When I was a younger HR Manager in the UK, employers of a certain size were required to employ a minimum percentage of disabled people within their workforce. Although this quota system was abandoned in 1995, back then, whenever we recruited, we would breathe a sigh of relief if we managed to find someone with a disability minor enough not to inconvenience the organization, but significant enough to satisfy the definition of a disabled person. Of course, this was completely missing the point—diversity is good for business and employing disabled people is part of this.
Individual countries take different approaches to this issue. In Australia, for example, all public and private sector employers are required to employ at least 4% disabled people within their total workforce. The quota requires employers with more than 24 employees to employ one registered disabled person per 25 employees. Furthermore, hiring a person who uses a wheelchair or a blind employee that is younger than 19 years old or older than 55, or who is 50 years old with 30% of the capabilities on a non-disabled person, are counted as double when measuring quota compliance.
In France, the law required employers of more than 20 people to employ at least 6% disabled workers. If employers fail to meet the quota, they must make an annual contribution to a fund for vocational integration for people with disabilities.
Germany, Italy and Spain all use quota systems in a similar way. China requires employers to reserve no less than 1.5% of all job opportunities for persons with disabilities and he ones who fail to comply have to pay a fine to a ‘disabled persons’ employment security fund.’
In Japan, the disabilities quota rate is 1.8% of the workforce and the penalty for breaching this is a monthly fine of 50,000 Yen.
It is clear, therefore, that different countries deal with this issue in a variety of ways. However, the point remains—real talent exists among this section of our communities.
A few years ago whilst in business, I interviewed a woman who was almost completely blind. She arrived at our office door accompanied by Sally, her rather gorgeous Golden Retriever, and it was a privilege to have had the opportunity to interview her. The candidate had already been working as a CEO for 4-5 years and it soon became evident that her disability was inconsequential and that she was clearly a highly accomplished executive.
Instead of an employer/search consultant asking “What we need is X, if you can’t do that because of a disability, then it is unreasonable for us to employ you…,” we need to say “OK, I see a talented person in front of me, how can we get this individual in our team?”
In today’s market, more and more recruitment consultants complain about how difficult it is to find good people to fill vacancies. In the UK, there are 11.5 million disabled people, 79% of whom do not have a job. Four out of five disabled people have hidden impairments, which means that we wouldn’t necessarily know that they have a disability until perhaps, they were in an interview. 43% of employers expect disabilities to be disclosed on an applicant’s CV even though, of course, there is no legal obligation to do so.
Research has found that one in five managers would be worried about interviewing someone with a disability for fear of saying or doing something wrong. There is concern over terminology, etiquette and not wanting to offend disabled people. Unless we address this stigma, businesses will not ever see the talent that they are at risk of missing. 83% of disabled people acquire their disability while they are employed. Many governments fund practical support to help a disabled person remain employed. In the UK, the 2010 Equality Act requires employers to make reasonable accommodations for a disabled person so that they are not at a disadvantage. More often than not, relatively straightforward changes to the work environment are all that are required.
There is also a compelling commercial case for employing disabled people. As a group, disabled individuals and their families in the UK are estimated to have a spending power of £212 billion and they are believed to be fiercely loyal to disabled organizations. Firms which employ disabled people will be much better placed to market their products or services to this significant group of customers. Therefore, diversity is really good for business.