — mental or physical — to feel more welcome and included in office culture.
Many believe that employers are not doing enough to attract disabled talent to apply for roles, and they are not wrong. But a reluctance by hiring managers to go out of their way to hire disabled workers will only leave their companies understaffed and unequipped to handle the current moment.
So, how can you get started hiring more workers with disabilities? Change your conditions.
Employers must be willing to recognize current flaws in their company and create more inclusive practices. To start: create a sincere diversity statement that goes beyond the minimum mandated as an equal opportunity employer. Require all staff to undergo diversity training with a specific module on the disabled community. Training can include workplace mantras like “take space, make space” and other guidelines for respectful behavior. In short, it’s critical to emphasize accessibility as a core tenet of your workplace culture and support that sentiment with ongoing training and development.
To proactively recruit disabled talent, train hiring managers to make use of disability-specific resources, such as websites that send your job openings straight to people who may not be able to access traditional job boards. Employers can also attract workers with disabilities by featuring more inclusive images on public-facing materials, as well as revitalize current practices by building out company-wide activities and awards that center on disabled workers. Thought leadership and external affairs should advocate for disabled people, pushing for policies that benefit the community.
To make the workplace more accessible and comfortable for current and future employees, do an audit of your offices and technology. Are your physical and remote spaces ADA-compliant, allowing for wheelchairs and other instruments to travel through easily? Are they close to public transportation?
Incorporating the right accommodations will ensure greater accessibility. Simplify the process for accommodation requests and invest in adaptive technology for the office. Offer remote options or a transportation stipend, understanding that physically disabled workers may not desire to come to the office. Also consider that certain disabilities cause fatigue: some disabled workers cannot be online from the strict hours of nine to five, but instead work in pockets throughout the day to accomplish the same tasks.
Employers still have time to attract disabled talent if they increase the accessibility and inclusivity of their environments, which training plays a key role in. Hiring managers can then update job postings to include these accessible conditions, specifying the process for requesting employee-specific accommodations, and including diversity and inclusion statements on their job postings to signal to a potential candidate that the company is committed to diversity, equity and inclusion (DEI). And, finally, once new employees are in the door, organizations should leverage employee resource groups (ERGs) to create a climate of inclusivity, foster a sense of belonging and connect allies and advocates to the common cause of removing barriers to employment, development and advancement.
In our uncertain economy, disabled workers present an opportunity to companies. Hiring and training talent from the disabled community will alleviate staffing concerns and increase company-wide diversity. Thus, I invite employers to prioritize hiring and developing workers with disabilities — a smart business decision that will strengthen both their companies and the economy.